For a growing number of people, esports has become can’t-miss entertainment. At a time when there are no other outlets for sports fans to satisfy their desire for live competition, it makes sense that esports would fill that void. The question is, are people watching out of a genuine interest in the sport, or are they watching because nothing else is on? If the latter is true, what can brands, platforms and players do to convert them into lifelong fans?

Last year, it’s estimated that 458.8 million people worldwide watched esports content of some kind, up 15 percent from the year before. Of that number, over 40 percent (201 million) watch professional esports at least once a month. One study found that the median age for esports viewers in the US is 28, with nearly 40 percent of the entire audience between the ages of 25 and 34. The same study noted that 46 percent had graduated from college, and 61 percent reported having above-average income. Women make up a whopping 30 percent of esports viewership, which is still a significant jump from an estimated 6.5 percent in 2016. 

From a brand perspective, esports events are therefore a great way to get in front of a coveted audience. We’re talking about people who are relatively young and have disposable income, not to mention the time to spend hours watching esports matches featuring branded merchandise and corporate sponsors. It is absolutely an opportunity to show awareness of pop culture and insert yourself into the conversation – so long as you do it with an understanding of audience behavior, and acknowledge that simply splashing your logo across a t-shirt isn’t necessarily going to cut it. 

Finally, any brands that decide to advertise around esports must be aware of the gender disparity amongst both viewership and team membership. The proportion of women who participate in the biggest esports titles (Overwatch, DOTA 2, Hearthstone, etc) currently ranges from 20 to 26 percent, despite efforts from within the industry. Making a conscious effort to improve these numbers, whether by sponsoring mixed-gender teams or highlighting women gamers, would be a good way for brands to not only make a difference in the world of esports but also raise their profiles outside of it.  

So who’s watching esports? A lot of people, probably more than you think. While the industry itself is still young (and still ironing out some coronavirus-related kinks), its cultural influence can no longer be ignored.