The shape of esports to come: experts weigh in on what to expect in 2021
It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. Let the historical record show that 2020 was a long, crazy couple of years. That’s as true for the world of esports as it is for society in a broader sense.
If nothing else, 2020 will be remembered as the year when traditional sports shut down—at least for a little while—and esports filled the void. We can thank the COVID-19 pandemic for that. Whether you’re talking about the Formula One Virtual Grand Prix, the Virtual Tour de France, or LoL Worlds, more people were watching—and wagering on—esports than ever before.
A few highlights, for the benefit of those who were more focused on other things during the raging dumpster fire that was most of 2020:
- Dota 2’s The International 10 shattered records for esports prize pools. According to the Prize Pool Tracker, it sits at US$40,018,195 as I write this. Not bad for a postponed event. (The International 10 is now scheduled to take place in Stockholm in August of 2021.)
- On August 28, multi-platinum-selling musician Post Malone joined the ownership team of Envy Gaming. His timing could not have been better. That weekend, Envy’s Dallas Empire claimed a decisive victory over Atlanta FaZe, clinching the first-ever Call of Duty League championship.
- On October 10, the Overwatch League’s San Francisco Shock successfully defended their championship title against the Seoul Dynasty.
- At the end of October, South Korea’s Damwon Gaming claimed the title at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship.
- Twitch saw massive viewership numbers, reporting a record-setting 1.7 billion hours in November alone. With 116 million hours viewed, League of Legends led the esports/gaming pack, followed by Among Us (75 million), Fortnite (74 million), and Minecraft (73 million).
What can we expect in 2021? Our crystal ball is a little cloudy, so we asked a few in-the-know folks for their predictions. Most of them didn’t respond, because that’s esports for you. Quite frankly, we didn’t need a crystal ball to see that coming. However, here are a couple who did respond, and to whom we are eternally grateful:
Dr. Aaron Koshy
Chief Editor, International Journal of Esports
“I predict that the esports organizations which have invested most heavily in research and restructuring in a peri/post COVID-19 world will growth the fastest in 2021.
“The obsession with elite esports professionals is unhealthy and frankly undesirable. We need to carry out basic research on esports players as a much larger cohort to grasp notions such as improving health and performance.”
Manager of Durham College’s Esports Arena
“I think 2021 has the capability to be both good and bad for the esports industry. With the remote nature of 2020 carrying into 2021 I believe more brands will continue to move into the space to support the competitive aspects (players, teams, streamers, tournaments) of esports but I don’t think we’ll see that same support carry over to community programs.
“On a collegiate note, we’ve already seen 2020 claim Tespa, which was a blow to collegiate esports communities across North America. However despite the lack of community support for collegiate, we have seen more schools enter into ‘varsity esports’. This shift seems largely due to the lack of traditional sports available at the moment and I believe this trend is likely to continue into 2021.”
Founder of Espo
“I think we’re going to see more esports orgs roll out fan engagement strategies in 2021. Some of the titans like Team Liquid, Cloud 9 and Envy Gaming have gone a step further by creating their own native fan engagement platforms. However, I think esports fans are going to want and expect more access to their favourite orgs, players, and content creators than what these native platforms are currently offering.
“After carrying out thousands of interviews with esports fans from around the world, we’ve built a library of over 100 perks and benefits that esports fans have repeatedly told us they want to get their hands on. World famous brands have also told us they want to engage more directly with esports fans, so I think we’ll see brands diversify their esports marketing budget towards new digital fan experience and engagement solutions.
“I’m hopeful that our new, multi-team, esports fan engagement platform will be able to fill this gap. We’re due to launch the Espo platform in the coming weeks and we’ve had a fantastic reception from several world-class orgs, including our six Team Partners—BBG, Team BDS, BOOM Esports, GODSENT, F2K and Team Queso. Our platform is going to see an unparalleled variety of exclusive Fan Perks for fans to access with their favourite players and content creators.
“By the summer, our next expansion pack of the Espo platform should come online, offering even more innovation in the field of digital fan experience and engagement. We’ve been designing interactive feature sets for fans to become more active in their role as esports fans, gamifying these features and integrating them with our Team and Brand Partners.”
As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones soliciting 2021 predictions. Espo put out a call on Twitter, and here are the responses it generated:
G2 wins world’s. Ez game.— Necro (@necrolad) January 4, 2021
BBG on Top— BBG (@builtbygamers) January 4, 2021
.@S04Esports wins the LEC— Timothy Chambers (@Tchamber5) January 4, 2021
I think in 2021 we’ll see:— Mike Bisson (@themohawkmike) January 4, 2021
o A ton more online focused events / leagues which previously would have been LANs
o The continued rise in popularity and legitimization of mobile gaming as esports
o Players and teams become more household names with leagues like CDL and OWL
Apex legends will get a bigger esports environment.— brandon nesbitt (@RingSpid3r) January 4, 2021
A new fighting game will reignite the FGC.
An unexpected esports scene will be formed.
More colleges will push esports as profits start to roll in.
NA with a good development in League this year. TSM and C9 are making good signings and looking sharp. Also, inhouses should improve the general gameplay too. LEC will be better than ever, too. G2 is looking dominant but Fnatic, despite losing Rekkles and Nemesis may surprise— Murilo (@murlopes) January 4, 2021
I want to see Star Wars Squadrons in eSports!— Edward (@EdGamingDojo) January 4, 2021
We’ll definitely be seeing many events that would normally be live and in person become virtual… should be an interesting year but definitely not a disappointing one!— Rachel Simons (@steezyrach) January 4, 2021
Serral rising to be uncontested on SC2 again— Renan Luz Mesquita (@Sefirofe) January 4, 2021
Mobile Gaming⬆️ + League of Legends⬆️ = Wild Rift⬆️⬆️⬆️ pic.twitter.com/a8TNCojaWZ— Poti #TQWildRift (@potiplux) January 4, 2021
Valorant to really pop off this year and become a top tier esports!— Xeno (@KisekiPanda) January 4, 2021
Mobile games will take a big leap. ?— Area F2 Info (@AreaF2InfoES) January 4, 2021
Tier B teams winning tier A tournaments 😀— antonak1s (@antonak1ss) January 4, 2021
TFT prizepools on the rise ??— zach (@Zach_McKay_) January 4, 2021
Hero’s of the storm makes a comeback?— Jacob Thompson (@_JustPeachyJT) January 4, 2021
@builtbygamers take over ?— bbg Zach (@ZachSaps) January 4, 2021
moar competitive gaems— sandra (@sxndrxdee) January 4, 2021