What you need to know

The extent to which the burgeoning esports market has already started to capture mainstream attention is evident from the fact that Mintel’s latest consumer research finds 32% of gamers in the UK watch game streams. However, the real scale of its potential is even clearer from the fact that more than half (58%) of Generation Z gamers are doing so. Watching professional esports is an activity that 23% of gamers do, and this is also higher for the younger generations, at 37% of Generation Z gamers and 34% of Younger Millennial gamers. Of the people who watch esports, there is clear interest in extending esports touchpoints into the real world, with 65% interested in going to esports studios and 62% to esports bars.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused the cancellation or postponement of several key esports events such as the Fortnite World Cup, while international sporting competitions have been cancelled in China – a key market for esports events – for the rest of the calendar year.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, however, the esports market is still expected to grow in 2020. The lockdown period has given people more time to play video games, and this is likely to have boosted interest in game streams and esports content. Meanwhile, esports tournaments with real-life sportspeople like the ePremier League and the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro were run at an important time during the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown. This gave sports fans the opportunity to follow some of their favourite athletes playing video games whilst regular sport had been temporarily stopped. Assuming 2021 sees the return of key esports events, the sector is expected to start to return to its pre-COVID-19 levels of growth.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The short, medium and long-term impact of COVID-19 on the esports market.

  • Current viewership of esports and game streams and the amount of gamers who stream gameplay themselves.

  • How professional sport franchises used the lockdown period to provide esports coverage for fans and how esports games would be in a strong position to succeed in another lockdown scenario.

  • The role of esports and gaming in social environments such as esports studios and bars.

Products covered in this Report

This Report analyses the competitive gaming market, also known as esports, covering console, PC, tablet, mobile and VR gaming. The Report also discusses gameplay streaming and watching. Gameplay streams are defined as users broadcasting their gaming content online for an audience to watch, whether that is competitive gaming or not.

Competitive gaming or esports is defined as online gameplay against another player/opponent, whilst non-competitive gaming is defined as offline gameplay for the purposes of game walkthroughs or demos. Professional esports is defined as esports with players who play competitively as a job.

Market size data for this Report is supplied by Newzoo, which defines esports for the purposes of its data as “Competitive gaming at a professional level and in an organized format (a tournament or league) with a specific goal (ie, winning a champion title or prize money) and a clear distinction between players and teams that are competing against each other.”

COVID-19 Market context

This update on the impact that COVID-19 is having on UK consumers was prepared on 29 July 2020.

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. The government focused on the ‘contain’ stage of its strategy, with the country continuing to operate much as normal. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March.

A wide lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. Initially, a three-week timeframe was put on the measures, which was extended in mid-April for another three weeks.

On 10 May, the Prime Minister announced revised guidance, recommending that people who could not work from home should return to the workplace, and giving people more scope to spend time out of the home. Further relaxations to lockdown rules were announced in the week of the 23rd May, including gradual reopening of non-essential retailers, and increased opportunities for social interaction across households.

On 15 June, non-essential retail stores reopened and on 4 July, hairdressers, restaurants and cafés reopened as part of the easing of lockdown. From the latter date, people have been allowed to meet others from different households, either indoors or outdoors. On 25 July, gyms and swimming pools reopened, whilst consumers were allowed back into casinos and bowling alleys on 1 August.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its July 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP could fall by 12.4% in 2020, recovering by 8.7% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 11.9% by the end of 2020, falling to 8.8% by the end of 2021. The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, something reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q1 2021. The OBR's more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024. As of 10 June 2020, Mintel’s working assumptions are that domestic travel restrictions in the UK will be relaxed at the start of Q3 2020. Meanwhile, all international arrivals except Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands will be required to self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days on arrival into the UK from 8 June 2020 onwards. Countries with low infection rates are expected to be gradually added to the list of exemptions.

We are working on the assumption that a vaccine will be available by mid-2021, but that there will be continued disruption to both domestic and global markets for some time after that.

As long as there is not a second wave of infections, social distancing measures should be gradually relaxed over the course of 2020, but we don’t expect industries such as spectator sports, tourism or foodservice to return to any kind of normality until a vaccine is introduced. In the meantime, the economic disruption will mean that many operators will be forced out of the market, hitting capacity. In markets which were already in decline, we expect this reduction in capacity to be permanent


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