What you need to know

The US esports audience is not only growing, but also welcoming any outside support from brands and sponsorships that can help deliver more video game content. One third of adults have watched esports within the past year, and three quarters of those esports viewers support brands that sponsor esports.

Despite ongoing investments and relatively uninterrupted online competitions, the COVID-19 pandemic still hindered esports. Sponsorships were paused while in-person events were cancelled. Still, the increased importance of video games within mainstream pop culture during the pandemic bolstered competitive gaming through this rough period.

The lack of in-person events continues to threaten esports growth in the US, as many locations dedicated to esports competitions have yet to reopen. Construction was halted on dedicated stadiums and hesitation to attend in-person events linger even with a vaccine. Three quarters of esports fans are looking forward to the day where they can attend an esports event in person, but that day may not come until 2022 or later.

The focus on digital broadcasts and live streamed events creates a path for non-gaming brands to add to the esports landscape. There are plenty of opportunities to partner with esports organizations, teams and players in and outside of competitions to reach dedicated fans that see esports more as a form of entertainment than a high-stakes competition.

This Report looks at the following areas

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and esports

  • How brands can partner with esports organizations, teams and players to reach fans

  • What the balance of online and in-person esports events is going to look like

  • Which games/genres have succeeded in a tumultuous year and which have stumbled


For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

  • eSports is competitive video gaming at a professional level and in an organized format with a clear distinction between teams and players playing against each other.

  • Gaming content viewers are adults who watch other people playing video games (including esports or non-competitive video games).

  • eSports viewers are adults who have watched esports within the past 12 months.

Market context

The research for this Report was conducted in April 2021 and the Report was written in May 2021. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most in-person esports events were cancelled or delayed throughout 2020. Events are beginning to resume, albeit primarily through digital broadcasts on online platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. US-based competitions for Call of Duty and Overwatch have found a growing audience of domestic fans. Meanwhile, international competitions continue to be a significant part of the esports landscape, as other markets such as China have more firmly entrenched esports as part of its pop culture.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel bases its expectations for economic growth on projections provided by the CBO, the FOMC, the Conference Board and other public sources. Consensus estimates forecast US GDP to increase by 6.5% in 2021. Unemployment has been forecast to decline to as low as 4.1% by the end of 2021 with an average of 5.7% for the year.

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. It was declared a global health pandemic and national emergency in early March 2020. Across the US, various stay-at-home orders were put in place in Spring 2020, and non-essential businesses and school districts closed or shifted to remote operations. The remainder of 2020 saw rolling orders, as states and local governments relaxed and reinforced guidelines according to the spread of the virus in each region.

Vaccine rollout began in December 2020. Mintel anticipates business operations in the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021 as vaccines are widely administered and social distancing restrictions and capacity limitations are relaxed.

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