The Billion Dollar Esports Business Might Be a Bubble

Millions of people watch esports every year and the business of video game competition is healthy, on paper.
March 1, 2021, 2:00pm
A Starcraft tournament

Starcraft tournaments fill stadiums and people love to watch Overwatch tournaments on Twitch. Over the last decade, esports has grown into what its supporters call a billion dollar business. But that evaluation might be overblown. 

Welcome to RESET: The Unauthorized Guide to Video Games, a new television show from VICE and Waypoint that tackles the complicated and fascinating world of the world’s new favorite pastime. This week on REST, Dexter Thomas dives into the world of organized video game competition. “Where what we now call esports are different from the older and more established sports is that it’s notoriously unstable,” he said. “The entire industry seems to be constantly teetering on the brink of disaster only to keep bouncing back somehow promising more money every time.”

No one owns the concept of basketball. The NBA can’t stop you from organizing a game with your friends on your own time. That’s not true of esports. “Obviously it’s a great deal for whoever is running the league and whoever is selling these franchise spots. But it does presume that they will have a great deal of value down the road and that’s where things get sticky because, in some ways, this model is unproven,” Waypoint's Rob Zacny told Thomas. 

“You can create something that looks like a traditional sport but have you created any of the infrastructure? Any of the ground level enthusiasm? The cultural cache that traditional sports have that enables this model to work? Probably not. You’ve created a scale model. A very expensive one. But have you created the thing itself?”

New episodes of RESET premiere Fridays at 10pm EST on VICE TV.