The gaming industry's growth during Covid-19 has been passionately discussed over recent months. We saw many video game companies announce record-breaking financial results for the second financial quarter and it seems that Covid-19 has had a positive impact on their business.
According to Nielsen Games Video Games Tracker (VGT), 63 per cent of gamers spent more time playing video games since the start of the pandemic. Our data absolutely underlines that video gaming is a vital part of people's lives, especially during these times.
Since gamers have spent more time playing, it is often taken for granted that the number of esports fans must also have been positively impacted by Covid-19. But is this truly the case? Why should more people playing video games automatically lead to a higher number of esports fans?
To answer this question, we have to take a data-based look into the relationship between gaming and esports, using our dedicated Nielsen Esports fan research and results from the world's largest sports research, Nielsen Fan Insights.
With the focus on the age group between 16 to 40 in the markets of China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, this enables us to do an apples-to-apples comparison.
Esports fans tend to be male – but OWL is growing its female fanbase
If we start with a comparison of gamers and esports fans, within the general population, we see that both target groups skew towards being younger and having a higher share of males. But when we compare both groups to each other we see that esports fans have an even higher share of males than gamers, averaging 75 per cent versus 62 per cent.
That shows that generally speaking, the share of females amongst esports fans is much higher than often reported. But this of course heavily depends on the game we are looking at. If we take esports fans in western countries like France, Germany and the UK we see a 90 per cent share of males amongst Counter-Strike fans, whereas the Overwatch fanbase in South Korea has a 40 per cent share of females.
Overwatch League is growing its female fanbase, according to Nielsen
Esports fans tend to be younger than gamers – but not as young as you might think
Besides those significant differences in gender we also see important differences in the age distribution. In general, just as we saw that esports is not so heavily skewed towards males as many people think, esports fans also are not as young as often rumored. True, they are a bit younger than gamers (26 versus 28 years of age).
But with an average age of approximately 26 years, esports fans are young adults rather than teenagers. But this again depends on the game we are looking at. The average Overwatch fan in Germany, for example, is two years younger than the average German esports fan and the average Japanese Super Smash Bros fan is three years younger than the average esports fan.
All esports fans are gamers – but not all gamers are esports fans
The differences in demographic background are interesting but do not represent the biggest difference between the two target groups. The major difference can be found in the motivation to passively consume esports content. Gamers like playing video games but they are not particularly fond of watching other people competitively playing video games.
Esports fans, on the other hand, also like playing video games very much (since they are gamers themselves) but they also like watching other people play video games competitively. Why? Because it is entertainment for them just like football fans like watching their favourite team compete against its rivals.
For more than three quarter of esports fans, this is the main reason for following esports. Other reasons, like learning from the best or witnessing the thrill of competition are also reasons to watch esports for more than half of the esports fans. In short, almost all esports fans are gamers, but not all gamers are esports fans.
British Formula One driver Landon Norris attracted healthy Twitch viewership during this year's virtual grands prix
Does the growth of gaming have an impact on esports?
Well, esports and its fans, of course, are a vital part of video gaming. The data from VGT shows that 28 per cent of gamers say they have been watching more gaming video content since the pandemic.
Discovering that it is also fun to passively consume video games is considered to be the first step to becoming an esports fan. But in short: gamers and esports fans are not the same target group.
And to have an impact on esports it will take the “new gamers” time until they can be counted as an esports fan – and not just an avid gamer.
How to understand which property is right for your brand
For potential sponsors looking to enter one of these markets, it is important to ask which type of property is right for your brand – games or esports? Even though the esports audience is wider than any marketers imagine, there's no doubt that the gaming industry has a much larger reach and a far broader range of different opportunities to find the perfect fit for your target.
The real difference is the type of activation opportunity: the sport-like "appointment to view" immediacy of esports will remain very appealing for brands with values that fit well with key esports titles, but it's clearly not for everyone.
There are a number of recent examples from the pandemic-imposed lockdown of the kind of impact entering the esports and gaming sectors can have on your brand. One only has to look at an athlete like Formula One’s Lando Norris, who competed in a number of virtual grands prix which were shown on the streaming platform Twitch.
Norris acquired more than 50,000 new Instagram followers over just a 14-day period during the lockdown and he attracted more than 77,000 viewers tuning in to watch him compete in the virtual Vietnamese Grand Prix. Even a livestream of Norris having his hair shaved for charity attracted 36,000 viewers.