Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Gaming has long been treated as the odd one out in sports and entertainment. The general perception of gaming in our society is lagging far behind its immense popularity and significant impact.
Over the last several years, gaming has moved closer and closer to the center of the global entertainment ecosystem. It has become intertwined with sports, music, movies and television. It’s a daily pastime for billions of people around the world, and some say it has eclipsed music as the most important aspect of youth culture. You might be surprised to learn that gaming is the No. 1 entertainment activity for Gen Z by a wide margin, according to research from Deloitte Insights. Movies and TV? Only 10 percent of Gen Z respondents selected movies and TV as their favorite entertainment, according to that same report.
Let that statistic soak in — the world is very different than you may think it is.
If you want to know what the landscape of modern gaming looks like and understand why it’s the future of global entertainment, here’s where to start:
Gaming Isn’t Esports
Too many people are still mixing up these terms. In reality, the esports sector is just a small slice of the entire gaming pie. Esports can rack up big viewership numbers and have massive prize money on the line, but even the most impressive esports stats pale in comparison to the wider audience and industry of gaming.
Along those same lines, becoming an esports athlete is just one way a gamer can make a living as a professional. An esports athlete or “pro gamer” is defined by competitive play under the constraints of a league or other governing body, much like a traditional sports athlete. It’s noteworthy that most of the well-known gamers don’t earn their living by competing in tournaments. They are content creators who earn it by entertaining their fanbase. Their revenue comes from ad dollars, endorsements, streaming subscriptions, appearances and merchandise.
In fact, millions of hours are generated from content that’s not centered around competing at all but around commentary, industry news, game reviews, walkthroughs and instructionals, gamers’ lifestyles, and general hijinks and tomfoolery.
The takeaway here is that while esports is big and getting bigger, it’s small compared to gaming as a whole. In total, esports was valued at around $1 billion in 2020. The entire gaming industry? An estimated $159 billion, according to a Newzoo report.
Gaming Isn’t Niche
Gaming is the opposite of niche — it’s incredibly mainstream. You don’t have to play Call of Duty or League of Legends to be a gamer, and you don’t have to identify as a gamer to actually be one. People who play almost exclusively on mobile devices make up about 23 percent of the market. Play Candy Crush while on the can? Launch a round of Angry Birds during a commercial break? Guess what. You’re a gamer.
By contrast, Twitch streamer David Martinez (a.k.a. TheGrefg) recently broke a record on the platform by pulling in 2.4 million concurrent viewers. It wasn’t an epic battle for the gaming history books that got so much attention — it was just Martinez revealing the custom Fortnite skin he’d designed.
Another important point is that there isn’t a single, unified audience. Gaming has something for everyone. Case in point: 46 percent of the entire market is female. That entire market, by the way, is massive — to the tune of 2.8 billion people around the world.
Gaming Isn’t a Trend
Gaming isn’t experiencing an overnight boom. And it hasn’t just gotten bigger over the past two decades; it’s grown exponentially — and is expected to grow to $200 billion by 2023, according to that same Newzoo report. It’s fueling huge platforms like Twitch and YouTube and driving innovation across every sector in sports and entertainment. For most brands, a gaming strategy is no longer just an option — it’s a necessity to adapt.
Based on hours watched and money spent, one could argue that gaming already occupies the top spot in entertainment. I expect it’ll continue to accelerate: Investors and advertisers will likely keep pumping money into gaming because of its scale, engagement and difficult-to-reach audiences.
Gaming is virtually disruption-proof. While technology commonly disrupts industries at some point in their life cycle (think music, movies and now even Wall Street), gaming has always been partners with technology. Gaming rises to new heights as technology improves, and gamers constantly evolve as games ebb and flow in popularity. Consider the trajectory from Pong to Fortnite to Ready Player One.
A few years ago, you might have been surprised to hear that certain gamers were on par with celebrities. Today, celebrities are gamers, and gamers are celebrities. Gaming is no longer on the outside of the entertainment industry looking in — it’s at the epicenter.