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Over the last year, esports attracted more than half a billion viewers to the screens. Its popularity seems to have no limits.

Gaming: more than just a cool hobby. Millionaires and giant companies have noticed

Lukáš Bilinec
10.Mar 2021
+ Add on Seznam.cz
7 minutes to read
Dívka v herním křesle hraje hru na mobilu

Many global brands as well as influential figures have realized the potential for the growth of professional gaming in recent years. The coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the entry of many of them into the world of gamers – so much so that it’s starting to look like if you don’t jump on the bandwagon soon, you might regret it in the future. Esports is experiencing a huge boom in the Czech Republic as well, and everything points to it having a bright future.

Gone are the days when avid gamers were considered weirdos. Many of them are now celebrities and multimillionaires. At the same time, they do not have to worry about their livelihood, no matter how the current world situation develops. Compared to traditional sports, esports holds all the trumps up its sleeve.

COVID? No problem!

Okay, not quite. Even professional gaming is closely connected with holding spectacular offline events. This year, for example, rendered impossible the Dota 2 World Championship, which prided itself with record-breaking financial prizes for the participating teams, reaching (converted to CZK) up to 1 billion. But, unlike traditional sports, esports can adapt to a situation like this. Moreover, the young generation, from which neverending amounts of professional gamers and their viewers recruit, got chained to their screens a bit more once again by the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to all of this, esports came out of 2020 as the winner.

Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m
Prodej funkcionalistické vily Praha - 360m, Praha 8

"There are two sides to every coin. I can say for sure that the pandemic has brought esports closer to the general public and increased the viewing figures. Compared to traditional sports, of course, we have the immense advantage of most of our activities being able to run completely online. However, I believe that even for our field it is extremely important to bring back offline events we’ve been missing for a year already. These are our traditional highlight of the season, where everyone meets after some time and they’re very interesting for various teams‘ sponsors as well, be it for the product placement options or other, mainly medial activities, which can’t be carried out online," says Jakub Faul, executive and COO of esports organization TeamSampi.

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Jakub Jankto, majitel herní organizace TeamSampi
Jakub Jankto, majitel herní organizace TeamSampiSource: Michal Beránek / CNC / Profimedia

Czech Republic is getting familiar with esports

Similar is the situation in the Czech Republic, where professional gaming has experienced a real boom. Due to the fact that traditional sports events were restricted for a major part of the year, electronic sports also received attention in the mainstream media, whether it was websites, the press or television. During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, betting on computer games in the Czech Republic was dominated by betting agencies, making tens of thousands more interested in how the world of professional computer gaming actually works for the first time.

Some well-known names of (not only) the local business world also came to understand the potential of esport. To cite just a few examples, Ivan Zach, TV Prima’s main shareholder, bought a 50% share in Playzone, a company that, among other things, runs the largest Czech gaming website Playzone.cz, while Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč have been half-owners of the Grunex gaming agency since 2019. The founder of the social media agency Socialsharks, Petr Andrýsek, is also the owner of the game organization Team Brute and the Czech football representative Jakub Jankto founded TeamSampi, building a gaming house with a living area of more than 500 square meters in Tuchoměřice near Prague for his charges. However, the most discussed item of recent months is the gaming organisation Entropiq, founded by poker player Martin Kabrhel. This esports team has, among others, former football player Vladimír Šmicer or MMA wrestler Makhmud Muradov as its ambassadors. Two weeks ago, billionaire Karel Janeček was introduced as one of the main investors of the Entropiq sports organization, stating on this occasion:

"I consider esports to be the future of games and entertainment. It's not just about sitting at a computer, but above all about the energy you put in it, about the competition, discipline and physical fitness. I come not only with financial support, but with my name as well, and I believe that the broad recognition of my name could contribute to further brand promotion among the general public."

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Profesionální hráči hry Counter-Strike Global Offensive
Profesionální hráči hry Counter-Strike Global OffensiveSource: Unsplash.com/alexhaney

Going professional all the way

As the amount of sponsor and investor money grows, the conditions for the players are improving as well. However, requirements placed on them are higher, too. A few years ago, the largest gaming organizations began to realize that the right lifestyle is very important, keeping the physical body as well as the psyche of players fully functional at critical moments. Therefore, care is taken of proper nutrition and getting both enough sleep and enough physical activity. Keeping a mental coach is another good practice for many teams abroad. In the early days of professional gaming, we could often see players that were obese, or, conversely, did not have a single gram of body fat. The teams of today usually look completely different and professional gamers are often not only athletes in spirit, but also in practice.

"We even have a personal chef coming to the gaming house every morning to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the players. We want them to do something for themselves, for their health, instead of sitting at the computer for the whole day," said Jakub Jankto, founder of TeamSampi and Czech football representative to the Sazka eLeague journalist on their tour through his team mansion in Tuchoměřice. Aside from many gaming rooms, this massive building contains a giant kitchen or a fully equipped gym that helps team members stay fit.

Another one to share his experience with gaming organisations caring about players' healthy lifestyle is Jakub Viceník, who has been playing League of Legends professionally under the nickname Dreedy. Viceník is currently active in Spanish gaming organisation UCAM Esports.

"There’s no lengthy sleeping in, as we have to clock in at the computer at 11 AM every day. Twice a week we have training sessions with a fitness trainer. However, I don’t attend them, because I go to the gym our organization owns at least four times every week. Food is mostly healthy, either we eat meals from the university canteen, or we cook ourselves. We also have a mental coach, tending to gamers when they have some issues."

Which games draw the most viewers?

Even though during 2019 Czech media gave most space to the incredible boom of the game Fortnite, long-time statistics show that true stars of competitive gaming are three different games – League of Legends, Dota 2 a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. And Czech gamers are gaining ground on the European scene in virtually all of them. Take, for example, Counter-Strike player Tomáš "oskar" Šťastný – he already managed to win almost 10 million crowns in tournament prizes. Several other Czech players, active in the most prestigious European league of the computer game League of Legends, LEC, get a very decent monthly salary as well.

"Worldwide number one are MOBA games, such as Dota2 and League of Legends, followed closely by the most successful FPS game Counter Strike: Global Offensive, while the greatest growth potential clearly has the game Valorant by Riot Games," says Branislav Kovačovič, owner and CEO of the Dark Tigers team.

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Hráč v dresu esportového týmu Fnatic
Hráč v dresu esportového týmu FnaticSource: Unsplash.com/martin_delab

The ever-growing business

The global pandemic has brought esports closer to the general public and has certainly accelerated the entry of many brands into this segment. Up until a few years ago, mainly brands closely associated with the world of professional gaming would spend money in it – technology companies, gaming equipment manufacturers or energy drinks. However, even before the pandemic, some other world-renowned brands from completely different fields dabbled in it as well – BMW and Mercedes Benz car manufacturers, the Erste banking group or the Louis Vuitton fashion house, to name a few. This trend will certainly continue in the coming years. Even in the Czech Republic, elite gaming organizations are gaining support from very strong partners.

Team Sampi cooperates, for example, with the largest Czech e-shop Alza.cz or the betting agency Tipsport, while Dark Tigers has joined forces with PUMA and JRC. The longest-running domestic gaming organization eSuba has the Czc.cz e-shop or the technology giant Samsung on its side and the Prague esports team Team Brute is supported by Sazka or the clothing company Footshop. Last year's rising star, Entropiq, boasts partners such as HAL3000 or McDonalds.

Team Brute’s CEO, Tomáš Müller, answered our question, whether running an esports team in Czech Republic can already be a lucrative business:

„It can, if it manages to break through at least on the European scene. Our domestic scene won’t be big enough to sustain professional, full-time esports teams for at least a few more years. The vast majority of esports organizations' income comes from sponsorship, which is heavily dependent on the number of each team’s fans as well as spectators interested in the leagues the team participates in. In this respect, a small country such as the Czech Republic is very limited by the size of its market."

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Herní akce ESL ONE v německém Hamburgu
Herní akce ESL ONE v německém HamburguSource: Profimedia.cz

The third decade of the 21st century

The expansion of esports cannot be expected to stop in the coming years. Quite the opposite, actually. Current world developments play into the increase in numbers of both active gamers and spectators. According to predictions, in 2020, the number of people watching esports events during the year could increase to over 650 million. At the same time, with its half a billion spectators, electronic sports are already fighting for the position of the 8th most-watched sports on the planet with baseball. Only a foursome of sports — football, cricket, field hockey and tennis — manages to attract more than 1 billion of people to the screens. Moreover, according to surveys, adult esports spectators have, on average, a higher income than spectators of most other sports, which is also very interesting information for potential future sponsors. It can thus be expected that the amount of money invested in professional gaming will increase every year, both worldwide and in our country, where professional gaming has been in great swing for the last two years. We must not forget the potential of gaming on mobile phones as well, which is also getting very interesting with the upcoming introduction of 5G Internet.

"At the moment, esports is being perceived as a very rapidly developing sports sector with a chance of becoming the most successful sport in the world. We at Entropiq have a long-term strategy, where to move our boundaries. We strive to provide our players with a full background, allowing them to focus more on improving their performance and results. The basic of our functioning is ensuring a broad, professionally operating crew, perfect training conditions and smooth operation during top events. This puts the total costs into the tens of millions of crowns per year range," said Entropiq’s PR & Social media consultant Aleš Rataj to LP-life.com.

What’s the takeout message?

Professional gaming was a huge, well-functioning business even before the coronavirus pandemic. The current world situation has only accelerated its spread among the general public. It's hard to guess how far his popularity may go. One thing is certain, though: in the coming years, the number of active gamers and spectators will increase not only abroad, but also in the Czech Republic. With growing tournament rewards and increasing media coverage, the opportunities for gaming organizations will expand as well. However, they still have a lot of work to do in order to remove or reduce the social stigma entwined with playing computer games. There have long been talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the possibility of adding esports to the Summer Olympics program. Nevertheless, esports has since decided to go its own way and must prove to society as a whole that gaming is not a waste of time, but a suitable alternative to traditional sports, which can also arouse intense emotions in people, on its own.

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