Perhaps no entertainment medium is as universally beloved as video games. From the days of arcade cabinets to the console revolution and the advent of virtual-reality gaming, people around the world have always loved video games.
Today, the global gaming industry is adjusting to its latest trend: esports. Video games tend to be competitive by nature, but esports bring the intensity of this competition to the next level. And just like a traditional physical contest like a soccer game or boxing match, esports require high-level training, sportsmanship, and clutch performance.
Competitive gaming at a professional level is a relatively new concept, but money is already flowing into the industry at a rapid pace. Pro gamers are now facing off in international tournaments, racking up corporate sponsorships, and battling for multi-million dollar prizes.
But is this just another quirky trend, or should investors consider esports a legitimate growth industry? There are certainly plenty of publicly-traded video game companies, but will any of them feel the effects of esports? Is there any money to be made here? Let's take a closer look.
The global esports economy is expected to grow to more than $905 million in 2018, according to market research firm Newzoo . That figure would represent year-over-year growth of roughly 38%.
About 77% of this cash will be generated directly through sponsorships and advertising and indirectly through media rights and content licenses. Game publisher fees are expected to account for 13% of this year's economy, while merchandise and event ticketing will bring in about 10%.
"As a business, esports is now entering a new and critical phase toward maturity. Big investments have been made, new league structures have been launched, sponsorship budgets have moved from experimental to continuous, and international media rights trade is starting to heat up," said Newzoo CEO Peter Warman.
But as one would expect with any young business, rising revenue does not necessarily mean profits are being realized yet.
"Profitability and return on investment is, for many organizations at the heart of the Esports Economy, a challenge," Warman added.
Nevertheless, e-sports is likely to be the fastest-growing market in sports, if you consider it among traditional competitions like soccer and football. In its latest Sports Survey , PwC gave e-sports its top rating in term of "potential to grow revenues globally," putting it one spot above soccer-the world's most popular sport-and six spots in front of American football.
We can see that the scope of the esports industry-and its rapid rate of growth-should put it every investor's radar. With this much money pouring in, people need their own strategies if they want to be among the first wave that profits from esports.
One low-exposure method for investing in esports is buying shares in Wall Street darling Nvidia NVDA . This trendy company makes high-end graphics processing units (GPUs) that are marketed towards PC gamers. These GPUs are a top choice for professional gamers, who understandably need their machines to perform at the highest level.
Nvidia has attracted attention because of its investments in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars, but gaming is still the company's core business. The rise of esports promises to generate even more interests in its GPUs, and the stock has already added more than 61% over the past year.
Investors can also get exposure to the equipment and accessories market with Turtle Beach HEAR , a leading designer of headsets for gamers. Turtle Beach products are popular among many gamers, but the company hit a new wave of growth due to the success of battle royale shooter Fortnite .
Fortnite is one of the most popular games in the world and has over 125 million users worldwide. Ithas developed a sizeable competitive scene, with pro-level players dueling it out for large cash prizes.
Turtle Beach skyrocketed as the company reported Fortnite -inspired growth. Shares went from below $2 to start the year to above $32 in just a few short months. The stock has fallen from those highs but still sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy).
Video Game Publishers
The more direct approach to investing in esports is through the video game publishers. Millions of people are tuning in to watch professional gamers play some of the world's most-popular games, which increases brand awareness and drives licensing fees for these companies. And these brands are certainly looking for ways to cash in further from this business.
For example, Electronic Arts EA recently launched its "EA Competitive Gaming Division." This new group focuses on operating professional leagues for games like FIFA , Madden NFL , and Battlefield . Meanwhile, Take-Two Interactive TTWO partnered up the National Basketball Association to launch the "NBA 2K eLeague," which features teams operated by 17 of the NBA's 30 franchises (also read: Esports Goes Mainstream with NBA, FIFA Deals ).
Another video game publisher that stands to benefit from esports is Activision Blizzard ATVI . Activision recently purchased a major esports company, Major League Gaming, for $46 million. ATVI also started a professional league for its immensely-popular Overwatch game in January. The new "Overwatch League" is the first pro league of its kind, with 12 teams representing cities from around the globe.
In its first week, the league attracted 10 million viewers. By the time of the finals in July, the Overwatch League was drawing 861,000 viewers per minute across TV and streaming platforms. The second season of Activision's competition will feature eight debutant teams, with some reports suggesting new owners shelled out between $30 million and $60 million to acquire franchises.
Another interesting "esports stock" right now is Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings TCEHY . Tencent owns Riot Games, the developer of one of the world's most-popular games, League of Legends . Tencent also holds a 40% stake in Epic Games, which makes the aforementioned Fortnite .
According to Twitchmetrics, League of Legends and Fortnite were the second- and first-most watched games on Amazon's AMZN Twitch streaming platform during the month of October. Tencent is also uniquely positioned to succeed in Asian markets, which continues to be the hottest region for esports.
Want more market analysis from this author? Make sure to follow @ Ryan_McQueeney on Twitter!
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