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What’s next for esports?

Earlier this month Paysafe hosted a live panel discussion with some of the most influential people in the world of esports. The experts debated a range of topics, including the impact of COVID-19 and the opportunities it has brought to the industry, the blueprint for the continued growth of esports and the role of sponsors, gender parity, and the potential for esports to be elevated to an Olympic sport in the near future.

What's next for esports?

The full recording of the session is available to watch now, but here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation:

1. The industry pulled together during the pandemic, and thrived because of it:

Stephan Schröder, Senior Vice President of Global Brand Partnerships EMEA, ESL: “Brands and sponsors were really open and tried to survive together during the pandemic. Looking back now – overall we did a good job. There is, of course, always room for improvement – going forward we need to focus even more on developing online activation worlds better, for the longer term and with more creativity.”

Sabrina Rathi, Commercial Director, G2 Esports: “The brands that were reactive enough and were prepared to try something new came out of the pandemic on top. A lot of our brands were super understanding and curious – for us at G2 and for our partners, it provided us with an opportunity to try a new approach.

Konstantinos Maragkakis, EEA CEO and Director of Paysafe Prepaid Services Limited: “Overall, from a business perspective we had a positive experience over the last year – as a payment method we’re enabling consumers to use cash to make online purchases in gaming and we were naturally placed in this situation as more people made the transition online. That being said, the biggest challenge was initially engaging online with a lot more potential customers as everyone was switching at the same time. Customers were being bombarded from all directions.”

2. Being recognised as a sport by The Olympics would have some benefits, but there are also some drawbacks the industry should consider:

Konstantinos: “As a sponsor, esports becoming an Olympic sport would be a double-edged sword - the opportunity would add tremendous gravitas to your activity but at the same time it would raise the bar so much in terms of entry. Such an elevation of esports, as we see in the Olympics, would create an environment where the field would be ruled by the super mega brands who can afford this kind of sponsorship.”

Sabrina: “esports becoming an Olympic sport would lead to a broader awareness from commercial and media standpoint. I think if that results in a bigger influx of talent that is a positive. My only reservation is that we want to see it as a form of entertainment. We do not want to look at esports as just sport, the mix between the competitive side and entertainment value generates this unique fandom and needs to be preserved and nurtured.”

3. Esports still has a gender parity issue, but female-only leagues and teams are not the answer:

Sabrina: “Unfortunately, when it comes to equality and proper representation across our pro players and fan base it is 100% underrepresented. That is a fact that needs to be addressed. But personally, I think female only leagues and teams are not the way forward – it’s counterproductive. My concern is it further increases the pre-existing stigma we have. For us, we are actively looking into formats that address a female audience, looking into titles that offer a good ecosystem that nurtures female talent. There is no week that goes by that we’re not discussing this issue internally. We’ve made a commitment to address it.”

Stephan: “All of our tournaments are open to gender – we have a slogan ‘everybody can be somebody’. For ESL’s leadership team, gender parity and inclusion is one of the most important topics for us. We’re trying to push organisations on how to improve when it comes to representation and equality in esports. From a commercial standpoint, sponsors are interested in a community that isn’t only male driven.”

4. Mobile gaming is already established as the next frontier for esports, and 5G is only going to grow it further:

Konstantinos: “Overall, we view mobile gaming very positively. It gives the industry access to lots of different locations/geographies which traditionally did not have the infrastructure, now the development of 5G can bypass the gaming space.”

Stephan: “Mobile gaming is bringing a broader audience to the industry - from classical, just casual gaming, up to the power it lends to esports in the end. You see the fragmented reality – it is difficult for a sponsor to be on top of that. Important to have a stability in the system – mobile gaming is so wild. The system is more clear and more attractive for partners.”

5. The industry is running towards sports betting as an additional entertainment element, not away from it:

Sabrina: “Betting for us is super interesting. We recently announced our partnership with Betway. Esports organisations make betting more accessible as esports is a form of entertainment and betting fits right into it. It’s the perfect piece of the puzzle.”

What’s next for esports? was recorded on June 16 2021. Konstantinos, Sabrina, and Stephan were moderated by Melek ‘m3lly’ Balgün, a leading esports web, TV, and event host and avid gamer.