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Visualized: The Esports Journey to Mainstream

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Visualized: The Esports Journey to Mainstream

Although esports might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, its origins can be traced all the way back to the 1970s.

It was only in the past decade however, that a wave of technological innovation transformed the entire industry from an underground niche into a billion-dollar mainstream phenomenon.

Today, the nascent esports industry competes with some of the biggest sports leagues in the U.S., while global tech giants hastily invest billions of dollars to make their mark in what many consider to be the future of sports and entertainment.

How did it evolve into the industry we know today—and more importantly, will it maintain its furious pace of growth?

The History of Esports

Electronic sports (or esports), are organized, multiplayer video game competitions commonly played by professional gamers. Since its inception, the industry has continued to exceed expectations and reach new milestones every decade.

Note: The timeline of events are an abridged version of major achievements in the industry.

1970s: The Birth of Esports

The earliest known video game competition—the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics—took place in 1972 at Stanford University. The winner of the event received an annual subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

While it was a modest first prize for the industry, it would set a foundation for future prize pools in the millions of dollars.

1980s: More Gaming Options

The 1980s ushered in better consoles for esports. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) took graphics, controls, gameplay, and video game accessibility to the next level.

Five years later, the Sega Genesis console was released in the U.S. and Japan to compete with Nintendo—which held a 95% market monopoly at the time.

1990s: The First Tournaments

Nintendo increased its commitment to esports by hosting the Nintendo World Championships. After touring 30 cities in the U.S., the finals challenged players to games like Super Mario Bros. and Tetris, with a 40-inch TV awarded to the winner.

Developers and gaming entrepreneurs created a flurry of leagues, including QuakeCon in 1996, followed by both the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) and the Professional Gamers League (PGL) in 1997.

In just a few years, these competitions helped esports gain significant traction.

2000s: The Explosion of Esports

Esports fully burst into the mainstream with Amazon’s acquisition of Twitch for $970 million in 2014. The live video game streaming site gave esports a platform to reach previously unthinkable heights, with popular games like League of Legends (LoL) and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota) receiving millions of views.

In 2019, Google followed suit with its Stadia streaming service. The cloud-based video game platform aims to eliminate the need for hardware, allowing Google to aggressively compete in the esports space.

A Snapshot of Esports Today

The increasing involvement of developers and global tech giants has not only increased the audience size of esports—it has also led to bigger prize pools, and larger scale competitions across the world.

  • Demographics: 50% of esports viewership now comes from Asia.
  • Engagement: 6 billion hours were dedicated to watching esports in 2018, and will continue to grow to 9 billion by 2021.
  • Buy-in: The price of one of the 12 Overwatch League teams for sale in 2017 was $20 million.
  • Incentives: The Fortnite competition prize pool for the 2018 season was $100 million—equal to the entire esports prize pool in 2017.

It’s clear that esports continues to attract rapidly growing audiences at an unprecedented rate. However, there are still significant barriers inhibiting the industry from reaching its full potential.

The Future of esports

In order to maintain its furious pace of growth, the esports industry must first address five key challenges:

  • Diversity of game genres: The industry will need to produce more game genres in order to appeal to a wider audience outside of its current player base.
  • Geographic expansion of leagues: esports will need to expand to national, regional, and global levels if it wants to tap into bigger advertising budgets. However, while esports gains attention from global media, local events are more difficult to organize.
  • Regulation of competitions: With multimillion-dollar prize pools at stake, new rules and regulations are needed to combat cheating and match fixing.
  • Ownership of media rights: Content rights have not been a focus for publishers, as fan-generated content has served as free advertising for their games.
  • Media alignment: Traditional media brands are still reluctant to associate themselves with esports, as prejudices against competitive gaming still exist. For example, gaming culture is viewed as a harmful distraction, rather than a legitimate sport.

In less than 50 years, esports has evolved into a dominant form of entertainment today, eclipsing film and music industries by a wide margin. With an increasingly mainstream audience, the industry’s popularity and profitability shows no signs of slowing down—despite the challenges it faces.

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Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?

Visual Capitalist’s first-ever Generational Power Index looks at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural influence in American society.

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Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?

This year, our team put together Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI), which looks at power dynamics across generations in America.

We considered three categories in our quest to quantify power: economics, political, and cultural. And while it turns that out Baby Boomers dominate when it comes to economics and political factors—the are of cultural influence is a different story.

Here’s a look at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural power, and how this power dynamic is expected to shift in the coming years.

Generations and Power, Defined

Before we get started, it’s important to clarify which generations we’ve included in our research, along with their age and birth year ranges.

GenerationAge range (years)Birth year range
The Silent Generation76 and over1928-1945
Baby Boomers57-751946-1964
Gen X41-561965-1980
Millennials25-401981-1996
Gen Z9-241997-2012
Gen Alpha8 and below2013-present

Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Cultural Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:

cultural power category breakdown

With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Cultural Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.

Share of Cultural Power by Generation

Overall, we found that Gen X captures the largest share of cultural power, at 36%.

GenerationCultural Power Share
The Silent Generation8.8%
Baby Boomers25.1%
Gen X36.0%
Millennials23.9%
Gen Z6.1%
Gen Alpha0.00%
Total99.9%

*Note: figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Gen X is particularly dominant in the film and TV industry, along with news media. For instance, over half of America’s largest news corporations have a Gen Xer as their CEO, and roughly 50% of Oscar winners in 2020 were members of Gen X.

Baby Boomers come in second place, capturing a 25% share of cultural power. They show particular dominance in traditional entertainment like books and art. For example, 42% of the authors on the NYT’s best-selling books list were Baby Boomers.

However, these older generations fall short in one critical category—digital platforms.

The Dominance of Digital

Why is digital so important when it comes to cultural power? Because digital media becoming increasingly more popular than traditional media sources (e.g. TV, radio).

GPI Cultural Power By Generation Supplemental Time Spent on Media

In 2020, Americans spent nearly 8 hours per day consuming digital media, nearly two hours more per day than they spent with traditional media.

This divide is expected to grow even further over the next few years. With younger generations dominating the digital space, Gen X may soon lose its place as the top dog of the culture category.

Celebrity 2.0: The Social Influencer

As audiences flock to online channels, advertisers have followed suit—and they’re willing to spend good money to gain access to their target demographics.

In fact, spend on influencer marketing has steadily increased in the last five years, and it’s expected to reach $13.8 billion by the end of 2021.

GPI Cultural Power By Generation Supplemental Influencer Marketing Spend

This shift to social media advertising is redefining the notion of celebrity, and who reaps the financial benefits of content creation. For instance, six-year-old Vlogger Like Nastya made an estimated $7.7 million per month from her YouTube channel in 2020. And keep in mind, this estimate is purely based on YouTube revenue—it doesn’t even include corporate partnerships and/or merchandise sales.

With all these shifts occurring, culture as we know it is at a crossroads. And as we continue to move towards a digital dominant society, those who hold power in traditional realms will either adapt or pass along the torch.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

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Ranked: The Most Popular Paid Subscription News Websites

Many consumers are reluctant to pay for their news, but those that do turn to trusted sources. Here’s a look at the most subscribed to news websites.

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Ranked: The Most Popular Subscription News Websites

While paywalls are becoming increasingly more popular among news websites, most consumers still aren’t willing to pay for their online news.

In fact, a recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals that only 20% of Americans pay for digital news, and of those that do, the majority subscribe to only one brand.

This begs the question—which news outlets are audiences willing to pay for?

Using data from FIPP and CeleraOne, this graphic looks at the most popular news websites across the globe, based on their total number of paid subscriptions.

*Note: This report relies on publicly available data, and should not be considered an exhaustive list.

The Full Breakdown

With 7.5 million subscriptions, The New York Times (NYT) takes the top spot on the list. 2020 was an exceptionally strong year for the outlet—by Q3 2020, the NYT had generated the same amount of revenue from digital subscriptions as it had for the entire year of 2019.

RankPublicationPaid Subscriptions
1🇺🇸 The New York Times7,500,000
2🇺🇸 The Washington Post3,000,000
3🇺🇸 The Wall Street Journal2,400,000
4🇺🇸 Game Informer2,100,000
5🇬🇧 Financial Times1,100,000
6🇺🇸 The Athletic1,000,000
7🇬🇧 The Guardian790,000
8🇯🇵 Nikkei769,000
9🇬🇧 The Economist516,000
10🇨🇳 Caixin510,000
11🇩🇪 Bild494,000
12🇬🇧 The Sunday Times337,000
13🇬🇧 The Telegraph320,000
14🇺🇸 The Atlantic300,000
15🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera300,000
16🇫🇷 Le Monde300,000
17🇺🇸 The Boston Globe270,000
18🇦🇷 La Nacion260,000
19🇦🇷 Clarin260,000
20🇫🇷 L'equipe259,000
21🇺🇸 Los Angeles Times253,000
22🇸🇪 Aftonbladet250,000
23🇺🇸 The New Yorker240,000
24🇵🇱 Wyborcza240,000
25🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo236,000
26🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter208,000
27🇺🇸 Business Insider200,000
28🇫🇷 Mediapart170,000
29🇳🇴 VG150,000
30🇺🇸 Wired142,000
31🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail139,000
32🇩🇪 Welt132,000
33🇳🇴 Aftenposten119,000
34🇫🇷 Le Figaro110,000
35🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune100,000
36🇺🇸 Star Tribune100,000
37🇳🇴 Dagbladet100,000
38🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat100,000

The Times is the most popular by a landslide—it has over double the number of subscriptions than the second outlet on the list, The Washington Post. Yet, while WaPo is no match for NYT, it still boasts a strong following, with approximately 3 million paid subscriptions as of Q4 2020.

Japanese outlet Nikkei ranks number one among the non-English news websites. It’s the largest business newspaper in Japan, mainly focusing on markets and finance, but also covering politics, sports, and health.

Legacy Papers: Which Websites Come From Traditional Media?

Most of the websites on this list stem from traditional media. Because of this, they’ve had years to establish themselves as trusted sources, and win over loyal readers.

Interestingly, more than half of the outlets included in this ranking are at least 100 years old.

PublicationYear LaunchedAge (Years)
🇬🇧 The Guardian1821200
🇬🇧 The Sunday Times1821200
🇫🇷 Le Figaro1826195
🇸🇪 Aftonbladet1830190
🇬🇧 The Economist1843178
🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune1847173
🇺🇸 NYT1852169
🇬🇧 The Telegraph1855166
🇺🇸 The Atlantic1857164
🇳🇴 Aftenposten1860160
🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter1864157
🇺🇸 Star Tribune1867154
🇳🇴 Dagbladet1869152
🇦🇷 La Nacion1870151
🇺🇸 The Boston Globe1872149
🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera1876145
🇺🇸 Washington Post1877144
🇯🇵 Nikkei.com1876144
🇺🇸 LA Times1881140
🇬🇧 Financial Times1888133
🇺🇸 Wall Street Journal1889132
🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat1889132
🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo1921100
🇺🇸 The New Yorker192596
🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail193685
🇫🇷 Le Monde194477
🇦🇷 Clarin194576
🇳🇴 VG194576
🇫🇷 L'equipe194675
🇩🇪 Welt194675
🇩🇪 Bild195269
🇵🇱 Wyborcza198932
🇺🇸 Game Informer199130
🇺🇸 Wired199328
🇺🇸 Business Insider200714
🇫🇷 Mediapart200813
🇨🇳 Caixin200912
🇺🇸 The Athletic20165

Yet, undeterred by these well-established outlets, a few scrappy websites made the cut despite a shorter history. Four out of the 38 websites are less than 20 years old.

The Athletic is the newest outlet to make the ranking. Established in 2016, the outlet’s target demographic is die-hard sports fans who miss the days of in-depth, quality sports writing.

The Need For Trusted Sources

Amidst the global pandemic, issues involving misinformation and fake news have helped reaffirm the important role that trusted news sources play in the dissemination of public information.

With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for digital media consumption. With paywalls becoming increasingly more common, will consumers jump on board and eventually be more willing to pay for their news?

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