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A Foolish Take: Esports Matched the NBA in Total Viewers in 2018

By Leo Sun – Updated Apr 24, 2019 at 10:32AM

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Video games tied for the third-most-popular spectator sport in America last year.

In recent years, watching others play video games evolved from a niche activity into the global phenomenon known as esports. It now boasts professional leagues, tournaments, and major sponsors. Sixty-three million Americans watched esports league games in 2018, according to a recent survey by Activate, matching the viewership of NBA games.

Chart showing 2018 U.S. sports viewers by league

Data source: Activate. Chart by author.

Furthermore, Activate believes that esports could hit 84 million viewers by 2021, putting it in second place after the NFL's 141 million viewers. That's why Disney's ESPN now covers esports alongside football, baseball, basketball, and other "traditional" sports.

That projected growth also explains Amazon's (AMZN 2.55%) acquisition of Twitch, the top game-streaming platform, for $1.1 billion in 2014. Twitch now hosts over 15 million daily unique visitors who watch games for an average of 95 minutes per day. Over 2.2 million gamers stream their content on Twitch monthly, with the top 5% considered major influencers.

Check out the latest Amazon earnings call transcript.

Three games consistently dominate esports viewership, according to Newzoo: Valve's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and DOTA 2, and Tencent's League of Legends. All three games are at least five years old, but they attract casual viewers with easy-to-follow rules and combat -- strengths that newer games often lack.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun owns shares of Amazon, TCEHY, and DIS. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, TCEHY, and DIS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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