The esports scene has come a long way from the first competitive video gaming event – the 1972 Spacewar Stanford Tournament – or the 1980 Space Invaders Championship in New York. Although the thousands of people who came to watch those were considered remarkable, today’s average esports events gather a million viewers easily. With droves of spectators and billions of dollars accumulating every year in this industry, esports has officially become a staple of modern-day entertainment.
To understand the full scope of the international gaming market, we need to look at esports viewership statistics. This article will tell you which nation spends the most time watching game tournaments, and the massive global audience that follows esports.
- In 2021, 234 million people watched esports events regularly.
- European men watch esports more than women; however, women spend more money on esports-related merchandise.
- 80% of the total US audience does not watch esports.
- During the first year of the pandemic, Spain had the largest expansion of esports viewership compared to sports, with 70% of people watching esports more than usual.
- The most-watched esports tournament was the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore, with 5.41 million viewers.
The Growing Esports Crowd
It is no surprise that the first waves of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 made a significant impact on the growth of the esports scene. Esports infographics reveal fascinating data, chiefly how the lockdowns and social distancing measures facilitated people’s time on the internet, participating in and watching exciting online multiplayer matches.
However, the latest esports statistics show that this market is showing no signs of a slowdown, despite things returning to semi-normal.
The Esports Audience Over the Years
In 2018, approximately 25.7 million US citizens watched esports. Since then, American viewership has kept increasing, as have the crowds of regular and casual esports watchers worldwide.
|Year||Esports Fans (in Millions)||Casual Watchers (in Millions)|
In 2019, there were 397.8 million esports tournaments and live stream watchers in the world. Of this number, 197 million were regular esports gaming fans, and around 200 million were occasional watchers.
In 2020, the esports scene counted 435.9 million fans – a 9.6% year-on-year increase. There were 215.4 million avid followers and 220.5 million casual visitors. Finally, the total audience grew to 465.1 million in 2021, representing a 6.7% YoY expansion.
The European Esports Scene
Europeans enjoy watching esports games and tournaments, too. Esports numbers show 92 million Europeans watched esports in 2020 – a 7.4% increase from 2019. In other words, Europeans comprised a quarter of the 397.8 million worldwide viewership.
|Year||Audience (in Millions)|
Out of this number, 33 million were regular spectators who watched at least one e-gaming match per month in 2019. Aside from those esports enthusiasts, there were 59 million Europeans who watched game streams just a few times per year.
European Esports Spectator Age Distribution
Studies showed that Europeans aged 21 to 25 were the largest demographic that frequently dedicated their time to esports. The 18-20 age group was the youngest interviewed group and one that was heavily marketed to by esports companies. However, this young adult section was second-to-last in terms of esports enthusiast share – just 33% of them watched matches regularly.
|Age Group||Regular Esports Viewers|
Although it’s pretty evenly distributed overall, esports consumption by age group isn’t as equal when viewed within specific countries. The United Kingdom had only 21% of viewers from the 18-20 age group regularly watching any esports league. On the other hand, in Finland, 52% of the same demographic were eager to stream gaming matches.
Esports Gender Participation
The male-to-female ratio for esports viewing is still somewhat unequal – 38% of male viewers in Europe frequently watched esports games, while just 27% of women regularly tuned into the same events.
Despite these stats, more than 60% of Europeans believe women’s interest in esports is on the rise – and rightly so. In 2019, an average female audience share of 22% watched the biggest esports games. South Korea led the list, with 32% of viewers being women.
In the US, 30% of the casual-fan esports market consisted of men, while a mere 11% of women occasionally followed esports games. A quarter of the female survey participants said they were unfamiliar with professional gaming, and 15% of the male focus group did not know about esports.
On the other hand, women who watch esports spent more money on related merchandise and products: 48% of female interviewees spent money on esports merch that year, compared to 46% of male ones.
We’ve already mentioned the spending habits of European esports aficionados, but let’s see how much the worldwide gaming audience has spent on esports-related products.
Statistics show that 58% of regular esports fans bought related merch. On the other hand, 37% of viewers who only occasionally tuned into game streaming spent money on esports-related items.
|Share of Esports Fans Who Spent Money on Esports by Country|
Spain is the country that leads in esports purchasing habits. In 2019-2020, 62% of online gaming viewers in Spain bought esports products, such as their favorite esports team‘s official merchandise, banners, in-game skins, and more.
Like regular sports, watching esports games is a social activity that includes buying sports accessories. As esports viewership grew, so did the number of people who bought esports-related goodies for themselves. Other than that, 45% of esports enthusiasts paid for others, of which 19% bought esports products for their partners.
|Esports viewers spending money on themselves||55%|
|Esports viewers spending money on partners||19%|
|Esports viewers spending money on kids||10%|
|Esports viewers spending money on friends||10%|
|Esports viewers spending money on others||6%|
The 2019 Esports Tournament and Streams Watching Figures
(GlobalWebIndex, Business Insider)
The 16-24 age group spent the most time watching gaming tournaments in 2019. As the esports ecosystem grew, the number of esports tournament watchers increased, reaching even older demographics. In 2019, 6% of the interviewed 55-to-64 olds found time to spectate.
|Share of Age Groups Watching Esports Tournaments|
On a global level, 29% of internet users watched live streams of people playing games: The Philippines had the highest number of viewers, with 49% of internet users tuning in. The UK and US had a 14% and 13% share, respectively.
One of the countries with the smallest esports market size dedicated to streaming in 2019 was Switzerland, with a mere 8% of internet users watching other people playing games.
|Top 10 Countries With Internet Users Watching Video Game Live Streams|
The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region accounted for 57% of the world’s esports audience; in 2017, that share was 51%. North America, and Europe are set to contribute $300 million and $158 million to the growing revenue stream of esports in 2022.
Latest Esports Tournament Numbers
(Esports Insider, Esports Charts)
Speaking of esports popularity, in 2021, the most-watched esports tournament was the Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore, which peaked at 5.41 million viewers and had an average of 2 million viewers at all times, as the viewership chart shows. It was the main event for the mobile game Garena Free Fire battle royale.
|2021 Esports tournament||Peak Viewership (in Millions)|
|Free Fire World Series 2021 Singapore||5.41|
|League of Legends 2021 World Championship||4.01|
|PUBG Mobile Global Championship Season 0||3.80|
|M3 World Championship||3.19|
|M2 World Championship||3.08|
|PGL Major Stockholm 2021||2.74|
|The International 10||2.74|
|MPL ID Season 8||2.39|
|MLBB Southeast Asia Cup 2021||2.28|
|Mid-Season Invitational 2021||1.83|
The second most popular tournament in 2021 was the League of Legends World Championship in Iceland. Audience participation peaked at 4.01 million, without counting the Chinese viewers – i.e., it was even higher than that. The PUBG Mobile Global Championship was close third, reaching 3.8 million views during the competition.
The US Esports Gathering
(Morning Consult, InsiderIntelligence)
There are fascinating insights hidden in esports growth statistics for the US market. In 2019, approximately 21.1 million Americans tuned in to esports gaming. In 2021, that number rose to 26.6 million – an increase of 11.5% compared to 2020.
One reason for these numbers is the introduction of the next generation consoles near the end of 2020. The PlayStation 5 sold vast quantities, bringing more players and viewers to the esports scene, thanks to its social and gaming features.
|Year||US Esports Audience (millions)||Percent Change Year Over Year||Percent of Gaming Video Content Spectators|
According to esports market research, around 20% of US citizens have never heard of esports. That’s one in five Americans missing out on online tournaments or live gaming streams. It seems like, despite being the second-biggest consumer of video games, the US has not fully warmed to this new form of entertainment.
The same report states that 59% of participants weren’t enthusiastic about esports. On the other hand, 20% of participants were confirmed esports fans, of which 13% were casual viewers, while the remaining 7% were ardent esports fans.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Audience Engagement
It’s reasonable to expect that countries with the strictest pandemic restrictions in 2020 would have been the likeliest to witness an expansion of their esports audience. Spain experienced the highest growth in the online gaming watch base, with 70% of people spending more time watching esports than usual.
|Country||Increased Esports Watching Time||Unchanged Esports Watching Time||Decreased Esports Watching Time|
Nordic countries like Norway, Finland, and Sweden had the lowest audience engagement growth, due in part to the lesser impact the pandemic had there.
Once lockdown measures gradually relaxed worldwide, this trend hadn’t dipped. In fact, 59% of people who spent more time watching esports teams stated they’d continue watching after the government removed the COVID-19 measures.
Esports audience demographics show that fans from Spain and the United Kingdom had the highest percentage of confirmations on planning to spend more time watching esports once the lockdown was lifted. 62% of them expressed the desire to watch more of their favorite esports teams.
The State of Esports in 2022
(Newzoo, InsiderIntelligence, Business Insider, Seminar Nürtingen)
We can expect the online gaming audience will continue to expand in 2022. It’s projected to achieve 8.7% year-on-year growth, encompassing 532 million viewers. Of that, around 261 million audience members will tune into esports games more than once monthly. If we compare the esports vs. sports viewership, we can see that esports has established dominance: ESPN reports an average of 812,000 people watching sports events on average, with around 2 million viewers tuning in for prime time.
In the US alone, there will be 29.6 million viewers watching their favorite esports players. One of the most impactful reasons for this steady climb in viewership is the participation of celebrities, such as Drake, Michael Jordan, and others, in esports promotion.
Esports analytics predict the mobile gaming market will make a big splash on the esports scene: Mobile games might make up to 45% of the entire global games market.
Live Streaming Viewership
Two of the most prominent live-streaming services worldwide are Twitch and YouTube Live. According to stream charts for Twitch esports viewership, this platform takes first place with 5.79 billion hours of watch time in the third quarter of 2021. The current maximum in 2022 is 517 billion minutes spent watching live streams.
|Streaming Market Share According to Hours Streamed|
|YouTube Gaming Live||3.4%|
On the other hand, YouTube Gaming Live’s total streaming shrank from 12.5 million hours in the third quarter of 2020 to 8.4 million in the same quarter the following year. Facebook Gaming had 250 million hours more in Q3 2021 than 2020, totaling 1.29 billion hours of watch time.
The average esports viewership and esports streamers in China rely on Huya, Douyin, Huomao, and PandaTV. China has become one of the largest live streaming markets, with 185.5 million viewers in 2020. Statistics analysts expect that by 2024, China will have 214.3 million people enjoying live streams.
The global live streaming audience in 2019 amounted to 593.2 million; in 2020, it grew to 662.7 million, which is an 11.7% increase. The markets that experienced the most significant live streaming expansion were England, Portugal, and Spain. Speaking of the highest esports viewership, Spanish streams amounted to 1.4 billion hours – a 369% rise – and Portugal’s to 1.1 billion hours of viewing (a 189% increase).
The Future of the Esports Following
The streaming CAGR reached 24.8% in 2022, but it’s expected to increase further with the introduction of blockchain-based digital assets and activities to esports, like NFTs and Bitcoin betting. The global viewership is expected to reach 640 million by 2025, with 318 million representing avid fans of esports. Currently, there are no indications that the growth of the esports sector will stop or slow down, as new video games keep selling millions of units.
How many viewers do esports have?
Esports viewership statistics inform us that there are approximately 532 million esports viewers in 2022, of whom 261 million tune into online tournaments and video game live streams regularly.
Which esport has the highest viewership?
League of Legends competitions have the biggest audience, with the League of Legends World Championship recording a 21.8 million Average Minute Audience (AMA) and 100 million viewers overall.
What is the number 1 Esport?
League of Legends remains the most-watched esports game to date.