Esports Predictions for 2020

Please feel free to subscribe to my newsletter or follow me at @blakeir

Initially published on Medium — December 31, 2019

I did this last year and had a ton of fun. Excited to do this again. If you want to read my predictions for last year, click here.

  1. Esports (and gaming in general) in the West are now a critical part of pop culture. Esports viewership in 2020 will continue to break records and be the best year yet.
  2. In 2019, we saw the streaming wars between Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Mixer heat up for individual creators. I expect there to be a shift in strategy towards structuring deals around leagues, tournaments, and teams.
  3. League, tournament, and team deals will attract even more competition to the streaming wars. Specifically, the bigger media players (AT&T, ESPN, Disney, etc.) will also try to structure deals.
  4. YouTube, Twitch, Mixer, and Facebook will continue to announce signings of tier-1/2 individual streamers, but their focus will start to shift towards broader deals.
  5. Twitch and YouTube will continue to win for individual streamers. Mixer and Facebook will fail to gain significant market share in 2020. The streamers that switch to Mixer/FB (with the exception of a few) will struggle to retain high viewership numbers. Proving the power is with the platform vs. creator.
  6. League of Legends (Riot) & Fortnite (Epic) have been planting seeds throughout 2019 to leverage their IP as a metaverse and platform. In 2020, we will see both invest heavily in building out pure platform plays.
  7. It will become very difficult for multiplayer games to break through to ‘Fortnite’ levels of success in 2020 without partnering with a major AAA publisher. M&A will heat up, and we will see the biggest players invest heavily in smaller studios.
  8. This will be one of the toughest years on esports organizations to date. Most teams raised in 2018/2019 with 18–24 months of runway, and will be back in the market. A lot of investors have already placed their bets, leaving limited options for additional capital.
  9. As player salaries continue to rise across the industry with revenue still lagging behind — a correction is imminent. However, teams that make it through the correction will be even stronger.
  10. I expect a lot of tier-2 and tier-3 organizations, and maybe a couple of tier-1 organizations will either merge or completely dissolve. This will have ripple effects across the ecosystem as tier-2/3 organizations are a critical component.
  11. As organizations scramble to reach profitability, teams will establish a clear identity and strategy. e.g. agency model, media company, or purely competitive.
  12. In 2020, I expect at least one tier-1 esports organization to sell a majority stake to a traditional sports organization or a Fortune 500 endemic company.
  13. Overwatch League will largely be considered a failure amongst team owners and investors given the high upfront investment that everyone committed. I expect 2020 to be the year that Overwatch switches to free-to-play in an effort to increase the player base (and audience size).
  14. After franchising, Activision will invest heavily in trying to make sure that Call of Duty League is ‘successful.’ However, I fear that it was set-up for failure from the beginning given historical viewership numbers and the current game state.
  15. Local venues and events for these Activision Leagues (CDL/OWL) will struggle outside of major geographies. I don’t know if esports will ever be ready for consistent local market events.
  16. Rocket League, with the help of Epic, will become a tier-1 esport in 2020. It is the perfect mix of: super easy to watch, brand-friendly, and fun gameplay.
  17. Stadia will be considered a failure and novelty. The technology and potential are incredible; however, it’s a couple of years ahead of where the core gaming audience is.
  18. This will be the biggest year yet for mobile gaming. I might even go as far as saying it will be the breakout year for mobile esports in the West. We have seen the potential of mobile esports in Asia.
  19. AAA developers are finally investing heavily in porting their well-known IP into mobile-friendly gameplay. CoD:Mobile, LoL: Wild Rift, TFT, etc. are going to lead the way here.
  20. As customer acquisition costs continue to rise for developers on mobile, console, and PC — browser games will have a breakout year in 2020. Several browser-first games will go viral and have real staying power.
  21. Browser games will fill the ‘casual’ game market void for PC gamers. They are the perfect games to play while in a queue for LoL or CS:GO.
  22. As esports become more mainstream, I expect training tools (KovaaK’s & AimLab) to breakthrough as well. This could finally push game developers towards investing in better training and onboarding.