The Runaway Success of Esports


On Friday June 19, FIBA launched its inaugural FIBA Esports Open in partnership with NBA2K. Combining the prestige of international basketball competition to competitive esports seems like a good fit, particularly with so many sports leagues and competitions around the world still yet to restart.

The appeal of such a competition has been broad, with the list of participating countries including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Cyprus, Indonesia, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine.

With traditional sporting events having been on a period of hiatus due to the impact of COVID-19, similar launches of digital competitions have come from Formula 1 and Nascar, while French Soccer team PSG also became the latest professional sports team to commit to esports.

With increased attention and stakes in esports competitions, so too grows the importance of analysing the performances. Synergy Sports has been tracking the NBA2K League for a number of seasons now, even able to quantify the difference in playstyle between the physical and digital versions of NBA competition.

Aided by this adoption from traditional sport over the past few years, but mainly fuelled by a huge growth from within, esports is enjoying a period of exponential growth that has undoubtedly captured the attention of major sport’s leagues.

With esports burgeoning popularity, there have even been mainstream debates over whether it has reached the point of Olympic consideration. This is truly something for a sector that until relatively recently was considered a fairly small niche and subculture.

One of the questions raised over esports from outside the community is whether or not it builds competitors into celebrities in the same way traditional sports do. Taking a single example, one of the most well known esports personalities (ninja), has almost 24 million subscribers to his YouTube channel alone. To a particular young audience, these are the true influencers.

Mutual Growth

The interaction between traditional sport and esports isn’t a one way interaction either. Platforms such as Twitch that have grown largely off the back of esports are also increasingly moving into covering traditional sport. The NBA G League games have streamed live on Twitch for a number of seasons, and Amazon also just announced it will stream live Premier League action on to the platform in the coming weeks.

With the NBA’s new professional pathway program introducing bonafide young stars into the G League and top flight soccer joining Twitch, there will likely be a renewed focus on how esports has raised the game in terms of remote fan engagement. As stadiums remain empty around the world, this is a topic that’s become a priority for all sports.

A New Frontier

But how do we explain such a rapid adoption of esports by traditional sport? Being able to incorporate esports into a competitive calendar allows sporting properties to reach a new audience. Research from FanAi suggests that there is a relatively small overlap between traditional sport and esports fans. Some 76% of esports fans do not overlap with traditional sports.

For the small section that overlaps, sport has an opportunity to establish another touchpoint with its fans and potentially grow the loyalty of its fan base across multiple teams (the physical and the digital). Most powerfully however, esports presents a large, relatively untapped opportunity for sports to connect its advertisers and partners with a new, younger audience that is more challenging to reach with traditional media and advertising channels.


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