In recent years, video gaming has become more popular than ever in the US thanks to the explosive growth of mobile gaming and the rise of live streaming. In fact, according to Mintel’s Attitudes toward Gaming US 2015 report, gaming is now ubiquitous with teens and 35% of those age 12-17 say that video games are their main source of entertainment. Furthermore, the audience for professional gaming is likely to grow considerably as the current generation of teens enters adulthoodThis presents ample opportunity for eSports – competitive tournaments where video games are played by professional gamers. And gaming and media companies are taking notice.

Yahoo recently unveiled “Yahoo Esports,” a site dedicated solely to the world of competitive gaming. This comes on the heels of ESPN’s January launch of its own eSports vertical, “ESPN Esports.” Game publisher Activision Blizzard has also invested heavily in generating interest in eSports for its popular games. The brand’s Heroes of the Storm was played in a 2015 college tournament called “Heroes of the Dorm.” The same competition will be held again this year with a $500,000 tuition prize. Most notably, early in 2016, Activision Blizzard purchased Major League Gaming (MLG), a professional eSports organization, for $46 million, announcing plans to build an eSports-focused television network.

19% of men age 18-34 like to watch professional gaming events or eSports

While only a minority of gamers currently follow eSports, game developers and broadcasters looking to expand their outreach should innovate the range of games available in eSports; a primary barrier to eSports is the lack of variety in genres currently played at the professional level. Globally, the eSports landscape is largely dominated by StarCraft (real-time strategy) and League of Legends (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). While fighting games have a dedicated global audience, many of the tournaments in this category are regional-only.

Mintel research indicates the potential for eSports to nearly double its viewership as almost the same number of consumers would be interested in watching eSports as those who already do so. The main barrier to viewership is that the types of games potential viewers like are not currently played professionally. What’s more, this interest is seen in both men and women age 18-34, despite men typically being more active and engaged gamers.

While there is a huge opportunity to grow the popularity of eSports among teens as they age and gain spending power, there is also pressure on gaming brands and media outlets to cater to a diverse set of players; pressure that will only grow as gaming becomes more commonplace beyond the teen years. In addition to expanding to new player demographics, there is a need to widen the variety of games that are played professionally and find ways of supporting professional play even among less-obvious genres.

Bryant Harland is a Technology and Media Analyst at Mintel. He brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News.

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