Recently we’ve seen a dramatic shift in sports viewing activity, with former “classics” like baseball and football seeing less viewership than in the past. This has given rise to a new arena – the introduction of more technology-based competitions like drone racing and eSports. eSports, or electronic sports are a form of competition that is facilitated by electronic systems, particularly video games. Essentially you are watching competitors play video games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and StarCraft II in a venue with other competitors and spectators. Drone racing is exactly what it sounds like, a field of competitors race against the clock to pilot their drone and complete an obstacle course to win. While the decline in viewing of sports like baseball creates an opening for a new sport to gain popularity, the tech sports are in direct competition with one another.
In two years, eSports more than tripled its global audience from 71.5 million in 2013 to 226 million in 2015. The eSports market in the United States alone generated $325 million in 2015 and brought in more than $490 million in 2016. Whether you consider it a main stream “sport” or not, eSports is definitely putting up some big numbers. That being said, the field of eSports may be growing in popularity with younger people but the older market doesn’t seem to show much interest. Recently there has been a big push in mobile eSports, like the games you can download on any smartphone which makes it appear more available to anyone.
Drone racing, though in its infancy, definitely has the capability to evolve and become a bona fide spectator sport. It is a bit newer than eSports, initially beginning around 2011-2012 but not garnering much attention until 2016 when ESPN broadcasted the U.S. National Drone Racing Championships to over 28 million viewers. For a new sport, this is an impressive draw for their first nationally televised event. The 2017 championships on ESPN were predicted to reach over 40 million viewers, nearly doubling in its first year. In the future, drone racing could even develop into a more cyberphysical version of eSports where viewers could actually see the technology in action.
Given that it is a much newer sport, drone racing may be a bit behind eSports in viewership and revenue, but it’s gaining steam quickly and could see exponential growth in the coming years. While some at the top of the eSports ranking pull in salaries of $300,000 plus a year after several years on the circuit, in its second year of existence the Drone Racing League is already providing contracts of up to $100,000. With more air time and sponsors, the potential salary for drone pilots could be on par, if not higher than eSports in the coming years. As viewership in drone racing increases, so will the available prizes to the pilots. Actually, at the end of September Red Bull is even sponsoring an International drone racing event in Austria. Red Bull is a company that has previously shown interest in the expanding market of new sports, including earlier sponsoring eSports tournaments- they tend to be on the cutting edge of technology and popular events.
Technology is growing massively and at a very fast rate, which could theoretically give drone racing the edge over eSports. Some of the competitions in eSports are using games initially released 7 years ago or longer, and the development of new games takes years to meet the standards set by new graphics and capability. Drones and hardware are evolving at a much faster rate and multiple companies are working on new models constantly to create the most “state of the art” and user friendly products. Unlike eSports, drone racing also allows for customization and allows the pilots to create their own individual identities. Drone pilots have begun to develop definitive personalities and thus they have garnered fans who not only follow the sport, but their career.
Though both eSports and drone racing are in their early stages as spectator sports, drone racing definitely has the potential to not only grow to the level of eSports, but even surpass it. Where eSports grew out of the software era in technology, it seems that drone racing has burgeoned out of the hardware age, which has just reached the tip of its potentially colossal iceberg. eSports may be on the top of the heap right now, but they should sleep with one eye open because in no time at all it may have to face off against newcomer drone racing for attention, fans, and viewership.