Fortnite's 'Moneymaker' Effect May Propel ESports to NFL Status

(Bloomberg) -- Call Fortnite this generation’s “Moneymaker effect.”

Chris Moneymaker, the amateur poker player who won the World Series of Poker in 2003, ignited the popularity of Poker -- a parallel Goldman Sachs analyst Christopher D. Merwin sees now with Fortnite and eSports. As eSports migrate to a full-fledged professional occupation from the “wild west” of sports, they are on track to reach the same number of viewers in 2022 that the NFL has today, Goldman said.

“ESports are as much of a sport as any other, and one that at the highest levels requires intense training and focus,” he wrote in a note to clients Tuesday morning. Merwin added that professional eSports teams train for up to 8 hours per day, have coaches, trainers and nutritionists on staff, and players receive base salaries, just like any professional sports league.

Fortnite's 'Moneymaker' Effect May Propel ESports to NFL Status

Although eSports have existed for as long as the video game industry, only recently has growth in the gaming audience and player engagement pushed eSports into mainstream culture.

Merwin said in the early years there was little organization or infrastructure, but all that began to change in 2017. Riot Games created a North American and EU League of Legends and in January 2018, Blizzard launched the Overwatch League. The leagues cultivated the infrastructure to allow eSports to finally begin to close the monetization gap relative to other established sports leagues.

Now, Epic Games’ Fortnite -- the highest monetizing video game in the world -- is bringing more new gamers into the ecosystem. Fortnite generates an annual run rate of $3.6 billion -- earning more annual revenue than any major console or PC game today, Merwin wrote. An Epic Games spokesperson in May indicated that the game had a peak of 3.4 million concurrent users as of February.

Meanwhile, venture investments in eSports are accelerating. Since 2013, there has been $3.3 billion of venture capital investment in eSports-related startups. In 2018 alone, Merwin says he has already seen $1.4 billion of investment, or 90% more than the total amount of funding in 2017.

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