Whether you know your “split-push” from your “powerspike” or not, it’s difficult to miss the ever growing popularity and influence of esports.

With hundreds of millions playing and watching worldwide, brand partnerships with the likes of Gucci, BMW and Coca Cola, and a showcase at the Commonwealth Games – it seems that 2022 has been another successful year for competitive gaming.

So what do traditional sport’s noisy younger siblings have planned to keep that upward trajectory going in 2023?

For those who are still a little unsure, esports refers to a range of different video games that are played competitively by professionals across the world. Often hosted in stadiums, events are televised and draw big audiences to watch. The esports market is estimated to grow to be worth $1.9bn (£1.4bn) by 2025.

Dominic Sacco, founder of Esports News UK, argues that before continued growth and bigger audiences, the industry first has to come to terms with some fundamental changes to how much of it will be organised in future.

“At the start of 2022 a group backed by the Saudi Arabian government bought two of the biggest esports tournament operators in the world, ESL and FaceIt,” he explains. “I think we’ll see more of this happening and it will be a big trend in 2023 and probably beyond”.

That deal was worth $1.5bn (£1.2bn) and is only the beginning with the Saudi government-backed Savvy Gaming group saying that they want to invest $38bn (£31bn) to transform the country into a global esports hub by 2030.

mature man playing samurai fighting with gamepad in real life and showing thumb up to characters

Sacco explains the deal has split the esports community, with some welcoming the investment as a way to boost growth, but adds: “There’s some LGBTQ talent wary of flying to events in Saudi Arabia, many others in the community have also said they feel uncomfortable going out there, and a Rocket League team refused to take part in an event there last summer.”

Saudi Arabia has been accused of ‘sportswashing’ in recent years – investing lots of money in popular sport, like buying Newcastle Football Club or setting up the new LIV golf tour. Some say it’s being done in order to deflect attention away from its human rights record.

Sacco says that some in the esports community feel like something similar is happening with them, which is taking some of the energy and enthusiasm out of the scene.

If the trend continues as expected then players, presenters, commentators and event organisers could be spending more of their time in 2023 having serious ethical conversations about which events to attend. If the infighting caused by the creation of LIV golf is anything to go by, it’s sure to dominate conversation for a long time.

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