For all intents and purposes, competitive gaming’s meteoric rise into the realm of popular public appeal may seem to have come from nowhere. Since 2020 the scene received an unexpected boost in viewership in light of global circumstances that found it uniquely well-positioned to capture audiences lost to traditional sporting events having to navigate a period of cancellations and restrictions. Though this is only part of the picture, as the industry has been steadily growing for over a decade. Evidence of esports’ arrival in the mainstream can be found everywhere, from a 587% increase of the term’s appearance in searches since 2013, as reported by Google Trends, to leading bookmakers progressively providing their patrons with ever more free bet offers on headline esports events and competitions. With this conquest of hearts and minds showing no sign of slowing, we’re going to be taking a look here at some key emergent trends and areas of expansion we can expect to see from the esports industry in 2022, and beyond.

Smartphone Esports

The global esports community is closely related to PC gaming. This is understandable, given that the vast majority of popular esports games both old and new originated on the PC. What’s more, many such games, such as DOTA 2, are reliant on the wide range of inputs offered by a full keyboard. However, nowadays it’s increasingly apparent that console titles are able to support high level competition.

Another area that has until now flown under the radar is that of smartphone gaming. For a number of years, gaming on smartphones was largely limited to casual titles. However, advances in optimization, and the emergence of dedicated gaming phone hardware, have come together to make the sector home to one of the fastest growing esports communities. Several battle royale games with cross-play, chief among them PUBG and Fortnite, have increasingly served as host titles for major smartphone esports events. This is understandably seen as a huge growth area for the industry, with smartphone ownership now up to 83% of the global population. As such we can expect to see many more events spring up to cater to competitive gaming on both Android and iOS systems.

More Esports-Oriented Titles

While many of the earliest popular esports games were never designed with high level multiplayer competition in mind, over the years new titles, such as those belonging to the MOBA genre, have emerged specifically to cater to this growing demand. Likewise, FPS titles have increasingly sought to introduce more tactical and squad-based elements in order to become more suitable for esport gaming. In 2022 this trend is likely to continue as more new games follow in the footsteps of 2020’s Valorant by seeking to provide esports gamers with a gaming experience built from the ground up for competition.

Likewise, games such as the upcoming Street Fighter 6 are pinning on their hopes of becoming a tournament favorite after developers Capcom announced they’ve been working closely with some of the finest esports athletes competing in Beat ‘Em Ups today to craft a compelling title that builds on the series’ classic prestige.

Esports Athletes as Influencers

The potential for popular esports athletes to break through into the mainstream as celebrity personalities and influencers is actively underway, but nowhere near the level of exposure we can likely expect to see in the coming years. Lucrative sponsorship deals, appearances in diverse media, and the endorsement of major new video games are but some of the routes by which the next generation of esports athletes could go about building their media empires.

Accordingly, 2022 could be the year we begin to see high profile gamers break through to become household names. To date, the highest grossing esports personalities are considered to be Jesse Vainikka, Johan Sundstein aka n0tail, and Sébastien Debs. While each of these is well known within the scene, their combined following on Instagram only amounts to 0.8% of Neha Kakkar’s, the Indian playback singer ranked as the 50th most followed account on the platform. This clearly highlights that esports influencers still have a long way to go before they’re in a position to generate even a fraction of the impact of major sports stars like LeBron James or Lionel Messi.