The world of sports is having a tough time in 2020. Thanks to social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19, the spring and summer months usually abuzz with NBA and MLB fanfare have been disappointingly quiet. Video gaming, on the other hand, is experiencing something of a boom, with some reports putting esports viewership second only to the NFL, beating out the MLB and NBA. With this in mind, WalletHub has released an exhaustive study of the best American cities for gaming and esports. Taking into account factors like age demographics and local gaming culture, the list could provide a sneak peek at which cities will become hubs for the increasingly popular esports phenomenon.
Esports’ Big Break
For the study, WalletHub consulted with experts on a variety of gaming-related questions, including the rising popularity of esports. The consensus? They’re on track to become as big as traditional sports — and the pandemic has given them a huge boost.
“Especially at this moment where it is unclear when we are going to be able to have traditional sports events again, esports is definitely fulfilling that void for some people,” said Jin Ha Lee, an associate professor at University of Washington and founder of Game Research (GAMER) Group. “Many people who love esports will tell you that spectating a good esports competition is as thrilling as watching a traditional sports game.”
Even without the pandemic, some experts believe that the fan culture surrounding esports already rivals that of traditional sports.
“I believe a lot of the successes revolving around the NFL or MLB is the fanfare surrounding this culture,” Mark Alberta, associate instructor at Indiana University, told WalletHub. “Fan culture helps drive these sports, with the purchasing of Tom Brady jerseys, old Michael Jordan basketball cards, tickets to events, and of course viewing the games on television.”
Alberta pointed out that a similar consumer-driven fan culture already exists around esports. For example, “fans of certain Rocket League teams can support them by purchasing apparel (or in-game content if you’re playing Rocket League), tickets, and watching streamed competitions,” he said.
Future Esports Hubs
So what cities have the strongest video game fan cultures? To find out, WalletHub ranked cities according to number of arcades and video game stores, among other things. Las Vegas earned top honors in both categories, making it a potential future hub for esports.
WalletHub also looked at percentages of adults who own smartphones and households that own computers. Fascinatingly, these categories were dominated by lesser-known cities like Gilbert, Arizona and Irvine, California. These results suggest that esports hubs could pop up in unexpected places.
Finally, the study examined cities with the most 18 to 49-year-olds, noting that the average age of the American gamer is 35. This ranking included larger cities like Madison, Wisconsin and Boston, Massachusettes in the top spots.
Here are the top 10 gaming cities in the U.S. according to WalletHub:
You can see the full list, along with information on internet availability and video game career opportunities per city, here.