Understanding Motivations and Fandom of Esports Consumers


As esports explodes into the entertainment mainstream, reaching a global audience of nearly 500 million in 2021, understanding the motivations and behaviors of fans has become a priority for teams, leagues, and brands. However, esports fandom is not monolithic. Using survey data of 374 college students, this article unpacks the varying levels of fandom, motivations, and consumption habits that characterize distinct esports fan segments. These insights provide a valuable roadmap for effectively engaging and supporting esports’ diverse, passionate audiences.


Esports Fandom


Fandom in the traditional sports context refers to the degree of passionate, loyal support and engagement that fans exhibit toward a particular team or league. Fans with high levels of identification passionately follow their favorite teams, players, and leagues across multiple media channels and are deeply invested in their success.


Survey data reveals a wide spectrum of fandom behavior and intensity among college esports consumers. On one end of the scale, around 25% of respondents demonstrate hardcode fandom similar to diehard traditional sports buffs. These highly identified fans cite esports as one of their central interests and strongly identify with their favorite teams and players.


At the other end of the scale, over 30% of college esports consumers are more casual spectators who enjoy watching competitive gaming now and then, but are not fully immersed in the culture. The remainder of fans fall somewhere in between these two extremes of the fandom spectrum.


Significant variation in fandom also exists across different esports titles and leagues. For example, survey data showed that fans of team-based multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends reported higher average levels of fandom compared to fans focused on individual skill-based first-person shooters like Call of Duty.


This difference likely stems from the team-based nature of MOBAs which encourages closer identification with favorite squads, as well as the player identity and narrative drama that surrounds elite MOBA team rosters. Understanding these nuances in fandom behavior across different fan bases is key for esports organizations to effectively segment and engage their distinct audiences.


Motivations for Esports Consumption


In addition to fandom levels, researchers surveyed college esports consumers about their primary motivations for engaging with competitive gaming. A range of motivational factors drive various facets of fans' engagement with esports.


Overall, entertainment is the dominant motivation, with over 60% of fans citing the fun, excitement, and enjoyment of watching elite video game matches as the top appeal. Social interaction is also a key driver, with 40% reporting they watch esports primarily to bond and share experiences with friends or peers.


Other common motivations include supporting favorite personalities and players, the inherent enjoyment of competitive gameplay, appreciation for the incredible skill on display, and a personal history of playing the game competitively. Some fans also follow esports for gambling purposes by betting on match outcomes.


Importantly, researchers found that key motivations often differed across fans of various esports titles and genres. For example, shooter game fans tended to be driven more by factors like competition, gameplay skill, and excitement, while MOBA fans highlighted drama, storylines, and supporting favorite teams.


This data demonstrates that esports marketers must recognize these motivational differences across fan bases rather than treating all competitive gaming fans alike. Tailoring engagement efforts based on each title's core motivations allows for more effective connections.


Relationship to Consumption Behaviors


The survey results reveal powerful linkages between fans' motivations, their level of fandom identity, and their actual consumption behaviors related to esports viewership, social media engagement, event attendance, and spending.


Some clear patterns emerged from the data. Highly identified, passionate esports fans who were driven primarily by entertainment motivations like excitement and drama tended to consume esports across nearly all dimensions at very high rates.


For instance, over 70% of these highly engaged entertainment-motivated fans reported watching esports streams and VODs at least weekly, 60% actively followed esports social media accounts, 50% regularly viewed two or more hours at a time, and 40% had attended live esports events.


In contrast, low-fandom casual viewers who cited gameplay skill appreciation as their primary motivation generally exhibited lower levels of consumption across the board. These insights allow esports organizations to better target marketing outreach and product offerings based on what motivates each fan segment.


For example, the data showed that drama-focused MOBA fans were far more likely to purchase team merch and attend live events compared to competition-focused shooter fans who preferred more solitary online viewership. Recognizing these nuances allows stakeholders to better customize interactions to the wants of their diverse audiences.




In closing, this examination of esports fandom, motivations, and consumption patterns provides a more nuanced perspective of gaming fans. While united by their passion for esports, significant differences emerge across fan bases in terms of motivations and behaviors. Recognizing and responding to these distinctions allows the nascent esports industry to better understand, connect with, and deliver value to their audiences. As the games and fans continue evolving in exciting new directions, upholding this understanding of fans’ multifaceted relationships with esports will only grow in importance.