The French esports market: Let's play 2021

Being one of Europe’s biggest esports markets, France is a key driver for the sector in Europe

Leading esports teams have their origins in France

The French esports ecosystem is home to a wide range of relevant national and international stakeholders – both among key value creators such as teams and events, and among adjacent companies that are involved in esports in addition to their activities in other industries.

One of the heavyweights among the range of French esports teams (spanning from amateur to world-class) is Team Vitality. Founded in 2013 and based in Paris, the organisation competes with its teams in a majority of the most relevant esports titles, including 'Call of Duty', 'Hearthstone', 'Rocket League' and 'FIFA'. In addition, Team Vitality is present in the European 'League of Legends' league LEC and in the ESL Pro League for 'Counter Strike: Global Offensive' which are both of particular importance. The LEC and ESL Pro League are among the most important and competitive esports championships in the world and Team Vitality – which is a franchisee of both leagues – accordingly belongs to the high-ranking international team organisations.

Paris Saint-Germain is arguably the most prominent example of a non-endemic organisation, i.e. a company whose core activities are unrelated to esports, that has established a high-level esports commitment in France. The esports division, which goes by the name of 'PSG Esports', competes not only in the football simulation 'FIFA' but also in other esports titles not related to sports. This approach is generally the exception among traditional sports organisations involved in esports, but it demonstrates PSG's broad and ambitious approach, which aims to tap into the wider potential of esports. With its 'League of Legends' team 'PSG Talon', the organisation is competing in the Pacific Championship Series, the top league for the title in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia, underlining the global nature of PSG's esports commitment.

League of Legends has also made its mark on the French event landscape, with Paris co-hosting the World Championship in 2019 and the final being held in the city, which broke attendance records at the remote audience and had over 10,000 fans in the arena. Furthermore, the 'Ligue Française de League of Legends' (LFL), which is the national French League of Legends competition and can be considered as a “second tier” to the international LEC, has posted record audience numbers in 2021 and has outperformed other European leagues regarding viewership. Reasons for the tremendous success this year include a high quality media product and regional star teams and players that have a high appeal to fans.

Another leading advocate for esports in France is 'France Esports', the national esports association, which works with stakeholders from the gaming and esports world to develop the industry at all levels from amateur to professional and to promote values such as fairness and humanism in the esports scene. The association was founded in 2016.

One of the major issues currently discussed in the French esports ecosystem is the official recognition of esports. While the 'Loi pour une République Numérique' (2016) paved the way for esports live events to be recognised outside of the gambling / game of chance category, the same does not yet apply for online-only competitions. As such recognition would be important for the further development of grassroots movements in the French esports scene, gaining a common understanding and consensus on this matter would remove a roadblock for the broader esports sector in the country

The French esports audience is young and has a comparatively high willingness to pay

More than every second French person between 16 and 65 already knows the term 'esports' (55%), with 35% being able to define the term correctly. In addition to pure awareness, esports has a market penetration of 35%, referring to consumers who have watched esports at least once in the past. Both figures are high in European comparison and similar to other advanced esports markets such as Germany, the Nordics or the UK. France stands out against these markets when it comes to audience monetisation. Among French consumers, 24% have already made esports-related purchases, putting France clearly ahead of Germany (13%), for example, and catching up with Spain (26%), Poland (26%) and Italy (25%), which are the esports powerhouses in Europe in terms of consumer awareness and penetration.

As in other regions, the French audience is relatively young, with 73% of esports consumers under the age of 40. Accordingly, this target group is digitally affine and less likely to use traditional media channels. In addition, the majority of the audience is male, although the 39% share of women among French esports consumers is above the European average.

French viewership base doubles during COVID-19, while economic consequences are diverse

Like almost all industries and countries, the French esports market was highly impacted by COVID-19 in 2020. During this time, esports doubled its viewership base, as 52% of the overall French audience watched esports for the first time in 2020 or 2021. Furthermore, a large number of consumers who have been exposed to esports before COVID-19 have increased their consumption during the pandemic (49%).

However, this did not result in overall revenue growth. Events and related ticketing and merchandising revenues almost disappeared, and consumption was limited to digital channels (where it grew strongly). Organisations adjusted to this quickly, but in most cases, the loss of revenue could at best be compensated, with revenue growth only being achieved in exceptional cases.

In the future, the industry’s challenge is to retain and convert the fans and users which were attracted during the pandemic so that esports can become a mainstream product in France regarding reach and economic power.

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