There is a new and growing opportunity for marketers to reach Gen Z in the esports arena, which refers to competitive gaming where online gamers compete before virtual audiences, who are tuning in via video-streaming sites. A recent Washington Post-University of Massachusetts Lowell poll found that 38 percent of 14- to 21-year-olds count themselves as fans of esports, which is comparable to the 40 percent who feel the same about football.

“The popularity of esports and online gaming among American teens and young adults as both a recreational activity that you can participate and watch reveals a shifting landscape for what constitutes a sport in American life. It is absolutely telling that the fan base for esports is just as large as the fan base for professional football among Americans ages 14 to 21,” says Professor Joshua Dyck, co-director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion, who wrote and analyzed the poll with The Post. “The reasons teens and young adults give for participating in esports/online gaming mirror many of those given in our survey of adults 18 and older about why they watch live sports.”

The survey found that 59 percent of those in the 14-to-21 age group said they have either participated in a video game competition or played an online video game with multiple players in the past 12 months, and a similar 58 percent have watched people playing games online on platforms such as YouTube or Twitch, which is owned by Amazon. In comparison, half of adults under 30 have played or watched an online game, while 25 percent of adults overall have done the same.

While most popular among young men—89 percent of male teens surveyed said they have either played online video games, participated in a competition and/or watched others playing games online in the last year—esports have a strong following among young women as well. Among females in the same age group, 56 percent have either played or watched a video game over the past year. In contrast, only 18 percent of American adults 18 and older reported having played an online video game with multiple players or participating in a video game competition in the preceding 12 months, and just 16 percent reported watching video gaming online via Twitch, YouTube or other platforms.

Perhaps most telling for marketers is how social esports have become. The survey found that 45 percent of teen and young adult gamers say they have made friends playing competitive online video games—32 percent of adult gamers say the same. The social aspect of esports is also reflected in the growth of services designed to support it. Celebrating its third year in operation, Discord—a voice chat service that provides gamers a communication channel—reported in May that it had 130 million registered users, which reflected a three-fold growth increase from the year before.