The Youth Lab


From ‘niche subculture’ to absolute mainstream, how Gaming and esports has exploded

May was a big month for virtual gaming and esports, with events like the GameExpo Summit in Dubai and more locally, Dublin’s GamerFest in the RDS. The surge in these large scale gaming events highlights how the gaming industry has expanded far beyond a small corner of the internet and into a multi-billion dollar industry at the forefront of Gen Z culture (estimated at $347b in 2022).

This week's 52INSIGHTS takes a look at the evolution of gaming, sports and marketing.


At the end of 2023, there were a whopping 3 billion gamers worldwide, with this number expected to grow right the way through 2024. E-gaming has surpassed both film and music in terms of revenue generating an estimated $184.4 billion revenue in 2022 versus $26.2 billion generated in music and $26 billion in film. Gaming is not just bigger, it’s also more diverse than ever before. What was once a typically male dominant space, gaming is more inclusive than ever with an almost 50/50 gender split in the US (55% male vs 45% female).

Unlike the N64's and Dreamcast's of old, today's gaming landscape has been transformed, driven by both technical advances and rapidly evolving gamer preferences. A brief timeline of the evolution of gaming into popular culture:

70’s & 80’s - Where it all began, the birth of the video game. Arcades became a cultural phenomenon and hub for socialisation. Later, home consoles were introduced for the first time with the Nintendo Entertainment System entering the chat.

90’s - More sophisticated games were introduced which captured a wider audience through platforms like PC gaming, and reaching widespread fame through strategic partnerships, with PizzaHut including game demos with purchases of the ‘Big New Yorker’ pizza. Iconic characters brought cultural touch points to gaming such as Mario and Lara Croft - ‘brands’ that not only found their place in gaming culture but also became powerful marketing tools for brands like Lucozade.

2000’s - Gaming got Social - this is when Multiplayer games landed. Added to that, smartphones drove downloads and engagement of ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘Candy Crush’ - further popularising gaming. More recently, the gaming giant ‘King’ reported that the viral game Candy Crush crossed the $20bn total revenue in 2023.

2020 -2024: Gaming is now a dominating form of entertainment with platforms like Roblox, Fortnite and Twitch forging the way in branded gaming collaborations due to their younger player demographics. Games are not only influencing, but being influenced by pop culture with high profile collabs between game developers and influential artists, musicians and filmmakers. Games like ‘Fortnite’ are the perfect example of this.



Soccer is the 4th most followed sport in America. The 2024 Champions League Final (Real Madrid V’s Borussia Dortmund) viewership was 3.62 million

League of Legends World Championship 2023’ reached a viewership of 6.4 million. The most viewed esports event of all time.

The first ever Olympic Games took place in 1896 with 241 participants over 43 events.

The Olympics, Paris 2024 will see over 400 events in 35 sports with 11,300 participants from 206 nations.

The first ever official Olympics ESports Event took place in Singapore in June 2023 with 130 participants over 10 events.

With gaming and esports continuing to grow at a rapid rate it’s inevitable that it will reach the heights of the Olympic Games.

The 2024 Euros expects 71,000 spectators in the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

In 2017 at the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice in Poland 173,000 spectators packed out the Spodak Arena.



Far from dark basements and online forums of the past, gamers enjoy how it gives a sense of community and belonging giving ‘gamers’ a social identity. The multiplayer aspect of gaming facilitates connection and interaction with friends real and virtual.


With gaming, there’s something for everyone. This feeling of being ‘seen’ and leaning into a niche hobby is something Gen Z cohorts crave. For those who would rather sit back and watch, the rise of esports and streaming platforms like Twitch has turned gaming into a huge spectator sport. Multi-platform games with varying skill levels and free-to-play games has enormously increased gaming’s accessibility.


With the uncertain times we’re living in, Gen Z craves escapism that gaming provides. Beyond escapism, some games offer the ultimate immersion resulting in self discovery. The sims campaign featuring Bretman Rock is a perfect example of this as it ‘helps a new generation come of age.’

“The thing with gaming is that it's very versatile. When I was younger, hours were spent on completing Super Mario or talking to my friends about how to catch a rare Pokemon. You got a sense of comradery with other people as you pursued the same goals. That said, the aspect of gaming that I absolutely love is when the story hits, it hits! I don't care how you play the game, if it invokes an emotion; anger or sadness, I'm sold. “ Mark Luna, Gamer, Dublin


Show up in a meaningful and credible way

Increasingly, brands are investing in the powerful gamer creator economy. With a projected revenue of more than $521 billion by 2027, hacking this creator economy offers a new playground to brands giving them the opportunity to show up in a meaningful and credible way.

As part of Heineken 0.0’s partnership with Formula 1 the recently brand launched a brand new gaming platform Player 0.0. Player 0.0 allows fans battle it out (on desktop or mobile) to win the opportunity to race against F1 superstar Max Verstappen on sims at the Global Player 0.0 Final in Amsterdam.

Colin Doyle, Brand Manager, Heineken Ireland said:“For Heineken® 0.0, the e-gaming space is especially interesting as the brand strives to become the beer brand of choice amongst all generations. Player 0.0 is Heineken® 0.0’s first gaming platform and it aims to connect and interact with consumers in a more socially relevant way in today’s digital age. It’s allowed us to have a meaningful presence on new platforms such as Twitch. Over the course of 4 weeks, over 44,000 gameplays have resulted in 1800+ competitor entries. A huge level of engagement that only gaming could deliver.”

Gaming is for every brand

And gaming is not just for ‘cool brands’ or ‘brands in sport’. US based tax filing company ‘TurboTax’ has collaborated with Fortnight to create Millionaire Tycoon, a game designed to recruit new Gen Z customers. Players build their own empires (through the acquisition of mansions, cars and other symbols of wealth.) but in order to ‘level up’ in the game they have to pay the taxman, typically by entering a TurboTax office inside the world. ‘Millionaire Tycoon’ has had over 1 million players in less than a month.


Youth Culture Uncovered 2024

This coming Tuesday morning (11th June 2024), THINKHOUSE & The Youth Lab host “Youth Culture Uncovered 2024 - The Future of News.”

The event is at capacity, but to add your name to the waiting list email with ‘Please add me to YCU waiting list’ in the subject line.

With George Montagu, of The Financial Times; alongside Mark Little, Journalist, Founder of Storyful + ex-Spotify; Mark Coughlan from RTÉ and Professor Colleen Murrell of DCU it promises to be a lively and informative event. Some of Ireland's young content creators and TikTok stars including Andrew Nolan, Seamus Lehane, Aideen Lanigan, Katja Mia and Fiona Frawley, plus THINKHOUSE's Lucy Carroll, Senior Manager, PR & Advocacy will bring expert and real insights to the event which will be hosted by Claire Hyland, Head of The Youth Lab at THINKHOUSE.

Good Life 2030 Ireland

Getting sustainability communications right is a hot topic.

We've been invited across the country to share our Good Life 2030 Ireland work (a collaboration with Purpose Disruptors, funded by Creative Ireland). Laura Costello, Head of Sustainability & Planet Services at THINKHOUSE was in Co.Clare last week at Hometree's Changing Landscape Conference speaking about 'Unlikely Alliances' and the Ardnaculla Summer School discussing the theme 'Journey back to Nature'. She contributed alongside some brilliant allies in the environmental space, including Tania Banotti, Director of Creative Ireland and Seán Ronayne who has become a household name across Ireland following his film Birdsong. This week, she presented a keynote as part of the opening session for the Mary Robinson Centre Climate & Nature Conference in Ballina, Mayo. She also met with youth environmental activists and Sienna Keane, an inspiring member of Airfield's Youth Board - the result of an exciting THINKHOUSE partnership. Enthusiasm was shared among attendees for the news that UN chief António Guterres' has called for a global fossil fuel advertising ban.

Have you downloaded The Good Life 2030 report yet? It’s really capturing the imagination of the Irish marketing and advertising industry and forcing us to reappraise our role and challenges us to reach our true potential as an industry. Listen to this brilliant podcast discussion that asks the big question - ‘can advertising deliver The Good Life?’

CHECK OUT our recent work with ActionAid Ireland highlighting the positive contributions that migrants make to Irish Culture and the economy HERE

THIS WEEK’S EDITION OF 52INSIGHTS WAS BROUGHT YOU BY: Lucy Carroll, Roisin Jordan, Mark Luna, Ciarán Fogarty, Andy Mynes and Ali Baker.

The Youth Lab is the insights and trends division at THINKHOUSE. We future proof brands and organisations by helping them see the world through the eyes of the next generation. For weekly insights into the beliefs, habits, loves, hates, passions and hopes of today’s 18-35 year olds, sign up for 52 Insights here: