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By the end of 2016, 1 billion people will be aware of esports

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And nearly 300 million will be watching them

According to a new report from esports research firm Newzoo, the worldwide reach of esports is set to hit a huge new milestone by the end of this year. The report says that the number of people aware of esports will surpass 1 billion by the end of 2016.

Newzoo says this huge number is up 36 percent compared to 2015, according to a consumer research study it conducted in 16 countries across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Of course, being "aware" of esports could mean as little as knowing that it's a thing that exists. What's more notable is the continued increase in what Newzoo calls "Occasional Viewers" and "Esports Enthusiasts." Occasional viewers are defined as "those who watch esports less than once a month and mostly tune in for a big event or watch along with someone else," while enthusiasts would be anyone who watches esports events more frequently than this.

According to the company, the number of enthusiasts has increased from 138 million in 2015 to 148 million in 2016, while another 144 million are occasional viewers. That means the total 2016 audience for esports will reach 292 million.

That growth is illustrated in the visual below, provided by Newzoo, which includes the company's estimates of continued esports growth through 2019.

Newzoo Esports Audience Growth chart

Newzoo says the increase in esports awareness and viewership is largely thanks to increase mainstream media and broadcast coverage of the growing field, as well as further efforts from game publishers to cement their esports businesses. This includes Turner Broadcasting's shift into esports television programming, the recent announcement of a 24/7 sports channel from the ESL and new, aggressive esports initiatives from publishers Activision and Electronic Arts.

The company also points to "explosive growth in leagues and events organized on a global, regional and particularly local scale." Newzoo notes that increasingly esports are seen as a real job, a valid way to get a worker visa and even an area to focus on in college competitions.

While none of us here at The Rift Herald have ever doubted the size and increasing growth of an audience interested in esports, it's always nice to see more data backing that up.