How the Digital Divide Impacts Online Video Gaming

Charts & Graphs, Lab Reports, Maps


Inequality takes many forms within the US. One such form is access to digital devices and the internet. Some states within the United States exemplify the disparity in internet access. While some areas struggle to get minimum viable service in this regard, there are parts of the population that thrive off of this access. Players in the online video game industry, specifically eSports, are an example of that. Not only is access important, but average internet speeds can make or break a player’s experience.

The goal of this paper is to identify a correlation between average internet speeds and access to the internet across states. I will be analyzing this in conjunction with residences of the top-earning eSports players to see if prolific gamers tend to live in areas with increased levels of access and higher speeds.


Social Explorer, Excel & Data Wrapper


Access to the internet by state in 2020 – Census

Leading eSports players in the United States in 2021, by earnings – Statista

Average internet speed by state in 2021 – Tyler Cooper & Julia Tanberk, sourced from 2,000 US ISPs and publicly available data sets.


I chose to examine data regarding internet subscriptions in a household and I specified my analysis to households that had no internet access in 2020. I used this data, aggregated by state, to create my map visualization in Social Explorer to easily identify which states had the highest and lowest percentages of no access to the internet. I correlated this data with each state’s average internet speed in Datawrapper to determine which states have the most ideal broadband environment for online gamers who require both access to the internet and very high internet upload speeds to perform well. 


Since the main goal of this report is to understand how internet access impacts eSports players, I first identified the top earning eSports players in the US. The bar graph (Figure 1) shows the top 10 grossing players. For this study, I will be analyzing players 1 through 8 who currently reside in Georgia, California, and Philadelphia.

Figure 1: Leading eSports players in the United States in 2021, by earnings

By visualizing internet access across the US (Figure 2), very strong outliers became immediately present as states with very high and low percentages of no internet access were highlighted on the map. The current residences of the top earning eSports players have been annotated on this map, and these three states have above-average access to the internet, which is expected. 

Figure 2: US Population with no access to internet (click for Interactive Map)

Since a gaming experience is impacted not only by access to the internet but also by the relative speed at which the connection performs, I correlated this data with average internet speeds (Figure 3). I expected there would be a negative correlation between states’ percentage of the population with no internet access and average internet speed. The visualization of this data in a scatter plot validates this hypothesis and makes the correlation very obvious as indicated by the downward slope of the trend line. States with less access to the internet seem to have lower average internet speeds across carriers. 

Figure 3: 2020 US Internet Access & Speed

I assumed that there would be fewer high-earning eSports players in states with below-average access to the internet. This proved to be true in that the highest earners resided in states with higher than 86.5% of their populations having access to the internet. While this result was expected, my hypothesis of these gamers residing in states with the highest internet speeds proved to be not entirely true. Although Georgia and Pennsylvania have high average internet speeds above 400 Mbps, California has a state average internet speed of 93. This is a large and unexpected outlier in the data.

California has a relatively low percentage of the population without the internet. 91.3% of California’s population has access to the internet. Based on the negative correlation explained previously, the expectation would be for average internet speeds in the state to be relatively high. However, California has the lowest internet speed amongst US states, averaging 93 Mbps. 

This is the case because California has a historic broadband legislature in place. This is a government mandate to provide Californians with affordable internet access to bridge the digital divide. Although this is a great initiative, this does not guarantee that the quality of internet service to this population will be high. The mandate outlines providing access but does not have any minimum requirements for speed, therefore there are many households in the California population with slow internet speeds.

Although there is a significant portion of the population within California that is limited to lower internet speeds, which has skewed its average, this does not mean that the entire state population’s internet is slow, hence why many top eSports players still live in the state. 


Since the census data in Social Explorer for internet subscriptions in a household has not been recorded for 2021, I was forced to use 2020’s data for this report. With regards to identifying the top eSports players, one limitation was my inability to find standardized data for 2020. My analysis uses an aggregated dataset for 2021. This limitation could have skewed my results despite this ranking of players being based on their total earnings in 2020.

Another limitation of this study was not being able to identify the current location of two players; Dylan Short (Roth) and Brent Mullany (Poonage). The location of their organization, team YAHO, in 2020 was not easily identified through their team pages and information readily available on liquipedia, a reputable eSports data hub. Due to this limitation, I only analyzed the locations of the top 8 eSports players rather than 10.

An interesting direction for further exploration would be to analyze the number of eSports teams per state, regardless of their performance or winnings, and correlate it to access to the internet and internet speeds.