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Sport needs esports to inspire a generation
August 28, 2020
What’s more popular: real sport or esports? The answer may seem obvious for fans of the globe’s most popular pastimes. However, the gap may be smaller than you think. In recent years, esports popularity has become comparable to its ‘real’ sporting counterparts. But which side is responsible for one another’s popularity? Does esports need sport? Or does sport need esports? Undoubtedly, both sides will fight for supremacy, although it’s a healthy relationship the two need, to succeed.
It’s no coincidence that a multitude of the world’s most notorious gaming titles are sports related. FIFA, NBA, NFL, Formula 1 and the UFC are at the forefront of sport simulation-based video games. Historically, the popularity of these games has derived from the popularity of each sport. Although, this relationship may have just shifted. This is most notable for the younger consumer.
Is esports really that big?
Esports itself is a relatively young industry but its potential is seemingly endless. A quick glance at the viewing figures of the League of Legends 2019 World Championship event, proves its immense popularity. The spectacle, hosted last November, brought in more than 100 million viewers. A quite staggering number. There’s no doubt that sporting traditionalists would have been shocked to see the esports event live on the BBC Sport front page. However, considering it’s viewing figures compared to even the most established sports, it’s no surprise at all. League of Legends is the world’s most popular esports event and their irrefutable statistics suggest opportunities are surely there for sport game franchises.
What has sport done to tap into this potential?
In 2016, A Premier League club did something no other team in the league had done before: sign an esports player. Was it revolutionary at the time? Unfortunately, not. The story rapidly disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Were West Ham United ahead of their time? Most certainly. They identified the untapped potential of esports and while the established UK media turned its back, the industry grew. Fast-forward a few years and every club wants a piece of the action.
In 2020, the Premier League has employed esports representatives across all 20 clubs. For young fans, potentially priced out of ‘real’ football, this is a wonderful opportunity to connect with their team through a medium that represents their era. Evidently, this is not a generation who discovered a passion and knowledge for the beautiful game on the terraces or a sticker book, but instead, on a PlayStation or an Xbox. The gaming industry is immensely popular with the younger market. An effective way for professional sport to engage and interact with a young audience.
Lando Norris, a new era for F1?
Is Lando Norris the world’s most important sports athlete for the young generation? Well if not the world, most assuredly Formula 1. Generally speaking, F1 has had a reputation of drivers who prefer to be in shadows instead of in front a camera. Of course, this is understandable, but such a shame for fans who only witness their sports stars via rigid interviews and marketing ploys. For a variety of reasons, young F1 driver, Lando Norris, has flipped this notion on its head after only 2 years driving in the pinnacle of motorsport. How’s it been done? By embracing what others won’t: the online audience.
Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Memes. The man does it all with a humble but hilarious personality. By no means is he the first man in sport to have these attributes but he’s certainly the first to embrace it on a large online scale. There’s little doubt his online presence has brought new fans to the sports of F1 and virtual F1. Consequently, a new generation of F1 drivers have followed the Norris blueprint into a new era of interaction with the global fanbase. Max Verstappen, George Russell, Alex Albon and Charles Leclerc have all followed suit. It may have just taken a global pandemic for F1 to realise what a valuable asset these drivers are. Naturally, these young new drivers led the way for F1 as the world shifted into lockdown and esports replaced the sports we all know and love.
What has lockdown done for esports?
During lockdown, for the first time in its history, esports overtook sport as a main focus. Sport was flipped on its head and competitive gaming received awareness on a scale not seen before. Charles LeClerc won a virtual Grand Prix’s while racing alongside international cricket and golf stars, Ben Stokes and Ian Poulter. Simultaneously, Wolves’ Diogo Jota beat Liverpool right-back, Alexander-Arnold, to win the ePremier League Invitational. Two stories among a platitude of esports related fixtures and competitions across the globe. Trev Keane, head of sport and esport at 7F, explained this amazing opportunity for esports to receive more global recognition and investment. He stated: "what we'll see on the back of this is that more club owners, especially in the UK and Europe, will see esports as a viable investment option”.
In summary, the last few years has seen a serious shift in how clubs interact with audiences due to the rise of esports. Organisations, as they slowly begin to realise its potential, are experimenting within the esports market. Young audiences are hooked, and while famous podcaster Joe Rogan may dismiss video games as a “waste of time”, no one can deny it provides a unique level of interaction with sport. Not just that, it provides levels of interaction not seen before with its superstar athletes. The next generation of sport stars are going to be online superstars. Sports traditionalists may hate it, but the quicker esports and ‘real’ sports become united in providing quality content for both worldwide audiences, the quicker both esports and sport will continue to grow and inspire the next generation.