Football’s Role in the Growing eSports Industry
The internet age has created an entirely new phenomenon: online eSports, or organised competitions of video games. The eSports industry is enormous, with an expected revenue of over $1 billion in 2019 — and it won’t stop growing there.
Although eSports include games like first-person shooters and battle royale games, it is also heavily linked to the real-life sports industry. They often share arenas or stadiums for tournaments, and professional sports teams and leagues are even investing in, or partnering with, eSports businesses. For example, in 2018 the NBA launched its first gaming league, the NBA 2K League. This league mirrored the game itself, with five players and a sixth in rotation, playing avatar versions of themselves with enhanced abilities.
Football is poised for a piece of the action as well. Professional football leagues are taking notice of the rise of eSports and finding ways to get involved.
Football Video Games
Football video games have been around since the late 1980s, and they took off in the 90s with the advent of FIFA in 1993. FIFA allows football fans to play as — or perhaps against — their favorite real-life players on their own screens.
Now, football leagues are launching eSports competitions of their own. For instance, in 2018, England’s Premier League created an eSports competition that allowed fans to compete on behalf of their club in FIFA. This helped drive fan engagement and connect FIFA players with professional players. And in 2019, FIFA hosted an eNations World Cup for the first time, and the U.S. Soccer Federation selected a team to compete.
The Future of eSports
The main backers of eSports teams are traditional sports teams, corporations, and celebrities. Football clubs are among those getting involved with eSports. High-profile European teams have started to invest in and even establish their own eSports teams. Last year, Manchester City signed its first eSports player.
Individual footballers are also investing in eSports, sometimes as they retire from the game. Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs recently formed his own FIFA team. Meanwhile, other players are partnering with or investing in existing eSports leagues.
As eSports grows its presence and influence, expect more and more football clubs to get involved, whether by investing in, or forming, an eSports branch. Investing is still relatively cheap for the time being, but it offers the potential for huge returns on investments given the growth of this sector in general. It’s an exciting new potential for football teams who are used to attracting and managing talent. eSports can offer an entirely new form of talent to tap.
eSports represent an attractive market not just because of its expanding economic impact, but also because its players and fans are global and young. That means football leagues that are investing in eSports can attract audiences that could be fans and customers for life, which could breathe fresh life into an otherwise aging fanbase.
Betting on eSports
Advancements in technology have greatly amped up how fans get involved with football. Fans are more engaged during matches, placing bets before or during a match or sharing posts and updates on social media. They can also interact with teams, players, and other fans online, as the match progresses. It’s a whole new way to experience the game.
The same is true for eSports. This year, betting on eSports is expected to hit $8 billion in wagers. This presents a significant opportunity for football leagues to draw in new fans. If eSports fans can be attracted and on-boarded to sports betting, they will engage more with associated sports like football as well.
eSports are a significant industry, and they’re not going anywhere. In the future, look for how eSports are transforming traditional sports and vice versa. One thing is clear: Major leagues of traditional sports can no longer overlook the presence of eSports, and getting involved is a tremendous opportunity for betting, fan engagement, exposure, and revenue.