Every sport is evolving with the rapid development of technology. In most cases this has improved the fan experience. For instance, fans of Italian football team Juventus can take part in all access virtual tours through the team’s stadium and facilities. However, the rise of technology is also having an effect on the number of people engaged in digital versions of football as eSports becomes increasingly popular. With professional teams across the globe creating their own dedicated eSports teams, the question on many fans lips is whether eSports is on its way to becoming bigger than football. 

One reason that many believe that eSports could overtake physical sports, including football, is the amount of money that is being put into the industry.

A Washington Post chart on eSport prize money for various international tournaments shows that the total prize money of this year’s Dota 2 International reached $25.5 million (A$34.9 million). This is considerably more than the prize money of the 2018 editions of the Daytona 500, the U.S. Open, and the Tour de France — $15.5 million (A$21.2 million), $12 million ($16.4 million), and $2.7 million (A$3.7 million), respectively. While it is nowhere near the prize money that can be won in football, it is not impossible to foresee that happening in the future. 

The popularity of eSports is soaring, evident by the peak viewership of last year’s League of Legends Championships, which peaked at 106.2 million worldwide. Not surprisingly the virtual and real-life worlds of football have intersected in eSports. Already, there is the FIFA eWorld Cup, the eSports equivalent of the esteemed World Cup, with the digital version held annually as opposed to every four years. Football leagues all around the world have also joined in on the eSports craze. As reported here previously, La Liga has launched its own eSports division. This division, where teams will compete in Pro Evolution Soccer competitions, is aimed to satisfy the demands of La Liga’s sponsors, many of which are keen on investing in eSports. The BBC report that the Premier League will also roll out its own eSports league, which will start next January and will be held in partnership with FIFA

So why are eSports so popular?

A big reason is fan access. The price of watching live games, either at a stadium or on a PPV channel, is expensive and this can create a disconnect between fans and their teams. Fans who play eSports not only get to play as their favourite team, they have the chance to play for them. The second reason is how the latest generation interact with the sport. Many fans today will have used digital media as their entry point to football, as the FIFA series is one of the biggest game franchises in the world. And it is not just through games consoles. Across all entertainment platforms there is football related material to keep up with the vast demand for it. The mobile gaming industry is a prime example of the different types of football games available. From traditional match simulations to slot games inspired by the sport, the choice is endless. Slingo has a range of football slot games designed for mobile gamers, including Striker Goes Wild and Bicicleta. These football-inspired titles offer fans of football and online gaming a different means to connect with their favourite sport outside of live matches and traditional types of video games. With football now truly embracing digital content through official teams and leagues, it is no wonder many younger fans are becoming drawn to eSports.

Yes, eSports is becoming bigger and bigger by the day. But is it becoming bigger than football? The answer is no — at least for now, that is. Football remains the world’s most popular sport, and the overwhelming success of this year’s World Cup — the real one! — is undeniable proof of that. Still, eSports is coming, And it's coming fast!

Categories: Opinion | Football Business


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