How Are Traditional Sports Embracing the eSport Phenomenon?
By 2020, the global eSports market will be a billion-dollar business. That’s impressive enough for what was seen five years ago as a novelty activity that would never catch on. But even more remarkable than the speed with which it has attained critical mass is the sheer potential for future growth. Here we have the first sport that is truly global in nature. Research data from Newzoo suggests that audience numbers are outgrowing those of the NFL and that by 2021, the total audience will be more than half a billion people.
For years, we have been asking whether eSport can or should be considered a “real” sport. Yet its popularity and revenue potential are rapidly making this an irrelevant matter of semantics. Real or virtual, sport or game, the phenomenon is here to stay. The more important question is how traditional sports are reacting to remain relevant in the eSport era. For some, the answer is that they are seeking to move with the times by engaging with eSport with open arms.
An opportunity, not a threat
Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of sport’s competitive nature, but there are still plenty of people who see eSport as a disruptor that threatens the existence of the sport they love.
Take cricket as a prime example. It might be seen as a peculiarly English sport, but its largest audience by far is in the Indian subcontinent. Yet this is also a geography where tech-obsessed youngsters are flooding to eSport faster than anywhere else.
Cricket is working hard to increase its profile in new markets. Websites like ComeOn play an important role, providing betting tips and more general information about the sport to audiences in countries that might not be so familiar with the game of cricket. Meanwhile, $1 billion is being invested in developing the game in the US.
The UK’s main cricket body believes the rise of eSport provides another ideal platform to promote the sport and engage with young audiences on a global scale. The English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has teamed up with marketing consultancy firm Strive Sponsorship to explore eSports opportunities. David Mahoney is the ECB’s Chief Operating Officer and says eSport brings “the potential to offer a variety of opportunities to traditional sports.”
Soccer going from strength to strength
If cricket and other sports want to see what those opportunities are, they need only look to the UK’s most popular sport. Soccer, or football as it is known on the world stage, already had some natural advantages that gave it something of a head start in eSport. For one thing, it could challenge eSport itself for the mantle of the first truly global sport. For another, it already had a tailor-made platform. FIFA is the most popular video game ever, having sold more than 260 million units over the years.
Far from feeling threatened or overawed by this, leagues like the EPL, MLS, and Bundesliga are following the example of the NBA in launching their own eSport leagues. Last year’s ePremier League received extensive TV coverage, while the FIFA eWorld Cup is expected to attract record viewing figures when it reaches the final stages next month. The future is already here, and the possibilities are almost unimaginable.