It is often the case that something niche morphs into the mainstream. Just look at Marvel, and how they have basically conquered the movie output of the studios in the past decade. The exact same thing is happening with eSports. It has gone from something that was a novelty, something that was almost hidden behind a curtain from the rest of society to something that has been embraced by the very people it used to compete with.
One of the biggest indications of the acceptance in the sporting community at large of eSports, is the fact that you can bet on tournaments. Browse through any betting site, and you'll find FIFA odds right next to games from the EPL, Serie A, all the top leagues. As usual there are two main drivers for this shift, and those are intrinsically linked. Those drivers are people and money.
Modern sport is a business. We may try to pretend otherwise, but it is how it is run, and it is what is behind almost every decision made. The biggest sport on the planet, football, is the one that is embracing eSports the most and with very good reason.
The average age of a fan of the English Premier League (EPL) is 42 and it is getting older. Compare that to the average age of an eSports fan: 26. Just from those two figures you can see why those in charge of EPL clubs are one, concerned, and two, why they are throwing their weight behind eSports. Football clubs have to stay relevant for the younger generation, and if that generation are into playing games online, then it is an obvious move for those clubs. Clubs throughout Europe have invested heavily in getting not just a team to compete in their league, but to compete in the FIFAe. Take Manchester City, for example. Current EPL champions, they are also ranked 16th in Europe for FIFAe. Attracting eSports fans to the brand – which is essentially what clubs are – is a bold move on the face of it, but a completely understandable one the more you think about it.
It does not end there however. Ironically, football is a tiny niche market when it comes to eSports. Compared to giants such as Fortnite and League of Legends, it just does not compare in terms of fans, viewers and especially in terms of prize money. Football clubs are now going further than merely sticking to football, but are putting together professional teams to compete in the major eSports tournaments. That works in two ways. Firstly it is a potential new revenue stream, and for clubs not at the top of their respective football leagues, could even turn out to be a more profitable one than their traditional one.
The other way is that it taps into a whole new market. There is a cross over between fans of eSports and traditional sports, but the further you get into the realms of DOTA and Fortnite, that crossover is far less pronounced. Establishing a team, and a successful one, will do wonders for their brand awareness with this whole new group of potential fans. And the thing is, whereas they may have originally hoped to bring those new fans over to the football side of things, that is not that important. Each club would have several different teams: men’s football, women’s football, FIFAe, the Fortnite team, the League of Legends team, and so on. Each distinct with its own fan base, each coming under the umbrella of the parent club. That is the future.
More and more clubs are seeing the potential in eSports, and this crossover is only going to increase. There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when it will be unusual for a major football club not to have eSports teams operating under their banner. Once enough teams are doing it, which is a situation we are not far from already, the fear of not being involved and of being left out will be the final piece of motivation these clubs need. Then, it won’t be long before they drop the “e” from eSports altogether.
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