If you have not heard of esports by now, then where have you been? It is a market which is booming. For those of you who don’t know, esports is loosely defined as competitive gaming of any kind. There are a variety of games which are considered esports when they are played competitively, from League of Legends and Dota 2, to NBA 2k17 and FIFA 17, the best esports athletes can earn millions of dollars per year from competing at the top level.
It is expected that the earnings of these esports athletes will continue to rise thanks to two reasons: the first being big business and company investments. Because of the huge numbers of live and online esports audiences, big companies are paying to be able to sponsor the biggest esports events. South Korean tech giants Samsung are one of the main sponsors of esports in Asia – the esports market in Asia is the biggest in the world but the European and American markets are closing fast. The second reason is the continually rising popularity of esports. The number of people watching and competing in esports events is increasing year after year.
For the past 3-4 years, European football clubs have been signing up the best esports FIFA athletes to represent them at respective esports tournaments. English Premier League clubs including West Ham and Man City have signed esports athletes to represent their clubs. European heavyweights such as Wolfsburg, Roma and Monaco have invested their time heavily into FIFA esports whilst PSG have created their own FIFA esports team.
Thanks to the investment and publicity created by real football clubs, FIFA esports’ popularity continues to grow. Esports primary coverage is broadcasted via Twitch – the primary online streaming platform for esports. However, television channels such as BT Sports in Europe and Fox Sports in the USA have also begun broadcasting FIFA esports to their audiences. Currently there are no other television channels – in the west – that broadcast live coverage of esports. FIFA, as an esport is expected to compete amongst the top 10 esports for viewing hour on Twitch within the next 18 months. It is thought that the next installment in the FIFA series – FIFA 18 – will be its most successful yet, especially from an esports point of view. And the growth of esports as a whole is not slowing down – it is no wonder that businesses, sporting clubs and banks are investing into esports.
The debate is still out as to whether the FIFA franchise, as an esport, has a ceiling, so to speak. Some industry experts and esports fans believe that FIFA will never grow to the levels of the most popular esports franchises. The reasons for this, they believe is that most people would rather watch real football or play football instead of watching two teenagers/young men play against each other in an online version of football. Unlike League of Legends or Dota 2, both of which are fantasy games, FIFA does not offer anything particularly unique to the gamer or viewer.
On the other hand, audiences are now able to bet on esports. In a similar way to the effect betting has had on real football, betting may help the growth of FIFA as an esport as audiences will be able to bet on their desired team thus potentially increasing the excitement of the match. Many esports athletes are pleased with this arrangement as they feel that audiences being able to gamble on esports means that more money will find its way into the industry. On the other hand, gambling, of course brings problems. The primary esports audience is 13-22 year olds, which brings about the question, should underage children be targeted by the inevitable gambling advertisements which will become more and more common as the betting market for esports grows. Already, some tournament organisers have restricted esports teams from competing if they have gambling sponsors pasted across their outfits. Another problem is insider match fixing. There have been various cases already where players have admitted to fixing matches for financial benefits. It goes without saying that if gambling is to become a part of esports it needs to be regulated effectively by an independent body.
The next big event in the FIFA esports calendar is the FIFA 17 Interactive World Cup. The industry is already said to be worth over $700M but online reports suggest the industry will break the $1B barrier by the end of 2018. The esports boom is happening as we speak, when will it end, will it ever come to an end? Who’s to say. But one thing is for certain esports are here to stay and football as an esport is coming along for the ride.