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Over the last decade, eSports has been gaining more and more legitimacy in the world of entertainment through the sheer volume of viewership, revenues, and prize pools. However, being termed “eSports” has perhaps long plagued its appeal to traditional sports fans – of which there are billions in the world. Many either don’t know of the existence of eSports or assume a stance of derision due to the perceived lack of physical sport in the matches and tournaments.
However, over the past few months, gaming and sports have become more closely tied than ever, which could have a profound effect on the impression of eSports on people who didn’t consider themselves to be fans.
Games staging spectacles for sports stars
The first step of reeling in sports fans to the eSports space was by professional sports leagues staging their own video game competitions, which featured several popular sports stars. The ePremier League Invitational this year saw Leicester City star James Maddison overcome a field of sporting heroes, including Jofra Archer (cricketer), Tony Bellew (boxer), and several other soccer players from around the Premier League. With all eyes formerly on Leicester potentially making it into the top-four this season, people tuned in to watch Maddison’s performances in a game to appease their need for competitive entertainment.
Meanwhile, Formula One racing was one of the quickest to get into the competitive gaming scene, with the Virtual GP races taking place when the season’s events were initially scheduled to take place. Not to be confused with the real-world F1 esports tournament, the Virtual GPs featured racers from Formula One, with George Russell and Charles Leclerc being locked in a tight battle for the championship. However, with the F1 returning on July 3 and Leclerc at +400 to win the Austrian Grand Prix with William Hill online, the Monégasque driver has had to desert his shot at the virtual championship to reconvert his online driving skill back onto the track.
North America’s major league for hockey, the NHL, also got involved in the action, but this time in the form of a non-sport gaming exhibition. For charity, pro hockey players Nathan MacKinnon, Johnny Gaudreau, Clayton Keller, Sebastian Aho, Mitch Marner, and several others piled into the smash-hit title Fortnite to battle on ESPN’s Twitch channel. Sports stars playing competitive video game versions of their own sport is one thing, but seeing them crossing over into respected eSports fare can help bridge fans over more significantly.
Come for the name, stay for the game
— Thibaut Courtois (@thibautcourtois) May 22, 2020
Sports fans are more connected to their favourite players than ever, thanks primarily to social media. So, if one of these stars announces that they’ll be coming onto a popular game to give it a go, hundreds, maybe thousands of people will tune in to watch. The impact this has on cultivating fans is further helped if they get to experience some real eSports action as well.
Over the spring, popular streamer Ibai managed to get soccer players Thibaut Courtois, Borja Iglesias, Achraf Hakimi, and Sergio Regulión into eSports headliner League of Legends. Seeing the competition and the exciting fantasy setting will have instantly caught on with several people who perhaps wouldn’t have explored the scene without their favourite sports star engaging with the title. The fact that the players in this instance play for several different clubs only helped to expand the potential reach.
Perhaps the primary aspect that has hindered eSports but not stopped it from growing at a tremendous rate, when it comes to appealing to traditional sports fans, is the fact that they take place in the digital world. However, with sports stars competing in virtual sports and titles that comprise the biggest eSports, more people will have tuned in, engaged, and realised that there’s a tremendous amount of entertainment value in eSports, legitimising the format in the eyes of former non-believers.