The debate about whether esports are ‘real sports’ has been over for some time now. These video game competitions have evolved to closely match what you can see from major sports leagues, including the star players, in-depth coverage by broadcasters, and lucrative sponsorship deals. Bookmakers are also now offering odds on esports markets, just as they would with traditional competitions like football and basketball. Punters can even use the same offers and promotions on esports in most cases, allowing fans of these leagues and tournaments the same opportunities to get additional value.
As their prominence and popularity permeate through the population, many sports leagues and teams have chosen to embrace esports. Of course, they are not the only ones doing this. Video game developers, hardware manufacturers, and enthusiasts are also getting in on the action.
For these other three groups, the reasons behind their decision to get involved in esports are clear. They either do it out of a love of video gaming, to help increase sales of their products, or to build a community to protect their long-term business interests.
However, it may not always be as clear why traditional sports teams and leagues are piling into esports. So let’s take a look and examine their rationale to see whether this diversification is an asset or liability to them.
At first glance, a football team hiring a bunch of video game players may seem like a real left-field move. But there is actually a lot of historical precedent for actions like this.
In the past, many of England’s football teams were multidisciplinary affairs, fielding squads for association football games and cricket matches. For example, Aston Villa FC was originally formed by the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel cricket team, which wanted to use the beautiful game as a way to keep fit during the winter months.
Similarly, the clubs with ‘Wednesday’ in their names typically used to have a cricket team that played mid-week. ‘United’ and ‘Athletic’ are two other common club name suffixes that often hint at the fact that they were once multi-disciplinary teams.
In this context, esports is just a 21st-century evolution of this historic trend. While this isn’t enough to say that video gaming is an asset to sports teams, it suggests it may not be a liability.
The Rationale for Diversifying Into Esports
While professional sports remain an incredibly popular hobby for many people, the number of sports fans is actually in decline. The reason for this is that there are fewer young people following in the footsteps of previous generations.
As these older folks pass on, the sports fan demographic will gradually shrink. So, given that this is a matter of long-term financial preservation, sports teams and leagues are attempting to use esports as a way to reverse this trend.
People generally develop a life-long affiliation with their chosen sports team, so attracting new fans can yield a sizable return over many years. Therefore, the rationale is that teams and leagues can entice new fans using modern esports and then encourage them to also take an interest in their main sport.
Examples of this include the NBA’s 2K League, which has teams affiliated with the main NBA basketball league, as well as the Formula 1 Esports Series, which links the cars used on the digital race tracks to the real-life teams that they depict.
Provided the assumptions are correct that younger fans can be both attracted by esports and then encouraged to follow the traditional sport, this would definitely make esports an asset.
Additional Sources of Revenue
While this ultra-long-term strategy is one that could ensure the survival of major sports teams and leagues in several decades’ time, esports can deliver benefits to traditional sports entities today. For the most part, players, teams, and leagues all receive royalty payments for being included in a video game. Ensuring these products are successful means that these payments can continue in the future.
On top of that, esports events create new opportunities to sell sponsorship space, charge for tickets to watch games, and earn money from broadcasting to fans watching remotely.
Therefore, we can be pretty confident that esports can have a very positive effect on traditional sports, provided they’re managed correctly and the assumptions that have been made turn out to be correct.
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