Sporting institutions are increasingly making efforts to add esports to form part of their business model. Additionally, global sports ambassador, David Beckham, has recently entered the esports market too.
So just how much has esports been able to thrive during lockdown?
On the 23rd March, Boris Johnson announced the UK would be going into lockdown. The world of sport came to an abrupt halt as the uncertainty over the Premier League loomed; Wimbledon was cancelled, and many other decisions had to be taken much to the disappointment of sports fans across the country.
In stepped Esports
During lockdown, football clubs have all had to answer the same question – how to keep their fans engaged with no live matches. The answer? Esports.
Propelled by the recent events of Covid-19, CEO of British Esports, Chester King states esports usage hours and reach have risen by around 30% in the first eight weeks of lockdown in the UK.
On April 20th, the ePremier League Invitational was announced. A 20 man FIFA20 tournament which featured the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Raheem Sterling and eventual tournament winner, James Maddison.
The tournament gave fans an opportunity to still consume sport, allowing players to compete from home. In fact, as the viewer we were able to see how Trent Alexander-Arnold and Raheem Sterling would interact in a more relaxed environment, rather than on the pitch as fierce rivals.
Typically, esports has been shown through YouTube and the streaming service Twitch. Given the high profile of the football players participating and the need for mainstream broadcasters to fill airtime, this tournament was propelled into the limelight taking place live on both Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League.
Arguably, professional gamers are the new ‘content creators’, and content creators have notably had a tough time breaking into mainstream media. Only recently, we saw Eddie Hearn promote the KSI vs Logan Paul boxing rematch, which was shown on DAZN and Sky Sports, despite the event breaking viewership records. KSI has been creating content for over 10 years now and has led the UK YouTube scene for much of his career. Though in that time, the YouTube star has rarely appeared within traditional, mainstream broadcast media.
With professional gamers and esports being a relatively new concept, it is promising that they have already been able to receive positive, mainstream exposure.
It is also positive that leading sports institutions such as City Football Group, see them as part of their future…
Manchester City leading the way
City Football Group’s flagship Club, Manchester City, has been leading the way on how to digitally engage with their fans; much of this through esports. Although the ePremier League invitational was a success, it was partly due to the inclusion of First Team players. Now the Premier League has returned to action, it would be naïve to expect events such as this to take place on a regular basis. However, Manchester City has been ahead of the curve by growing their presence within esports by hosting live events at the Etihad and via Zoom, featuring their own professional esport athletes Shaun ‘Shellzz’ Springette and Ryan Pessoa.
In their recent event CFG FIFA20 Challenge, viewers saw Sergio Aguero and Oleksandr Zinchenko face off in a game of FIFA20. Interestingly, and promisingly for the esports industry, viewership levels did not change when the first team members were replaced by City’s professional gamers.
In case you missed this event, you can catch it here.
Madrid Tennis Tournament
Football hasn’t been the only sport to capitalise on esports. The Madrid Open, an annual clay court ATP 1000’s event also decided to host a 16-man tournament which saw Andy Murray dominate and ultimately donate the prize money to the NHS and Madrid Food Bank charity.
Formula 1 has also benefited from a spike in non-motor fans too, since hosting the Esports Virtual Gran Prix which saw Ben Stokes bring in a large crossover audience.
Spend it Like Beckham
Last week, the Executive Chairman of Guild Esports, Carleton Curtis, announced that David Beckham became a co-owner of Guild Esports by purchasing a ‘significant minority stake’ in the company through DB Ventures, his personal investment business.
Guild Esports’ business model operates like that of a professional scout; find and nurture new talent for teams competing within FIFA, Rocket League and Fortnite.
It’s no secret Beckham has always had an eye for capitalising on successful business ventures. His wide range of lucrative advertising deals since retiring from the professional game shows that him and his team are always on the lookout for the next big thing.
While it has been unanimously accepted that esports is a growing market, it is worth wondering if lockdown hadn’t taken place, would Beckham and his management company have made this investment so soon?
So just how much has Esports thrived during lockdown? Successful events have taken place, major football clubs and sporting institutions are increasingly making it part of their business model, and one of sports biggest global ambassadors has entered the market. This for me would at least suggest the answer.
We want to hear your thoughts though, so do be sure to let us know whether you believe the industry has gained momentum from lockdown, and the future direction you see esports moving in.
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