“One Youtuber has over 13m subscribers”
OK, I’ll admit it. Hands up: I’m a big esports fan.
No that doesn’t mean I sit alone in a darkened room in the wee hours of the morning going on quests with total strangers and pretending to be a mythical character in another universe.
That’s one side of online gaming, but esports is an entirely different concept, and it’s growing at a truly phenomenal rate.
I always wanted to be a footballer as a kid, but I was never going to cut it. EA Sports’ FIFA series has been my salvation for that long-held dream. Allowing me to compete against anybody in the world at any time at the click of a button, provided my controller is still in one piece after the last session…
It’s simple escapism, but it also provides a career for some. Professional gamers can earn truly insane amounts of money. The best players in the world can win sums into the millions. In fact the largest tournament in the world – The International for the Defence of The Ancients 2 [DOTA 2] game – boasted a total prize fund of $18.4m [£13.7m] – that’s $400,000 more than the Daytona 500.
Crowds are huge too. Thousands of fans pack out stadiums to watch the action live, and millions more stream coverage online.
Need more convincing? Take Youtube. I subscribe to numerous virtual gaming-related channels. It’s my lunchbreak guilty pleasure.
There’s a group of users called the Sidemen. Their most prominent member – KSI – had 13.4 million subscribers at last count, equivalent to almost twice the population of New York City. Other members have huge online followings too – Wroetoshaw [7.2m] and Miniminter [4.5m]. They all share a common theme in that they made their names simply playing FIFA online and making entertaining videos of it. It’s an art form of sorts.
Now football doesn’t need an interest boost, but channels and content like this help to draw new fans in every day and cement its place as the most played sport on the planet.
Imagine if the same went for motorsport? Us-based iracing is the market leader at the moment with over 60,000 players worldwide. The Online Racing Association [TORA] is a healthy UK organiser with over 5000 plus. Both allow players to contest championships at home for just the cost of a console and game. Real-life classes such as British GT have jumped to badge up TORA’S virtual racing series, and are receiving the benefits in additional interest in the actual championship. Fan attendance is up as a result.
Initiatives like that are fantastic for sport as if a gamer likes a sport in virtual reality, chances are they’ll love it in real life. Motorsport might still be considered a niche pastime compared to other activities, but making it accessible is the best way to boost participation and secure its future. New organisations such as Darren Cox’s ESPORT+CARS team only aid that, and hopefully the rise in virtual racing will only benefit reality.