Grow­ing at­trac­tion of eS­ports is prov­ing lu­cra­tive busi­ness model

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SEB COE edg­ing past long-time ri­val Steve Ovett to fa­mously win gold in the 1500m in Moscow, 1980.

Usain Bolt not so much break­ing the 100m world record but smash­ing it to smithereens in Beijing in 2008.

Mo Farah, Greg Ruther­ford and Jes­sica En­nis all achiev­ing su­perb gold medal vic­to­ries in their re­spec­tive fields on the same glo­ri­ous evening in Lon­don four years later.

All of these throw up iconic im­ages from Olympic by­gones and are in­deli­bly etched on the minds of spec­ta­tors across the globe.

Now, imag­ine that the year is 2024.

The Games in Paris are get­ting down to the nitty-gritty stage.

It has come down to this – one fi­nal match to see who takes gold and will be recorded in the an­nuls of sport­ing his­tory.

Great Bri­tain’s ‘Joe Bloggs’ is com­pet­ing with a Ja­panese peer.

The pair are do­ing bat­tle not on the track or field, but on screen, play­ing the FIFA video game se­ries – a sim­u­lated com­puter game that sees gamers con­trol teams.

This sce­nario may sound far­fetched, but it could well be­come a re­al­ity.

Plans are al­ready afoot for eS­ports – which sim­ply stands for elec­tronic sports – to be part of the Games, po­ten­tially as a demon­stra­tion sport in Paris in six years’ time.

Last year, the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) said it was open to ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of in­clud­ing eS­ports in fu­ture Games, be­fore stat­ing it “could be con­sid­ered a sport­ing ac­tiv­ity” but “must not in­fringe” on Olympic val­ues in or­der to be recog­nised as a sport.

Since then it has been con­firmed eS­ports will be a medal event at the Asian Games in 2022.

All of this goes to show that eS­ports is be­ing taken no­tice of.

Such is the clam­our for the ac­tiv­ity that cer­tain tour­na­ments can at­tract thou­sands of spec­ta­tors to huge, multi-plex are­nas.

If you think those num­bers are im­pres­sive then you should see some of the prize money handed out.

It is not un­com­mon for com­peti­tors, of­ten aged be­tween 17 and 25, to walk away with six­fig­ure fees for com­ing out on top.

Dr Nick Robin­son is an As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor in Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies/ Videogames Re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Leeds.

He be­lieves that the ap­petite for eS­ports partly comes down to the lack of bar­ri­ers that it takes to be­come a suc­cess.

“FIFA is the world-lead­ing foot­ball video game in the world and it’s the game that pre­dom­i­nantly young peo­ple will play,” Dr Robin­son said.

“They have a grow­ing as­so­ci­a­tion with all lev­els of foot­ball, with the Premier League and EFL.

“Peo­ple that play it might well rise to a cer­tain stan­dard in the game.

“It’s a very demo­cratic form of sport in that sense.

“For ex­am­ple, peo­ple who are dis­abled can be one of the best FIFA play­ers in the world d.

“So there’s some­thing at­trac­tive about it in that re­gard.

“Also, part of the rea­son that it’s grow­ing at such a rate is be­cause of the money in­volved in it.

“Re­cently, Michael Jor­dan (for­mer bas­ket­ball star, pic­tured right,) has in­vested a con­sid­er­able amount of money into eS­ports in the US. .

“This kind of phe­nom­e­non of in­vest­ing via high-pro­file en­ter­tain­ers is pretty wide­spread.

“There is a mas­sive amount of in­ter­est in it, with mil­lions of dol­lars in prize money up for grabs. Lots of peo­ple are watch­ing it and there are a lot of par­al­lels with real-life sport.”

The growth of eS­ports is not just re­stricted to the tech­nol­o­gy­ob­ss­esed heart­lands of Asia and the United States.

Right here in the Broad Acres the ‘sport’ is be­gin­ning to take grip.

Last month, Rother­ham United be­came the first pro­fes­sional foot­ball club in York­shire to have their own eS­ports team.

The con­cept will see a squad of play­ers com­pet­ing in a pro­fes­sional league, whilst rep­re­sent­ing the Millers. The link-up is one that is rel­a­tively new to the UK, but across the pond this ar­range­ment is al­ready prov­ing pop­u­lar.

Dr Robin­son points to the re­cent ex­am­ple of teams in the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (NBA).

“This is a com­mon pat­tern in the NBA,” he said. “There’s a game called NBA 2k19, which is as pop­u­lar in the States as Fifa is over here.

“Al­most all the elite level teams have their own eS­ports team who play in a com­pet­i­tive league.

“To give you some sense ab bout the amaz­ing amount of f in­vest­ment, the Toronto Rap­tors’ R eS­ports team all liv ve in a house to­gether.

“They are paid a pr ro­fes­sional salary, train to ogether on a daily ba­sis and th hen par­tic­i­pate in these co om­pe­ti­tions.

“It’s be­com­ing an int tegrated model.

“De­spite the ar­gu­ments ov ver its class­ing as a sport, eS Sports re­quire a vast am mount of skill and train­ing an nd peo­ple at the elite level of it are ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered ath hletes.

“If a lot of peo­ple start wa atch­ing, then I imag­ine tha at al­most ev­ery team will end d up hav­ing a pro­fes­sional eSp ports team sooner rather tha an later.”

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