Will Esports ever be accepted in the mainstream in the UK?

 

E-Sports are one of the fastest growing forms of entertainment in the world with millions of viewers on Twitch.TV every single day watching games like FIFA, Call Of Duty and League Of Legends this “sport” is growing bigger and bigger every day. Just last year the FIFA world championships were on Sky Sports 1 and were being presented as actual sporting events with punditry and commentary. Ex USA football international Alexi Lalas and youtube star Spencer Owen were the men doing punditry that day and it

Ex USA football international Alexi Lalas and youtube star Spencer Owen were the men doing punditry that day and it sparked outrage on social media. Sky Sports 1 trended all night in the UK and people were devastated that their favourite sports channel was showing video games. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see the same happening every year from now on as the FIFA world championships had a huge viewership and my prediction is that Sky Sports will have a channel dedicated solely to E-sports within the next decade.

Personally, I do not see the appeal of E-Sports in the slightest, however, it is one of the fastest growing trends I have ever seen and there is so much money in it nowadays with the top competitors earning almost 3 million dollars a year so it is impossible to ignore something so popular. The figures speak for themselves in 2015 the League Of Legends world championships had over 36 million viewers worldwide, to put that number into perspective the FA Cup Final was only watched by around 15 million people that very same year.

So why is something that gets over 20 million viewers more than England’s premier cup competition not necessarily accepted by the mainstream media in this country? I think that the main reason is giving it the label “sport.” Sports have always been seen as the cool thing that all the “lads” are into whereas video games have a much more negative stigma surrounding them and are seen as quite nerdy and anti-social. Just look at the replies to this tweet and see how much people are against Esports being seen as an actual sport.  A similar argument against giving them the sports label is the lack of physical activity required which is why some people also have a hard time calling darts, snooker etc sports as well.

Tweets like the one below show the ridicule that the inclusion of esports on Sky’s premier sports channel. The problem is in my opinion with the presentation they shouldn’t be trying to broadcast themselves as an actual sport and the pundits shouldn’t treat it like it is. During the Fifa 16 world championship last year the so-called pundits were acting as if it was an actual football match saying things that aren’t applicable when the match is only being played out on a computer by two people. Saying things like “They need to work together better as a team.” When the game is being played by one person controlling all 11 players is ridiculous, and viewers could see that.

 

Having Alexi Lalas being the one to do commentary was not the greatest choice as he is an actual football commentator. Sky had the right idea employing Spencer Owen to do the punditry as he is much more involved with FIFA video games whereas Lalas was trying his best to make it seem like real football. The final match was even decided on away goals. To put a FIFA world championships on Sky Sports 1 is an ambitious move from sky, but to have what is supposed to be the biggest game of the tournament be decided on away goals is a joke. It is likely to drive viewers away as everyone watching at home knows that home advantage would not make a difference in a video game, it is just insulting to the people watchings intelligence and would have had a much more negative that positive effect on viewing figures.

In my opinion, Fifa has the best chance of being a mainstream Esport in the UK as Football is ingrained in British culture and this could become just another aspect of that. As some of the Premier Leagues biggest football teams have started to employ players to play professional FIFA for them such as Sean Allen signing for West Ham United and Kieran Brown signing for Manchester City just to play FIFA. With this would come a potentially large fanbase as kids who are fans of West Ham or Manchester City will have another aspect to support. With gaming on youtube being one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world today with UK based FIFA YouTubers such as KSI, NepentheZ and many more having well over one million subscribers. So watching people play games is very popular online at the moment and in Asia gaming events fill arenas holding over 15,000 people. I think it’s just a matter of time before Esports do become a huge thing in the UK

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Author: Charles Jones

Sports Journalism student at Leeds Trinity University.

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