Where Do eSports Fit Into Our World?
Okay, so this may seem like a big question, but let’s really dig into it and see what we can come up with. Where do esports fit into our world? The question comes to the forefront because of a recent football, or soccer, match in the Swiss Super League between Young Boys and Basel. The AP reports that the game had a nearly two-minute delay as fans threw tennis balls and gaming controllers down onto the pitch in protest forcing stadium officials to stop the game while they cleaned everything up. The protest was because European football clubs are increasingly interested in setting up esports team as part of their club and the fans are concerned that the clubs will spend money on esports they could, and in the fan’s estimation should be spending on the “real” football team.
Since we live in a connected world it didn’t take long for the Internet to have reactions to this news and those reactions raise a couple of interesting questions: should sports franchises spend some of their limited resources to develop esports teams, and how do esports fit within out traditional views of sports? As a big fan of sports and video games, let’s look at these two question individually and hope we can parse out some answers. I’m going to use the term “sports” to talk about games played on actual surfaces in person against another team or player in the physical world, and “esports” to talk about video games played either online or in person using a computer or console.
Should sports franchises spend some of their limited resources to develop esports teams?
As you can imagine this is a terribly complex question, and the answer might be different depending on where you live. Fans at the game in question were concerned that their team’s owners are spending money that could be used to improve the team on the field to pay and support video game players playing the FIFA video game. And who is to say they aren’t right? The money it would take to start a new esports team could be used to buy a new player or increase a contract for their star player to keep him from signing with a new team. Maybe that one player is the difference between winning the league and maybe not. The concern from the fan standpoint is there’s only so much money to go around and missing out on a league title and the extra money it can bring could set a team back years.
For our American readers, things work a little bit differently. The American sports leagues use a salary cap so there is a limit on what each team can spend, or if not a limit there’s a penalty for spending more on players. This means that the likelihood that an American football team can’t resign a star player because it started an esports team isn’t as high. In the States, the extra money a team spends tends to be on stadiums and amenities, and it would be tough to quantify the amount a stadium or locker room improves a team’s chances of winning. It’s a hard argument to make that Atlanta United FC’s esports team is taking money away from the team the club can field, or the amenities it can offer its players and fans.
So this question is a tough one to answer. As a big sports fan, I’d be pissed if my club’s owners spent money that came from the club on anything outside of bettering the team on the field, whether that’s players or amenities for fans and the team. I’d like to say that isn’t likely to happen. Owners make ridiculous sums of money from the clubs they own and can spend that money any way they like. All fans would rather see their owners take less money and instead let the club keep it but that’s not going to happen anytime soon in any league around the world. I don’t think we’re seeing clubs take a portion of the income from their sports teams and using it to finance an esports team. If your favorite club has done that please let me know and I’ll dig into some for you.
No from an owners point of view, it would be hard to see the money floating around esports and not want to get a piece of that pie as well. Earlier this year, CNBC reported some staggering figures for esports prize pools. The biggest come from the team behind Fortnite, Epic, saying that they are going to put $100 million into the prize pool for the first year of competition. This dwarfs the amount going into the pool for DOTA 2, which will have a still sizable $38 million. Those are crazy sums of money. Who wouldn’t want to try and bring some of that in if they could?
The short answer to “should sports franchises spend some of their limited resources to develop esports teams?” is yes. But with an asterisk. They should do it from a separate source of money than from the income the club is making. Let the owner finance it from their pocket so the sports team doesn’t take a loss if it doesn’t work out. Ok, let us dive into the second question and see what there is there.
How do esports fit in our traditional view of sports?
I’m really intrigued by this questions. More and more services are available to watch people play video games online. The critics of this have a common refrain of “why would you watch someone play a video game you can play yourself?” And that’s a fair question. But does it work when we apply it to other sports? Have you ever asked someone watching the Super Bowl or a World Cup final, “why would you watch someone play a game you could play yourself?” No, and they would think you were crazy if you did.
Sports are very popular in our modern society and watching sports is a big business. People plan their schedules around watching their favorite teams play, or spend very large sums of money to buy tickets and travel to go in person. People enjoy watching sports because you can see incredible players do amazing things that they themselves would never be able to do. Routinely, there are plays that you actually have to see to believe, so much so that there are innumerable channels dedicated to the broadcasting of games and highlight shows. Again, this is big business.
But, how do esports fit in? They actually fit in just like regular sports. People enjoy watching esports because they can watch incredible players do amazing things that they themselves would never be able to do. Routinely, there are plays that you actually have to see to believe, so much so that there are innumerable channels dedicated to the broadcasting of games and highlight shows. You see how that same language works for sports and esports? I could never do the things LeBron James can do, likewise, I could never do the things Fortnite Pro Ninja can do.
In the end, or TLDR, esports are just another game that people enjoy watching and some people are very very good at. Sports teams shouldn’t negatively impact their current teams to create esports teams but I can’t imagine that’s happening too much. What do you think about clubs and teams building esports teams? Do you watch live esports or highlights? Let us know what you think.