With the World Cup just around the corner, this is a summer that could be a great experience for esports and the people who want it to grow. Football is the most popular game ever seen on planet earth, and the World Cup draws more eyes than virtually any other sporting event, so what can esports learn from the world of football, and take forward to one day become a competitor?
The first, and most important message for the scene overall should be that the World Cup is just one sport, and not all sports in one place. The Olympics might seem like a tantalising dream to chase, but in terms of making the people who run it a profit, the pockets that get lined are almost exclusively inside the IOC club, so while Lord Coe gets paid your city gets left with a pointless stadium, new infrastructure it can’t use, and a giant debt to pay.
What makes the Olympics work is partly the fact it is only once every four years, which is of course true of the World Cup. However, while that is true, there is a major tournament every other summer in football, and the season is a marathon of events. On the other hand, the massive majority of the Olympic audience never tune in to those sports in the time between games, and follow the sports simply in a casual manner.
For this reason, it is important to not fall into trap of thinking esports is one big area, and lumping them into one larger ‘Games’, as the fans of different games come from very different walks of life, and often have no interest in the games they don’t play. This is something orgs have already discovered, as they have tried and failed to turn their CS fans into DotA 2 fans or the like, and is key to the long term growth of esports.
Secondly, while football is an amazing game that can be played anywhere, there are areas it simply struggles to penetrate in the way it can, and that’s ok. Swathes of China and India have lapped up the Premier League, but their national teams remain non-factors in competitive play in World Cups. This is not a failure in market penetration, as they are paying customers of the Premier League, but more a factor of the way global sport is bought, sold, and played.
Deals like the ESL contract with Facebook might seem like they offer access to new, untapped customers, but in the modern world a lot of those people will have chosen to remain untapped, and will never convert. Just as some people in esports have no interest in sport, it is vital to remember we are not traditional sports, but an alternative, and maybe a better one.
Third, and last for now, is the way football has attempted to expand despite not needing to, specifically in terms of welcoming those people not traditionally interested in the game into the grounds. Esports has a massive advantage over virtually all sport in that there is no barrier to entry regardless of race or gender, and we have to build on that advantage, and show the parents of future stars what an amazing thing it is to be a part of.
That means having higher standards than FIFA, which really isn’t hard, and not taking the game to places our trans, gay, or other stars would not be welcome because they were born ‘wrong’. To come full circle, the World Cup in 2018 was purchased by the Russian government despite the fact gay fans are advised to not publicly display affection in that part of the world, and we’ve seen some companies in esports follow the money to such an egregious degree too.
As a scene, that is our advantage, and in the current climate that is what we can take from football in the other direction. The swaggering masculinity of the game in so many nations creates as many haters as it does fans, and the corruption drives long term fans away from the game. With any luck, in ten years time we will be talking about a CS World Cup, and what traditional sport can learn from their equal, esports.