When it was just physical sports in the sports industry, such as ice hockey, football, rugby, and cricket, those who didn’t enjoy physical sports, but still enjoyed competition, often turned to other means to get the buzz of competing. Playing video, card, and board games, they became a seemingly untouchable demographic for the increasingly marketed world of sports to reach out to. But not anymore.
With the rise in power of the internet, PC and video game consoles, and the opportunity to play games in multiplayer modes over the internet, a new sport has arisen to claim this massive demographic. Esports has grown rapidly in popularity over the past half-decade, enticing all those who have enjoyed playing video games not just to compete, but also watch tournaments. Much of the broadcasting is done via free live streaming services, such as Twitch, so esports is accessible to nearly everyone, and greatly appeals to millennials because it’s just as easy for them to get involved in the new sport from the very place they’re sat.
In the USA, it was found that 73 percent of esports fans are below the 35-years-old, with the majority of American football fans exceeding that age. Furthermore, 22 percent of male millennials frequently view esports, which is more than ice hockey and equal to basketball. This new generation of sports fans has the power, and every industry knows it. From television stations buying the rights to show esports coverage to being able to get in on esports gaming and betting, the industry is going to be massive, and now other physical sports are trying to muscle in on the industry.
Many physical sports teams have announced sponsorship of esports teams as well as started their own, but the main waves are set to come from established sports video games. Electronic Arts head up the most popular games for most of the major sports in the world, with NHL 18, FIFA 18, and Madden NFL 18 all the most popular console games for the sports.
EA thought that it would be easy to almost just rename their online multiplayer modes as esports, but they were quite mistaken. While the popularity of these physical sports games as esports is a ready-built fan base of those who play the video games already, much of the esports community disagrees that they are legitimate esports. Regardless, the ice hockey esport has become much more popular over the last year, but there are fundamental keys to sporting success in esports.
The NHL is said to be very interested in moving into the esports business and isn’t ignoring the boom. In fact, back in 2016, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman explained that the NHL and EA were trying to develop a game that builds a community based on six-vs-six games – like in the physical sport. Despite his slipups as commissioner thus far, Bettman is absolutely correct here.
A huge problem with online sports games, particularly EA’s renditions, are that they’re pay-to-win in the Ultimate Team modes, with loot boxes employed for players to get better players and thus win more. Esports fans cite this as an issue in games like FIFA, NHL, and Madden being respected in their industry, as well as the fact that the AI does a lot of the work when the player isn’t in direct control of the character.
Balancing will be a huge hurdle to overcome, but Bettman’s sights set on one player controlling one player in a competitive online community mode would solve that and certainly help ice hockey rocket as an esport. An enhanced Be A Pro mode is needed. If the community could implement elements such as contracts to teams, transfers, and a virtual currency that has to be earned in-game, almost a virtual NHL where fans are the players could be forged and could find great success in the world of esports.