Football as a sport and a business has become so accustomed to exponential growth over the last few decades that the idea that another sport could come along and dent its dominance on the UK entertainment scene is almost unthinkable.
However, after the prolific rise of online gaming and eSports, suddenly there are very real threats to the footy hegemony, as young fans and players start to look elsewhere for their weekend and weeknight fun.
Here we take a look at how fledgling eSports are eating into the very fabric of the beautiful game, as well as if the football-powers-that-be can adapt fast enough to keep the national sport as relevant tomorrow as it is today.
The beautiful game has found a new playing field in the form of eSports
Disenfranchised Fans Go Online
It is not difficult to see why many football fans have become disillusioned with the sport they once loved, with players like Gareth Bale unable to find motivation to play despite getting paid in a week what most people earn over a lifetime.
This is then compounded by rising ticket prices and the general cost of following a team of any level around the country at the weekend. Too many clubs and leagues have taken fan loyalty for granted, expecting them to empty their pockets time and again.
What the likes of the FA failed to grasp was that what football fans treasure above all else is the sense of belonging and togetherness that supporting a team brings, a sense that has been gradually eroded, as stadiums do everything possible to dampen fan excitement, and executives turn matchday into an extension of a boardroom meeting.
This left the door open for a less expensive and more engaging sport to come along and sweep up those alienated fans, and increasingly it appears as though eSports is the one leading the charge.
eSports World Cup Came to London
This sea change away from football to eSports gained momentum in 2019, when the eSports Football World Cup was hosted in London.
What spawned from this was a huge uptick in pro and amateur eSports teams forming around the UK, and despite all the differences that exist between real football and videogames, fans did not seem put off when it came to following these new teams, especially as so many boasted thriving online communities found at places like Discord.
Premier League Teams Belatedly Try to Cash In
In an attempt to stay relevant, many Premier League teams have now formed their very own eSports teams, recruiting eSports players just as they would stars for their regular first team 11.
One of the major players in this regard are Manchester City, who have partnered with eSports powerhouses Faze Clan, so that some of the latter’s top eSports ballers play in Man City colours despite knowing none of the lyrics to Blue Moon.
Warning Signs Are Clear in Other Sports
While aping football on a computer screen will be tough to do until VR technology significantly improves, it may not be too long before something akin to the experience of playing an 11-a-side match becomes available for eSports players, which could eventually be the death knell for football as we know it.
This is already happening in sports such as motor racing and cycling, where a rider’s or driver’s stationary position can be easily recreated by simulation technology.
Because of this such sports are being completely subverted by their eSports counterparts, with the F1 eSports Series now being the main hunting ground for fresh driving talent, and the UCI’s eSports World Tour being similarly influential in the world of 2-wheel racing.
Football’s governing bodies should look to reengage with fans quickly before a tech solution comes along that whisks football fans and players fully online.