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eSports: Could it become more popular than the real thing?

eSports competitors in Qatar intent on beating their opponents
eSports competitors in Qatar intent on beating their opponents Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Euronews
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The world of eSports is booming. Its popularity exploded during the pandemic. So, can it compete with the sport that began in the 19th century?

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The world of eSports is booming. Over 300 million copies of the FIFA series have been sold since its launch 17 years ago, and there are some suggestions that its virtual popularity of football could exceed the real thing. But what exactly are eSports? It's an industry worth more than a billion euros, and events feature amateurs and professionals globally.

NHAC NGUYEN/AFP or licensors
EA Sports FIFA has sold over 300 million copies and holds events such as this one in VietnamNHAC NGUYEN/AFP or licensors

The Growing Popularity of eSports

The gaming world gained a direct relationship with more traditional sports via the video game industry. Several eSports streaming platforms were created due to demand from people staying at home during the pandemic.

Analysts predict that by 2023, 15.5% of US internet users will watch esports at least once a month. Based on its current growth rate, the industry is expected to outperform major sporting events such as the Champions League and Formula 1.

Fortnite is a famous game in eSports, with a World Cup prize pool of almost €3 million. In comparison, that is more than tennis champion Novak Djokovic won at Wimbledon in 2021.

Football and eSports - A growing partnership

Traditional football is also on board with the digital revolution. Some of the world's biggest clubs and players have formed their own eSports teams. And players past and present such as Sergio Aguero, Neymar, and Paul Pogba, enjoy gaming during their time away from the pitch.

Bruna Prado/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Sergio Aguero is a former footballer heavily involved in eSportsBruna Prado/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Football's governing body FIFA held the 2022 FIFA Champions Cup in Qatar. Sixteen of the world's best eSports players competed at the Doha Sports Hall.

It's an event that Elie Honain, the CEO of Quest eSports, believes can work alongside more conventional sports rather than being seen solely as competition for the more established sports.

"eSports is very similar to traditional sports. It compliments it in such an incredible way. The fans are here. The players are here. You need to have a nice setting. You need to create the same kind of atmosphere that you have in sports because eSports will be as competitive in terms of viewership in terms of a live audience. It's gaining massive traction in the region. So, we want to try to elevate it to become like traditional sports or soccer and create the same feeling you get in the stadiums. We want to have this in eSports stadiums as well."

A large crowd turned out in Doha to watch one of the region's biggest eSports eventsEuronews

eSports at the Olympics?

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the Paris 2024 Olympics offers "a historic opportunity" to stage major eSports events. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have produced the Olympic Virtual Series involving cycling, rowing, sailing, motorsport, and baseball.

Yoan Valat/
Emmanuel Macron believes eSports should take part in Paris 2024 OlympicsYoan Valat/

2022 FIFA Champions Cup competitor Haroun Yasan believes including eSports in the Olympic Games would be a win-win for both sports.

"The Olympics needs esports. It's not just that eSports needs the Olympics because I think if eSports joins the Olympics, it's going to get a huge crowd. After all, eSports has a huge fan base and community. It's going to add something special to the Olympics."

The EA Sports FIFA 2022 Champions Cup was the first of its kind in the region, helping showcase eSports' importance in the metaverse. It attracted thousands of fans to its livestream, and a loud crowd turned out to see Saudi Arabia's MsDossary crowned the winner in Doha.

MsDossary went on to win the FIFA Champions Cup in QatarEuronews

There's no denying eSports' influence and spectator reach. With the spectacular prize money, its profile is only going to grow. Expect to see more and more football clubs using it as a way to engage with existing fans and maybe create a few new ones as well.

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