Following the success of their eLions Eliminator event in February, the Football Association’s Damien Cullen and Digital Sports Management’s Jennifer Davidson discuss the rise of esports from niche activity to mainstream entertainment.
Esports has enjoyed huge growth in popularity over the past year, taking advantage of pauses in traditional sports and viewers being stuck at home.
This has resulted in several linear broadcasters looking to give esports more airtime – such as Fox in the US showcasing Nascar and BT Sport picking up the rights to the V10 R-League in the UK.
Football Association senior content innovations manager Damien Cullen and Digital Sports Management senior partnerships manager Jennifer Davidson believe this rise of esports is only the beginning, and esports will become more mainstream in the next five to 10 years.
“I know in other countries they do televise [esport events], especially in Asia,” says Davidson. “When you get to the players, their stories and the rivalries, it has a lot of similarities to those in football. So it’s definitely something that can cross over.”
“I have Twitch on my TV, so I already watch it. The question is whether there is the need [to broadcast it on linear TV]when it is already possible [to see it on an app or on your TV].
“The shift in the past 12 months [to everyone communicating via Zoom calls]has helped with gaming content, as people are more open to watching things set in people’s homes. Esports has got a lot of potential from a broadcast perspective to grow and hit a more mainstream audience.”
Cullen adds: “A TV is a device in your living room, it’s not really a means to get a signal in anymore. It’s more of a generational thing. You can already watch platforms like Netflix and Disney+ on there. My daughter will watch gaming all day if we let her. I’ve gone from someone who questioned it to someone cheering on our own broadcast [the eLions Eliminator]. Technology is getting stronger and the bandwidth will only get stronger, so I think it will become more prominent in the mainstream in the next five to 10 years.”
Davidson says educating audiences will be vital: “I think there’s a more mainstream audience you could reach through a scheduled TV broadcast. The difficulty is there are a lot of preconceptions about esports, but what people don’t realise is the dedication of these players.
“One of our biggest challenges [with esports]is getting the access time, because they have qualifiers, events and weekend leagues. The dedication and skill that it takes is incredible.
“There needs to be that interest from a wider media audience first and foremost. We really want to educate people and raise the awareness of what [esports]is. It is a sport and it takes dedication. One of the experts at St George’s park said the training and reactions are very similar to Formula One.
“People need to know who the players are, and the rivalries. I was watching the eLions Eliminator with my husband, who doesn’t really know it, and once I told him the background, the players and the underdog, he really got into it. It’s all about telling the stories of the players involved.”
This interview was made at Broadcast Sport’s Virtual Breakfast Club in February.
The eLions Eliminator, which decided the England squad for the 2021 Fifa eNations Cup, recorded a tripling in the England team’s Twitch following as well as more than 1 million viewers across Twitch and Facebook.