For years, esports has been changing the landscape of what we consider sports As recent as 30 years ago, gaming consoles were still in their infancy and gaming had not quite reached the heights it has today. The original Nintendo console launched in July 1983 and the Sega Master System launched in 1985. Whilst these consoles definitely attracted the attention of kids of the time, they were more of a side distraction from the real thing: playing sports outside.
The original sports games on these consoles had poor graphics, were jumpy and the gameplay was pretty average. Fast forward some 35 years and sports games have taken the form of simulation. To sports title seek authenticity, mirroring almost everything the real life counterpart has to offer. According to a report by Insider Intelligence, esports viewers are expected to grow from 21.1 million in 2019 to an estimated 31.4 million by 2023. The question is, what is driving this shift towards esports? Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean for traditional grassroots sports?
Competitive esports tournaments
One of the biggest factors is the number of annual competitive leagues available as well as one-off tournaments often attracting global audiences, with 30+ languages watching leagues, said csgoradar.com. While it may not be the key factor in determining the overall prestige of an esports event, there is no doubt the size of the prize pool certainly contributes not only to the quantity and quality of competitors, but also the number of people tuning in to watch these tournaments.
Another big factor has been the growth of crowdfunding. Gaming developers have started to offer unique in-game items to their huge player bases to increase the size of the overall prize pool. One of example of this is Dota 2 and their annual tournament, The International. Developer Valve has been able to deploy crowdfunding in order to increase its prize pool every single year since 2011.
The prize pool for The International started out at $1.6m in 2011 and the most recent world championship event, The International 10, had a prize pool of $40 million. Fortnite, Honor of Kings, and League of Legends are other tournaments or championships that have seen huge prize funds continue to grow over the past decade. Of course, the Madden Series and Madden Championships held by EA Sports is no exception.
So what about traditional sports?
Most of the aforementioned games have been more based on fantasy or hero-type games. However, as mentioned, traditional sports are no exception. In fact, recent years have seen a huge demand for traditional sport sims in lieu of live audience due to pandemic restrictions. There is still a huge demand for more traditional esports games like soccer, football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Popular video games have quickly made the switch to e-sports including FIFA, Madden, MLB, NBA and WWE.
Strikerz Inc is another game set to drop in 2022 and promises to push the boundaries when it comes to esports. They have already locked in a number of ambassadors including Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo as well as signing partnership agreements with leading clubs. Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers were the latest to commit to UFL’s new esports game. A recent livestream by UFL provided an insight into the features included in the game, giving fans a taste of what to expect.
Whilst esports steadily attracts ambassadors from leading clubs as well as partnerships with some of the biggest clubs, sponsorship of esports teams is also helping to pump money into the scene. Intel is one of the biggest sponsors of esports along with DHL, Monster Energy Drinks, CS Money and Betway.
The appeal of all these games is not surprising. The gameplay has become so realistic, coupled with the advancements in graphics and technology, making it easy for many to become immersed. But what does this mean for grassroots sport?
Are kids still playing sports outside?
Grassroots sports have been in decline for some time. According to a report from the Aspen Institute, the share of children aged 6 to 12 who play a team sport declined from 41.5 % in 2011 to just 37% in 2017.
The study, conducted in the US found participation rates lowered across nearly all team sports, including football, basketball, soccer, and baseball. Some sports has seen participation down roughly 20%. In New Zealand, data from School Sport NZ shows high-school boys’ participation in sports slipped from 59% to 55% since the top of the century. Girls’ participation dropped from 55% to 47%.
Most dramatically, teachers involved in sports have plunged from 46% of all secondary school teachers 20 years ago to an all-time low of 29%.
Talking to The Herald, Waitākere College principal Mark Shanahan, who chairs College Sport Auckland, said schools needed to “look at the opportunities to engage kids into the new Olympic sports of skateboarding and surfing” if they no longer play rugby or cricket.
“The non-traditional sports are the ones that kids are moving into,” he said.
“Snowboarding sports have boomed in big numbers. Skateboarding and surfing – we have to get kids involved in those things. We have to make sure that we stay relevant.
“All the traditional sports are still at schools, but some schools may struggle to get a coach.“
Despite participation in traditional sports being on the decline, all is not lost. New sports are growing participation. For many countries, it’s all about changing the mentality and giving the next generation the opportunity to participate in a wide range of sports, not just the traditional sports that were popular 30 or 40 years ago.
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