Football, or soccer to most North American’s, is the most played and viewed sport across the world. With an approximate fan base of 3.5 billion people, you have nearly half the world’s population watching this sport at every corner of the globe. With numbers like these, you can imagine its marketability across various platforms being incredibly successful. Take the video game industry for example, where EA’s “FIFA” title grosses one billion dollars annually for the game alone (not including additional downloadable content). One would think that the football industry is endless with profit and viewership, and yet in a brand new area of entertainment titled esports (electronic sports), football is lacking. esports, simply put, is competitive gaming at the highest level; it takes various formats and formulas from basic sports and implements them into a video game spectrum with things such as leagues, casters, and stadium-filled games. Football, or FIFA to be more specific, is dwindling in this industry due to its market share, competitive value compared to other genres and its relation to real sports. But why is this so? What is it that defines the draw and power of esports? Why is there such an incredible viewership and following towards this industry, and what makes the viewers or players so addicted? Why are certain genres more compelling than others? Throughout this article you will come to understand the various notions revolving around these questions, resulting in a better understanding towards FIFA and the esports industry.
EA started the FIFA franchise in July of 1993, where at the time it was looked at as a lost cause. Soccer was not big in North America and so the businessmen of EA saw no value in the game, especially when there were already other contenders on the market. Marc Aubanel, one of the lead developers behind the game, went as far as to state “They didn’t think we were going to sell a single copy of this. They thought it would be a complete disaster.” After dealing with various rights issues towards the title of FIFA, they managed to create a successful title. After its debut release and an onslaught of recurring sales, FIFA went on to reproduce the game year after year, creating one of the biggest video game franchises in gaming history. Every year the game comes out with new updates and innovations trying to improve on the previous one, whilst keeping up to date with modern day trends and new players that emerge within the real sport’s industry. It is a hallmark example of a perfect video game in all areas but one – its competitive aspect.
EA has never placed much thought into its sports games at a competitive level, and thus it lacks in multiple areas of this. Firstly, EA has no designated team towards looking at the competitive value of things such as esports within their video games. This has left titles such as FIFA or Madden with a limiting market share over what they can achieve within their own fields. Each title has allocated teams towards the competitive aspect of each game, but this is meaningless without drive and publicity from the head of the company. Only very recently has it been announced that EA would be putting a foot down on the competitive aspect of gaming in all areas. Peter Moore, the head of the EA Sports division, stated, “We’re not in denial that we’ve got to do some work here, but it’s a long-term strategy for us. We truly believe in competitive gaming at EA. Our dev [development] teams in every studio around the world love the challenge. If the genre is compatible, appropriate and relevant to competitive gaming, you bet there’s work going on right now to build modes in there.” So there’s no doubt that work is being done, but this late lack of interest has left the company in a bit of scramble.
A big reason EA may have been holding back on its partnering with esports and competitive play could be from the nature of the games they develop. When the esports industry first took off, the biggest game in esports was Starcraft, which is a real-time strategy (RTS) game created by Blizzard Entertainment. Its premise was a 1 vs. 1 scenario where you are to build an army while building up continuous resources to defeat your opponent. Starcraft arose prominently as the king of esports and was broadcasted on various TV stations in Korea (where the game was popular). Although the game has died down tremendously, it is still known as one of, if not the key game that created esports into what it is today. So why can’t FIFA, another 1 vs. 1 game, attain prominence into the esports industry such as Starcraft did? There are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, esports has changed massively since the early 2000’s and the rise of Starcraft. No longer does Starcraft rule as a major competitor. New genres of games such as first person shooters (FPS) and multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBA’s) run the show. This is due to fans enjoying quicker action packed games, while still providing the thrill of a high skill threshold. Skill within a game is very important, no doubt, but the higher the skill is capped, the more the viewer is engaged. This is especially true when the skill of a player is easy to recognize. This is coherent amongst all competitive aspects of play. For example, watching a professional soccer player run through the various passing options in his head takes a lot of skill and knowledge about the game, but the actual pass itself is what the viewers are interested in. For FIFA the skill cap of the game is not warranted high enough; you have passing, shooting, and routine skills you can make the player do, but you can’t control everything. People want to see the “game of inches” not only in real sports but online as well. Starcraft fell into this niche over time due to the rise of these other genres. MOBA’s and FPS provide fast paced gameplay that shows off the skill and movements of every professional player’s capability. Although Starcraft had an incredibly high skill cap, it did not show off this skill like other rising genres did, and thus its popularity decreased. EA might have seen this with their games and understood that if they wanted to create this competitive atmosphere they would need to remake the game itself. However, it should be noted that EA is still pushing games such as FIFA towards this competitive aspect of play, it’s just nowhere on the same level as the lead competitors because of these reasons.
The final reason why FIFA struggles to push its competitive boundaries is due to its unique scenario of being too similar to the real thing. Why watch someone play a game of FIFA 17 when they can watch the same thing in real life on TV or in person? Although this a basic concept, it is a major reason behind FIFA’s struggle to establish a real following in competitive play. One could think that its relation to human visuals and realism is a solid example of why it doesn’t see as much play. This is a possibility as most video games are stemmed from fantasy creations, but it is not the true reason for its failure. When looking at esports by itself, it has been proven that millennials are watching less and less sports due to esports. Take American football as an example. 110 million people watch the NFL – of this 110 million, 8.7 million also watch esports. From this 8.7 million, 53% are aged 21-35. If you were to ask an esports and NFL enthusiast whether they’d rather attend the Madden 17 (EA’s main football title) esports finals or a game at their favorite NFL team’s stadium, their answer would be the NFL game. This is because the NFL game provides an unprecedented atmosphere unlike any other, as well as displaying the live visual skill of professional players duking it out. But if you were too ask the question, but instead of Madden 17 you were to say the Staples Center for the League of Legends finals, it would be obvious that the results would be a little more mixed. This is because a game such as League of Legends shows off similarities to the NFL game. It has an atmosphere, from the setting to the crowd, as well as the display of non-stop action and skill created by each team. If FIFA wanted to create a game to have similar aspects it would need to alter the gameplay so greatly that it would most likely create a whole new game. There’s no reason to do this, due to the fact that the game is already incredibly successful without the competitive aspect, and that’s something people should be ok with. Besides, most video games are created for leisure and down time, they aren’t always needed to be competitive. But for curiosity’s sake, what’s the driving motive behind this competitive power that esports brings to the table?
Sports have always had a place in society since the beginning of time. Supporting a certain player or team as they progress to victory by showing their skill off to the fans and their adversaries is something that will never change. Today, sports are still going strong as the most watched thing on T.V, but a new genre of entertainment has emerged known as esports. Esports has been around since the early 70’s but has only gained prominence since the early 2000’s with the game that was mentioned before, Starcraft. At the time, Starcraft was the biggest game in this industry, but only in Asia. Westerners had not seen the likes of competitive gaming at this level, but it wasn’t long before that had come to change. In the year 2000, there were only 10 major esports tournaments world wide with a prize pool of $350,000 combined. By 2005, these numbers had dramatically increased to 100 tournaments, and 2.4 million dollars, and by 2012 esports had reached 696 tournaments and a whopping $10,200,000 in prize money. Today the industry is worth half a billion dollars, with the possibility of it generating over a billion dollars by the end of the decade. This insane influx in viewership and fandom stems from the fact that esports is a global phenomenon. When you look at soccer and why it’s the biggest sport, it’s because it’s a globally renowned sport. American football is the most watched sport in the U.S but it’s following outside North America is lacking. Esports or competitive gaming in this sense is something that every player can appreciate anywhere in the world because video games are everywhere. Gaming is a global sensation and doesn’t need to be passed down by others to understand its concept. Sure, the game itself takes time to understand but most are very similar and play within each other’s genres. When you have something on a global scale such as this, its power is unfathomable on what it can become. Still, though, why is it that viewers have become so attached to this genre of entertainment? What drives their addiction?
Esports viewership has always been the primary setting example to show off esports potential because at the end of the day numbers are what truly matter. For instance, this year’s League of Legends (a popular MOBA game) finale at the Staples Center reached 14.7 million concurrent viewers and 43 million unique views over the course of the finale. These are numbers not to be trifled with as they have beaten out various other sports finales in comparison. This viewership derives from each fan’s dedication to the game, but more importantly their love for it. Being there on the game’s first release, playing it, and then watching it unfold its potential in front of your eyes, is truly something magical. The combination of skill, environment and motivation from the pro players themselves creates an atmosphere unparalleled to anything you’ve seen before. Skill first and foremost, although already talked about needs to be reiterated. The requirement to play these games at a top level is no joke. Every day, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and maybe, just maybe, will you have a chance to go semi-pro in the gaming world. Combined with the fact that these games are strategically way more advanced than any other sport out there in terms of thought processing and timing, there’s no room for error. Take latency, for example, latency is the amount of time it takes between the cause and effect of a system. So in gaming terms the time it takes for your button click to register in game. Most latencies average between 40-100 milliseconds in most competitive games, that’s an average of .07 of a second per mouse click for the game to register the action. Professional esports players have stated multiple times that it is unplayable to play under the conditions of having 70+ms of latency at a top level. This is because professional esports players have to make such quick plays so often that even a hair fraction of a second matters. Things like these happen in sports but not to the same extent in esports where the timings are so important that decide the game for you every play. This is what drives fans to watch esports, mixed with the fact of having high-octane theaters and stadiums filled with professional casting and analyst desks, it’s hard to wonder how esports is not entertaining.
As you already know, there are many different esports genres available. As video game developers keep innovating, the variety of genres will only increase. Sports simulators were among the first popular competitive video games after classic fighter games such as Super Smash Brothers and Street Fighter. However, sports simulators did not expand within the broad esports scene to the same extent as FPS, MOBA, and RTS games despite being around for decades longer. This begs the question as to why? I’ve broken it down to two main factors. For starters, fans and average players of their real world counterparts mainly play sports simulators. Why is this important to note? Spectators of FPS, MOBA, and RTS titles consist of mostly those who play the video games themselves, and so they are inclined to watch the best players in the world play a game that they are considered to be relatively average at. With FIFA this similarity also exists with the difference being that the game is based off a real sport. This leaves audiences more inclined to watch the actual sport, in this case, professional soccer. On top of this, not all soccer fans play the FIFA games, leading to a much smaller audience potential that will be inclined to spectate esports of the video game that is based on its sport’s counterpart. So essentially, FIFA as an eSport is competing against its real-world counterpart for viewership as well as other esports. In relation, popular FPS, MOBA, and RTS esports are using their player-bases as audiences and only have to worry about competing with other esports. The second main reason for sports simulators being less compelling than that of the established popular esports is the fact that they are limited in terms of creativity and change. Sports simulators must stick to the rules that are set by the real-world sports leagues and the only variables that change are professional players that get put into the games, including their statistics and which teams they play for. With the popular esports titles, changes are being made all the time by the game developers to balance competitive play or just for the sake of stirring things up for excitement and freshness. These developers are not limited to anything as strict as rules that were made for a real-world sport; in fact, their creative ceiling is rather nonexistent.
The gaming industry has and will be one of the most profitable industries in the world for years to come. Play always makes its way into society in various different shapes and forms. Soccer is a prime example of play, as it is the leading sport in the world. However, soccer has shaped itself into new forms of play such as video games with EA’s FIFA, and FIFA itself has become apart of a new found entertainment, esports. This newfound genre of entertainment has quickly become one of the most talked about industries within the last 5 years and is on the verge of becoming a worldwide sensation. If a game has the right competitive value, market share, and relatability it’ll have the possibility of becoming a viable eSport. Esports prowess and power comes not only from the game it’s played in, but the fans and players that embark on its journey. Currently, esports is climbing to a peak with no boundaries for potential. Caring and inspired fans are building it up across the globe, hoping for one day to be noticed amongst all. These fans hope for new and old titles such as FIFA will rise to the likes of other major hit games in the industry like Counter-Strike and League of Legends. All they can do now however, is sit, watch, and enjoy the adventure that esports is embarking on.