eSports: in search of recognition from the sports industry and the Olympic movement

eSports: en busca del reconocimiento de la industria del deporte y del movimiento olímpico - Johan Cruyff Institute

Xavier Cortés, operations director of Esportia, helps us understand the growth of eSports: from attracting the interest of the sports industry to knocking on the door of the International Olympic Committee with an impressive staging in the presentation of Tokyo 2020

The figure of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, appeared as if by magic in the Maracana Stadium, completely in darkness, on August 22, 2016, to put the finishing touch to the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. A single spotlight illuminated the center of the field, showing the figure of the politician dressed in the guise of Super Mario, to present to the world the next edition of the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. It was a spectacular teaser of what they are preparing in the Japanese capital, a profusion of technology and fantasy, an exhibition of manga and Japanese culture, and a nod to video game lovers who dream of seeing eSports included, someday , in the Olympic Games program. There are now hundreds of millions of addicts spread around the world.

eSports: in search of recognition from the sports industry and the Olympic movement - Johan Cruyff Institute

The Japanese Prime Minister appeared in the Maracana Stadium dressed in the guise of Super Mario Bross * Photo: 2016, The Associated Press

The videogame sector is still immersed in this race towards recognition by the sports industry, and getting stronger by the day. And the Olympic movement is willing to listen. On July 21, the first eSports Forum will be held at the Olympic Museum of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, organized by the IOC and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), to explore the possibility of video games becoming a new discipline of the Olympic Games in the not too distant future.

The event will bring together managers of companies in the sector, players, sponsors and event organizers with the aim of building bridges between the Olympic leaders and the eSports industry. According to Kit McConnell, sports director of the IOC and one of the Forum’s leading promoters: “It is a great opportunity for both the Olympic movement and the representatives of the world of electronic sports and videogames to start a debate, listen and learn from each other, and consider possible opportunities for collaboration. The IOC and the GAISF are closely monitoring the rapid development of electronic sports around the world, and we hope to have a really interesting meeting.”

Listen and learn from each other. That is the key. Everyone can see what a phenomenon eSports is, an activity that was born in the cybercafés of the United States and Korea and that, with the maturity of the digital era, is now filling sports venues around the world. According to the latest report of the gaming research firm Newzoo, presented in June 2018, China is the country that generates more revenue in the eSports industry, with 37,945 million dollars. And in that country they will not miss out on the opportunity to continue leading the way: eSports will be included in the official program of the 2022 Asian Games, in Hangzhou, as announced by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) in order to “reflect the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation.” The organizing committee of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games is also in serious talks with the IOC to introduce them as a demonstration sport.

On July 21, the first eSports Forum will be held at the Olympic Museum of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, organized by the IOC and the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF)

Traditional sport is looking more favorably on eSports, not only because it is a clear and effective way to approach younger audiences, but because at a professional level the income they generate has not stopped growing. Big sports stars are directing part of their investments to the videogame business and sport organizations are creating their own digital equipment to compete online.

The Johan Cruyff Institute had the opportunity to interview the Chief Strategy Officer and operations director of Esportia, a consultancy firm that operates internationally and works with sports entities and companies seeking advice on how to enter the eSports industry. With Xavier Cortés, we discover a little more about this new world.

How would you classify eSports within the sports industry: the latest fashion, the latest challenge, the future of the industry?

Why is the sports industry now focusing on eSports? It is very easy: all current sports have a simulator, which is the video game that represents the sport, just look at football, basketball … It is easy to understand the attraction there may be because more and more youngsters are playing a FIFA or an NBA game to simulate their idols. That’s where the sport industry’s interest in this aspect of eSports comes from and, let’s not fool ourselves, for economic questions, because we can see it is a mass phenomenon, you can go to YouTube and watch a video of a stadium full of people in a final. That’s very attractive because, ultimately, it’s an industry. But, above all, for the world of sport it’s about connecting with young people.

How has an activity that began in cybercafés arrived in such a short time to fill entire stadiums of people who go to watch some youngsters playing a videogame?

Connections, the internet has improved, the connectivity has improved, everything is much more multimedia. We didn’t have smartphones, or YouTube in your pocket, there was no way to access this content openly and freely. It was smaller, for a specialized audience, for those who knew how to search and find this type of content. And now, more and more, you can compete from your home, you have a better screen, a better computer, you have everything much more prepared, much more accessible, at much more varied prices, so it’s reaching more people.

Where were eSports born?

I would say in the United States and in Korea; professional eSports, as a competition. In Korea, it was the community itself that developed it. Starcraft is a Blizzard game and the community itself organized its championships. There was also the time of Doom, we’ve had id Software, and a thousand companies that have had their moments of popularity within eSports. But the one that consolidated it, apart from Starcraft, the one that laid a much stronger foundation was League of Legends, a free game that any operating system accepts. PC gaming began to expand and began to establish some rules and regulations for competing at a global level.

“In traditional sports, football, for example, in Europe it is the king of sport, but it isn’t in the United States or in Asia. eSports has no borders” – Xavier Cortés (Esportia)

It is said that eSports will reach $2.4 billion in business volume in two years. What is the secret?

Let’s say it has no borders. In traditional sports, football, for example, in Europe it is the king of sport, but it isn’t in the United States or in Asia. In eSports, it is generalized, and we should talk about its modalities: we have fighting games (Street Fighter, Tekken), strategy games (League of Legends, Dota), speed games that could also end up entering the sector. There is a much more varied offer and for many more tastes.

After the eSports boom, there will be a process of natural selection. Which companies will survive in the business?

The companies that will survive are those dedicated to developing eSports entirely for the spectators.

What are eSports consumers like?

Demanding, very demanding. In the Twitch broadcasts, there is live chat, there are comments, social networks, Twitter, there is pressure. They’re very media aware, but they’re also under a lot of pressure because you are constantly analyzed; the gaming public is a horrible public, we’re super demanding, we want everything to be perfect, we’re very meticulous. Now there is starting to be a much more open public with mobile gaming and it is great because it lowers the intensity a bit, the excessive demand for perfectionism, which is very good, and so is the more relaxed tone. We all have a gamer aside, and when you see that, you understand the potential and why it is where it is, because there are a lot of people that consume eSports or video games.

eSports: in search of recognition from the sports industry and the Olympic movement - Johan Cruyff Institute

Host Toby “Tobuscus” Turner and coach Jonathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel playing a quick game on set of “Legends of Gaming”.

Athletes transmit a series of values to their fans that we all know. The best players in the world of eSports have also become a mass phenomenon and can earn millions of euros. What values do they transmit to their followers?

eSports are very young, and although they have been around for years, as an industry it’s still a baby and you have to take care of it and teach it. Of course there are gamers, just like there are football players or other athletes who are not so aligned with those values, but our message is ‘let’s apply the same values in traditional sports to eSports’. We work on strategy games where a war simulator is not necessary, we talked about gender equality from the first moment because obviously the teams have to be mixed, because there is no physical contact, there is no excuse.

Now they have created a league in Brazil for the deaf, a disabled person can be in a competitive team at a high level. It is very inclusive, there is no distinction between ages, although there is a better age at which to compete.  eSports are for everyone. We take the good that we have learned from sport, which it has worked and apply it. It is one of the tasks we are doing now, surrounding ourselves with people from the world of traditional sport.

What do you say to those parents who do not want to see their child locked in their room for eight hours playing video games?

I agree with the parents, I do not want to see children playing eight hours a day, or six. It’s not necessary. For a professional player of Clash Royale, it is enough if he plays two hours a day. Excesses are bad in everything. A professional player has discipline, he has to study, he has to have a disciplinary order to compete.

It is curious, however, that we are talking about a new sector with a large investment of money when most of its audience is very young and does not have much purchasing power. Is there a fear that it may become a volatile business?

No, it’s not that young anymore, and it’s grown. eSports are maturing. This public, my generation that is not yet 40, we already have our own homes, we have our life, purchasing power, there is economic power. A quality gaming PC costs about €3,000, this generates a big business within the eSports industry itself. It is no longer a child; a child begins, but matures and will continue, which is what has happened; the first eSports generation are now parents, we now have an economic status, there is already an investment, it is no longer volatile, it is settled and what is scary is to see that if we, who did not overdose on it so much, are like this, what will come after us? That’s why it’s so interesting.

Nowadays, eSports are a monopoly of videogame companies and the sponsorships are, mainly, endemic. How can they attract the interest of new companies so that the business continues to consolidate?

They say that there is niche advertising, which is for the technology itself, but it has changed a lot. Moreover, these last two years have included companies such as VISA, Audi, well-known brands in the sector.

What does a company or sports organization that wants to have its professional eSports section need?

First, they need to do a lot of learning, to understand where they are going to enter the market. When you go to a sports entity, the first thing they say to you is ‘Put FIFA on’, because it’s football and that’s my thing … Do not get into eSports, you already have the FIFA audience. Most sports entities want to connect with millennials, with the youth factor, so don’t do it with your own digital product, do it with what you like, something that may have separated this generation from sport. Think about how you can afford to have a professional eSports section, if you are not going to be professional, don’t get into it. If you are going to do it once you have been advised, work the sponsorships, work the viewers, the broadcasts, follow the guidelines that you would follow in football. In truth, the world of sport is better prepared than you think, you just have to understand the simile.

What professional profiles does the eSports industry need?

Above all, people from the digital marketing world, people with a lot of creativity, we have to look for new ways, custom experiences. We will need nutritionists who come from sport, sports psychologists.

What steps do these communities need to follow in order to get recognition?

We are very much in line with the IOC, federations, institutions, we collaborate with international governments. Because I think we are very close to getting recognition, the IOC has already recognized it as a modality. In China, they are already going to award medals, and it’s going much further. Just look at the presentation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, it was Super Mario who presented them; Everything is saying it, everything ends up being digital. eSports finals will end up being as spectacular as a Champions League final or a Super Bowl. The recognition will come, it has to come because it is the recognition of these young professionals, who compete, who dedicate their time, who do their training, who are very intelligent.

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