Can sports use esports and gaming to recruit new players?

The growth in popularity of esports has led many to become sceptical. Some wonder whether its link to physical sports is tenuous at best. Others wonder if we should split esports into two, on the basis that those with no real-world equivalent (League of Legends, for example) are more interesting than those which do (FIFA 18, say) because why would you want to watch a sim when you can watch the real thing.

But the link between those simulation games and the sport in question might be more robust than you think.

For NBA and NFL, their growth in the UK is helped no end by the fact that EA Sports games such as Madden NFL and NBA 2K exist. The reason is simple: it teaches players the rules. After getting into the game, watching the real thing becomes that bit easier for the complete novice.

In the other direction, the same can be said of EA Sports’ FIFA series exposing a generation of young fans in the US to soccer.

Perhaps at the time of the Six Nations, rugby could learn a similar lesson – whilst many tune in at this time of the year to watch their nation battle near rivals, not everyone watching is a rugby fan and plenty find the rules impenetrable. Perhaps they’d follow the sport’s more prosaic everyday fixtures more closely if they knew the rules better.

This week, NASCAR rookie William Byron will be making his debut in the Daytona 500 after becoming a driver through getting interested in iracing games involving the sport.

“Young drivers are coming along, and they can relate to this young demographic. Gaming and e-sports are a natural fit,” NASCAR Vice President of Consumer Innovation Blake Davidson told Fox Business . “To leverage the stars of NASCAR through e-sports to attract new fans is really authentic.”

Perhaps not every sport needs to think about recruiting new players, and many have high levels of participation already. But welcoming new fans is always a must, and games can certainly be a good way of doing just that.

It’s clear that some sports will be a better fit for esports and games than others will. The ease of use of a game like FIFA has undoubtedly boosted its popularity, whilst racing games have been popular for years – and the numbers involved in last year’s F1 esports tournament, which has become almost a participation esport rather than a purely competitive one, shows that – it’s perhaps harder to simulate the more technical ones in a game.

But as a gateway into the sport itself, games could be vital to many sports out there, especially to those looking to grow in a new territory where potential fans are perhaps put off by the rules which aren’t always immediately obvious. That might be the link most sports should be looking for with games.

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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