Formula 1 Esports Series: Why we should think differently about Esports
As Dan McLaren reported yesterday, the Formula 1 Esports Series semi-finals took place at Gfinity in London on Tuesday night.
Dan wrote about his experience of watching the event live on Twitch, and as esports become more and more popular, more and more people will have the same experience. It’s already quite a big deal, though. And not just among those spectators watching and supporting, but also among those taking part.
40 gamers took part in Tuesday night’s semi-final, and that was whittled down to 20 who will take part in the finals in Abu Dhabi at the end of November. But 40 semi-finalists were taken from the 63,827 who took part in the qualifying rounds: quite a staggering number of entries into any one competition.
Perhaps that’s where we have to look to esports as something beyond just a spectator sport. We often compare to traditional sports, and often comparisons are unhelpful. For example, we’re very comfortable with the idea of football on TV, and of people all over the world streaming a live Premier League game on any internet-connected device they own. And as a result, we sort of think of these sorts of sports as products to be consumed by viewers.
That notion is an anathema to the original idea of most sporting institutions, set up as recreational or social enterprises aiming to either allow communities to have a collective pastime or even to get young people off the streets. But such has been the growth and popularity of lots of sports, we now take for granted that there are a chosen few who perform, and the rest of us just watch.
The numbers of people participating in organised esports competitions might well show us that this is an unfair comparison, and when esports comes even closer to the mainstream, that number might swell even higher: just think of all the people out there playing video games with their friends or even by themselves who have never even considered the notion of joining an esports league.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a spectator element to it. Indeed, this week’s semi-finals were broadcast on Twitch and watched by 125k viewers, but in the UK it was also aired by Sky Sports, whose channels allowed the event to reach an audience of 282k, making it the most-watched of any live esports event broadcast on linear TV in Britain.
Every esport is different, of course. Different demographics will enjoy F1 or FIFA, say, than might enjoy either playing or watching League of Legends or Counter-Strike: GO. But we probably mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we are still talking about games, not consumer products that are neatly packaged for consumption on various screens. The participation numbers alone tell us that.
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