It’s a rapidly growing industry worth more than $1 billion worldwide that attracts almost 500 million viewers and now, through the E-League, Australian football wants to be part of it.
In a new format for its third year, the E-league sees a select group of competitors play each other on the EA Sports FIFA video game across two-match days – the second of which is this Saturday – with a final’s series set for May.
A-League clubs field two representatives in the competition – one that competes on X-Box and the other on PlayStation.
Players use squads linked to their ‘FIFA Ultimate Team’ account, with a caveat that three players must be A-League players from the club they are representing.
This means that E-League games can feature the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Ruud Gullit representing Sydney FC alongside Rhyan Grant and Miloš Ninković.
A part of the FIFA 20 Global Series, which themselves serve as qualifiers for the 2020 FIFA eWorld Cup, the competition also gives two players a chance to represent Australia at the 2020 FIFA eNations Cup.
Yet as labyrinthine as it may appear to outsiders, the E-League sits in a rapidly growing esports market that the A-League – which, unlike the likes of cricket and league, has a popular worldwide video game based on its sport – is looking to tap into.
For while esports operate in an environment that is foreign to many in the more traditional footballing space, video games are in this day and age an established part of the zeitgeist.
In 2018, Avengers: Infinity War made history by pulling an estimated $US630 million worldwide on its opening weekend but, released later that year, video game Red Dead Redemption 2 brought in more than $US725 million in worldwide retail sales in its first three days of release.
And while there are some, such as billionaire investor Mark Cuban, that express doubts about the viability of owning esports teams, a report from industry analysts Newzoo recently declared that worldwide esports revenues will hit $US1.1 billion in 2020, with a global audience of 495 million people.
In 2019, EA Sports (FIFA’s publishers) announced that their ‘FIFA 19 Global Series’ had produced 61 million engagements and more than 11 million viewing hours.
Crucially for marketers, 62 per cent of American esports viewers in 2018 were aged 18 to 34 according to Activate, while 58 per cent, per a 2018 Nielsen report, have a positive attitude towards brand involvement in esports.
And with a recent report in The Daily Telegraph, citing statistics from consultancy firm Future Sports, revealing that almost 44 per cent of A-League consumers were under 34 and that its audience was the most digitally engaged of all major Australian sports – it means the E-League could serve as fertile ground for A-League attempts to expand its brand.
Of course, beyond the game itself, the league also allows for the creation of new stars that can reach an audience that previously operated on a different plane than traditional influencers, with the biggest esports players such as Fortnite streamers ‘Tfue’ and ‘Myth’ having millions of followers across social media.
At just 16 years of age, high school student Dylan Campbell – AKA N8 Dylan – represented A-League expansion side Western United at the first day of the E-League’s 2020 competition through a partnership between the club and his existing esports team N8 Esports.
Having already travelled to Bucharest in late 2019 for the first EA FIFA Ultimate Team Champions Cup, the youngster ended match day one as the Xbox Player of the Day after recording four wins from his five matches.
“Watching from the past two years [of the E-League] motivated me to improve so that I would make it this year,” Campbell told The New Daily.
“There are a variety of social media platforms esports athletes use to connect with their fans.
“For myself personally, I mainly utilise Twitter to update my followers just because I am in Year 12, so time is quite a precious commodity.
“During school holidays or periods where I can make time, I like to stream on Twitch just because it is a lot more interactive and allows me to invest more time in communicating with fans, especially with individuals.
“I’ve already seen a number of Western United fans jump on the bandwagon of the E-League and have become more interested following the first match day back in February.
“After my performance in that match day, many Western United fans started following my progression.
“International fans have definitely become more aware of the A-League and the respective clubs, so there definitely is potential to connect Western United and the A-League to a brand-new audience.”