Is sport about to go virtual? NBA 2K signals a changing landscape

By in Gaming, Technology

Tuesday 7th August 2018

It was only ever going to be a matter of time. The explosion in popularity that eSports has experienced over the past couple of years means more investment, better publicity and a wider range of competitive gaming. Already, the League of Legends finals attract viewing figures that exceed those of the Super Bowl. And according to researchers, this is only the beginning.

Newzoo’s much quoted market report predicts that the audience will grow from the current 350 million to around 600 million in 2020. It further suggests that the eSports market will be worth more than $900 million by the end of this year.

New games are only the start of it

To date, eSports has centred around MOBA and first person shooter games like CS:GO and League of Legends. Clearly, they have attracted an enormous following in their own right, and enthusiasts follow their favourite teams and bet on the outcomes with as much enthusiasm as they might stake a bet on a slot machine at Vera John casino or put a fiver on Croatia to go all the way and win the World Cup.

But for all that, games like these still seem a little niche. It’s an area that gamers love and the rest of the world struggles to really see the attraction of. But the beauty of gaming is that it can be about anything. Driving games, puzzle games, strategy games – and particularly, sports games.

The world loves sport, and we have just witnessed the biggest spectacle of them all, with around a billion people watching the World Cup. It is the collision of the real sports world and eSports that will have the biggest impact on both sectors.

NBA ahead of the game

The NBA has been the first to wake up and smell the coffee, launching its inaugural NBA 2K league at the same time as the NBA regular season got underway. And it has been an unmitigated success. Fans are leaping onboard, and the league will expand dramatically for 2019. Are other sports leagues taking notice? Surely they would be mad not to.

NFL joining the fray

NFL has always been popular with gamers, thanks to one of the longest running games in history – John Madden Football has been a mainstay of the consoles since the late 1980s. It is staying bang up to date, and the NFL eSports League is being broadcast by ESPN. While popular, it has not received the focus of the NBA franchise, possibly because it does not have the same direct connection with the real game. This is something the NFL is looking to put right, having appointed a head of eSports earlier this year.

What of the Premier League?

MLS is following a similar route, but what is happening on this side of the pond? Football’s popularity is at an all time high, and this seems the perfect moment to champion something new. FIFA is one of the most popular non MOBA eSports around, but the leagues are disorganised, and there is no involvement from the Premier League clubs. No less a figure than Ruud Gullit has recently been vocal in advocating an eSports Premier League, and has created his own franchise. Given the rising popularity of eSport, it is fair to assume that it is a question of when, not if, the Premier League teams will come on board.