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Esports vs Football: How Traditional Sports Became Popular - and How Esports Can Do the Same

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Little Timmy wants to become a pro-footballer, so what does he need to do to get better? Buy a ball, and put down some jumpers as goalposts and away he goes. Sure, adding in proper boots, athletics, a nutritional diet, mental health training, and world-class gym facilities will also help him reach a level completely unachievable without the millions of pounds invested into him when he’s finally signed a contract in the premier league. But at the start of his dreams forming, his barrier for entry to the game and getting better is quite simply a ball and some jumpers.

The same is true for esports in many ways. Look at the highest calibre of player around the world: they have sports psychologists, nutritionists, coaches, player managers, and top class training facilities where other players build comradery and an ethos that breeds competition and hard work - which can be difficult to recreate in your mum’s office. But, just like football, the only thing that truly separates a new aspiring player from a pro is a PC or console, and a lot of training and dedication.

With this principle in mind, part of the reason that football is so internationally popular is that it’s easy to understand. 2 rectangular targets in a field, and a ball that 2 teams try to hit the targets with, using only their feet. OK, ask any Harry, Dick, and Tom down the pub about the ol’ footy and he’ll quickly tell you there’s a lot more to it than that. ‘Oy what about the offside rule. It’s not only your feet you can use' etc, etc. I hear you Harry. But at its core, that’s what it is: 2 teams trying to hit a target at opposite ends of a field.

I know you already know what a football stadium looks like but here's one anyway, and this is relatively small!

This simplicity means it’s easy to learn, therefore easy to play, and easy to watch. Add in the fact it’s easy to get a ball and start practising, and that creates a culture that’s transferable to anyone around the globe. Anyone can watch someone else play football and understand what’s going on even if you don’t speak the same language. Combine all of this together and it creates a huge player and fan base.

Now let’s start to compare this to esports, specifically League of Legends. Without a doubt, League is the most popular esport in the world with over 103 million players internationally and 100 million viewers in 2019. But why is this? Well let’s look at it with the same principles that make football so globally popular: League takes 2 teams, on a single map or ‘field’, with a target either end that each team has to get to and hit before their opponents, using their skills and teamwork. ‘But what about the--’ Listen Jerry down at the summoners, I understand there’s a lot more nuance but when you break it down, that’s what it is. So this simplicity, just like football, means it’s easy to play, and easy to watch (relatively) and like our round friend Mr Football, someone else plays League across the earth and understands what’s going on even if you don’t share a language.

League of Legends World Championship 2018 in South Korea

Arguably the most significant cherry on top of the core simplicity of the game, is that it's free to play and doesn’t need a supercomputer to run it. This means anyone can boot up a computer and within 20 minutes download it and start playing.

This is why in the last 3 years we’ve seen a huge rise in mobile esports, utilising a device that 48.37% of the world’s population now own: a smartphone. Clash Royale, PUBG mobile and COD mobile to name a few have all seen a massive increase in playerbase and spectators and have been poised to overtake PC esports in the near future. Now personally, as a PC and Switch gamer, when I think of mobile gamers my brain immediately goes to Farmville and Candy Crush. You might think the same, but as much as our PCmasterrace blood may loom over the esports industry at a holier than thou 120fps, the reality is accessibility is far more globally important than flashy graphics and fast frames can ever be.

Yep, that's an arena for a mobile game! And a pretty snazzy one at that.

Jumpers for goalposts: the idea of getting some mates, a field and a ball, and that being the bare minimum you need to practice and start getting better. This is what has made football the game it is today, all around the world. A semi-decent computer and an internet connection is the equivalent for esports. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to get a football in places like Mongolia than it is a low latency fibre connection and a 3080… although let’s be honest I think the location’s nothing to do with the GPU issue. And with the far corners of the globe slowly getting better access to the internet, we’re likely to see that barrier to entry drop even lower than it already is, and the global player and fan bases increasing accordingly.


About the Author

Dale R Murray | Head of Content

Joining the team as a video editor before BigFest 2018, Dale's worked his way through the ESS ranks with the single goal of making Scottish Esports as incredible as possible. His passion for competition comes from his youth playing basketball, football & rugby as a kid & teen. Combined with a long-standing history of being generally terrible at video games, except for Mariokart, he now sticks to single-player games and instead competes vicariously through his favourite teams, and telling the stories of the Scottish scene.

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