Esports will not replace real-world sport, but its growth could still be a boon

The pandemic shutdown brought esports to the fore as a format that can appeal to both video gamers and real-life sports fans, with events such as the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix likely to increase this blending across markets

Earlier this year, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures around the world slammed the brakes on most live sport, with football matches, motor racing and other events postponed as the world battled the infection.

During the period, esports events stepped in to fill part of the void created by the absence, with esports media group () partnering with Formula 1 to host the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix, a series created to enable fans to watch Formula 1 races virtually using the F1 video game franchise.

The expansion of virtual motorsport, where contestants race cars in a video game format instead of actual cars, has continued apace, with Gfinity announcing in June that it has also signed a deal with Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, for a new virtual racing contest, the V10 R-League, which premiered on September 7.

READ: Gfinity agrees distribution rights for new V10 R-League

With other real-world sports seeing video-game based equivalents appearing, such as the ePremier League esports football tournament, and the pace of growth of the esports market (it is expected to grow to US$6.82bn (£5.45bn) by 2027), could virtual sports eventually eclipse real-life sport in terms of popularity?

Cooperation not competition

Paul Kent, Gfinity’s head of esports and competitive gaming, doesn’t think so. However, he said that esports is not aiming to replace real-world sports, but rather serve as a complementary offering that can help both markets draw in new customers.

Speaking to Proactive, Kent said that he did not see a situation where games such as football simulator FIFA became more popular than real-world football leagues, however, he said this is not the intention and that esports offer an alternative form of competitive entertainment that may attract those less interested in real-world sport, particularly the coveted youth market.

“Kids and young adults these days might get into gaming and then watch competitive esports which then could lead them to get interested in real-world sport”, he said.

However, Kent also said that not all sports will have the same effect when compared to their esports counterparts, with virtual motorsport offering a more interesting avenue for Gfinity and other esports media groups as the experience of racing is much harder to replicate among the public, in contrast to more easily accessible sports such as football.

“The lines are blurred between real-world and virtual motorsport during the pandemic”, Kent said, saying that growth of interest in digital motorsport accelerated during lockdown when races were cancelled.

“It [virtual motorsport] will never replicate the…

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