Will Cricket Be Getting Esports?
Just a few years ago, playing video games would likely not have been considered a sport. However, this changed very quickly in recent years as esports leagues began gaining a lot of attention and even gaining big name sponsors like Intel and Dell.
The growth of esports leagues has been phenomenal in recent years. Many of them now offer prize money comparable to traditional sports, with Dota 2 offering more than $130 million and League of Legends offering around $50 million.
What is esports?
Esports is the name given to competitive video gaming. This can be licensed sports titles like the NBA 2K or FIFA Football games, or it can be other genres like first person shooters. They can be played remotely, but are often played in arenas where there is an in-person crowd, with many more watching on live streams over the internet.
Streaming data from the League of Legends World Championship shows that 3.9 million people were tuned in to the semi-finals of the competition at its peak. More than 137 million hours of gameplay were watched throughout the competition, up 66% on the previous year.
It is expected that these figures were actually higher, as data is not available from China, where esports are very popular.
Attracting new viewers
Traditional sports leagues are using esports to engage new fans. In the US, the NBA has been leading this, launching its NBA 2K League in 2018. Many of the NBA teams have their own NBA 2K League team.
It is hoped fans of these esports teams may then also begin following the real life teams too.
Major League Baseball is also planning to launch an esports league in China to help grow its fan base in the country. It has previously struggled to gain traction with other initiatives, since baseball has never been played on any significant scale.
What about cricket?
Currently, there are no cricket esports leagues played at an official level, although there may be informal tournaments organised and played among fans. There are also no reports that suggest that an esports league for cricket is currently being planned by the International Cricket Council or any national cricket body.
If there ever were to be an esports league for cricket, there are several hurdles that need to be overcome first.
Popular Video Game
The sports that have been able to set up successful esports leagues, such as Formula 1 and the NBA, have very popular video games that have been released on an annual basis for several years.
Currently, no such equivalent for cricket exists. The most recent game, Cricket 19, released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC, doesn’t come close to other sports.
It calls itself the “official game of The Ashes”, with the Australian and English cricket teams licensing the game. However, other teams, including major cricketing nations like Pakistan and South Africa are included in the game without licenses.
Most video game titles solved this problem in the early to mid-1990s and have had fully licensed games ever since.
Cricket games are also released very sporadically, Cricket 19 is a sequel to “Ashes Cricket” which was released in 2017. Before that “Don Bradman Cricket” had two released in 2013 and 2016. The games before them were “Ashes Cricket 2013” and “International Cricket 2010”.
This has prevented a strong brand following to be built, which would help to build hype around the annual release like is seen with FIFA and Madden games.
Video games are more strongly associated with younger adults than those that are middle aged. In England, the mean average of a cricket fan is 50 years old. While in the US, the average age of a basketball fan is 42.
This likely creates a chicken and egg scenario. There is no esports league because there is no demand for a regularly released video game. There is no regularly released video game because there is not a sufficient number of young fans to justify it commercially. And there are not enough younger fans because they’re not attracted to an esports league.
This may not be the case though. It may be that the sport’s governing body does not see the commercial advantages of either a video game or esports league. However, there have been no reports that confirm this.
For time being, it looks like other sports will be leading the way for the development of esports.
©Cricket World 2020