eSports in South Wales – “it now has real potential to turn into something big.”

For the uninitiated, eSports (Electronic Sports) could be considered a misnomer. You may not know this but if you are a professional eSports player, you are considered a pro athlete. Before COVID-19 hit, from 2015 to 2019, brand spending in eSports in terms of sponsorship and advertisement had quadrupled. To give you an idea of just how big it is, in the last 5 years its audience has doubled and its total revenue has exceeded £1.4 Billion. This is almost 5 times the amount in 2015. 

It would be easy for many of you to read about eSports and disregard it. Maybe you think Fifa is just a game for kids. If you do, you are very wrong. The interesting thing about eSports is its age range. A player could hit their peak at 14 or at 40. This is because playing a video game like Fifa is all about mental agility. How well do you know football, it’s players and its tactics? How can you adapt to certain situation? And how can you cope with the pressure of penalties or critical last minute scenarios? The fact is playing Fifa is a simulation of being a player but without the physical challenges. In no way can you compare digital football and real football, but you can compare the thrill.

Even if somehow you don’t know what Fifa is, and don’t believe eSports to be a real sport, there is still every chance that you will soon. Recently, we’ve seen a boom in the popularity of eSports with live streaming on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch bringing it into the spotlight. An obvious advantage of digital competition is its online nature. It is the one of the only sports that can avoid the coronavirus and still attract a full crowd. So why should Welsh football fans care about this? The key to eSports is not its financial aspect or even its outstanding accessibility – its the entertainment and the opportunity that it brings.

In a recent English Premier League eSports tournament, played online during these times, we saw a player called “Hashtag Tom” take home a prize of £20,000 for winning. He was playing in a tournament with world champions of the game such as “Tekkz,” who has earned over $400,000 playing Fifa. Ironically the two grand finalists represented two of the relegated teams of the real ‘Premier League’ 19/20 season – Watford and Bournemouth. However the importance again isn’t the money, it is that Tom represented a real club (Watford) and he is actually signed to that club. He is essentially a Watford player. The significance of that is that it gives everyone an opportunity to become the best at a football club no matter who they are. There is no separation of women or disability because there is no physical aspect.

Now some of you may argue that this makes it void from sport. However if you recognise its financial opportunities, its ever expanding audience, its competitive nature and its thrill and the fact that it is played by teams, you can quite clearly see that it is a sport. Again, it is one of the only sports that judges players on mental agility, not physicality, giving it an edge on other sports in terms of attracting competitors.

South Wales Fifa eSports League

On Friday the 23rd of October we will see the beginning of Welsh football’s first eSports league. Teams from all over Wales will be competing in what is set to be an exciting tournament. The amount of teams who have already joined is testament to the opportunity and excitement that eSports brings to football. There are already two divisions, with more teams anticipated to join. In its Premier League, There will be players representing Margam Rangers who play in Tier 8 and Baglan Dragons who play in the 4th tier of Welsh Football. The same league will also have a representative from 13 time Welsh champions TNS. Imagine the audience and the intrigue ties like this would generate among the Welsh football community. It may not be taken as seriously yet, however as more and more teams start to realise the entertainment factor the competition will surely grow. When would you ever see a team like Margam Rangers come up against TNS? Here we can already see an audience being brought in and its bound to be a great time for the fans supporting them this season. For the full league check out the SWFEL website

So who do we have to thank for this? Patrick Dickinson is the manager of a new club called ‘Cardiff Saint Germain’. His team will be in the Premier League of this competition. He says that they are a forward thinking club, and as such he has brought eSports to the Welsh Football community. Playing alongside established clubs like TNS will bring attention to ‘Cardiff Saint Germain’ that they would never get without eSports. It can significantly boost a club’s brand just by entering the competition – imagine what winning it would do. It has given this club, in its very short existence, a chance to play against the best.

He said that at first he hadn’t had high expectations but as you can see, various clubs have jumped at the opportunity to be included. He has picked the perfect time to bring eSports in to Welsh Football, finding a silver lining whilst teams are being starved of matches during the pandemic. Wales is in a very good position in terms of bringing eSports into the spotlight. With most of England and Scotland being able to play football there is no room for eSports interest. But we have a rare opportunity here to really highlight what eSports can do while people have no football to watch. We could really evolve Welsh football in a way that the rest of Britain can’t. Though lockdown and no football is not a pleasant thing, the fact that Scotland and England have began playing football again and avoided too many local lockdowns is actually a missed opportunity for their smaller clubs. The Welsh footballing community can really make something out of our country’s bad luck and finally give ourselves an edge in football – Not yet financially but in entertainment terms.

Robbie Williams of TNS will represent them in the league which gives other teams’ representatives a chance to actually come up against a player for one of the top clubs in their country. Mr Dickinson theorises that “Clubs with access to lot of people will probably do better ….”.  However, maybe Margam, Baglan or Maesteg have an unknown Fifa star that can disprove him. That is the beauty of eSports. Again, the opportunity is endless. Teams can change their players each week which will create competition among areas to become number 1. Furthermore Mr Dickinson wants to encourage teams to stream their matches so that you can watch it all. Keep an eye out from the 23rd of October when it all begins.

It remains to be seen what will happen in the inaugural season of the South Wales eSports league but there is no doubt that it can raise the overall profile of football in Wales. We encourage you to join if you haven’t already because we can assure you that this is your way back into football now and will remain a part of your club for its long-term future. This season should be a brilliant spectacle. With Fifa 21’s release on Xbox yesterday the league can begin. Who will end up the eSports Champions of Wales?

To follow news and updates from the league including potential new teams follow the SWEFL  account below