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FIFA's Economic Savior is...Esports?

17 Apr, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Embattled Governing Body Sees Windfall from eNations, eWorld Cups

It could be argued that the FIFA shakeup has every bit as much drama (but none of the violence) of the most popular esports games (which almost without exception are first-person shooter games). It is ironic, therefore, that FIFA’s income from its eWorld Cup was a staggering sum. In fact, esports is the unlikely hero of the moment, creating a wholly unexpected positive impact on the embattled governing body.

That’s right: esports has provided, in the words of Inside the Games, “a welcome and significant windfall for the world governing body as it battled to counter the impact on its business of the reputational issues that engulfed it as the Sepp Blatter era drew to a tumultuous close.”

The news, taken from FIFA’s most recent financial report, showed that many other revenue streams, notably marketing, “struggled to generate any growth at all over the four-year cycle culminating with the Russia 2018 World Cup.”

But to nobody’s great surprise, licensing income was still exceeding expectations, with esports a major contributor to that bump.

Of course, esports based on actual sports are among the least popular of all games, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Still, the growth in esports is enough to have FIFA mention it publicly. And that's not all. The FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final 18 attracted over 20 million players and its on-site multi-language stream, generated more than 29 million digital views during the event, representing an increase of 400 percent in digital views compared to the previous edition.

While FIFA made significant money from TV rights, its other traditional revenue streams were flat.

“While income from esports continues to be dwarfed by TV rights, which remain FIFA's largest revenue stream, this explosive growth does much to explain the strength of the organization’s emphasis on gaming, especially at a time when sport's traditional TV funding model is increasingly under question,” noted the article.

The media rights from the eWorld Cup are also a huge deal, with Fox Sorts having outbid all others to broadcast it on the livestreaming platform Caffeine, into which it invested $100 million last year. It was the host network for the FIFA eNations Cup as well. The eNations Cup (presented mid-April) is the official esoccer national team competition, involving 20 of the world’s top esoccer nations; this year's winner was France. As the pinnacle event of esoccer (or efootball, as it is known elsewhere), the FIFA eWorld Cup features 32 of the world’s best FIFA players, who battle it out to become world champion. The FIFA eWorld Cup is due to take place this year at the beginning of August. 

FIFA hosts three tournaments within the EA SPORTS FIFA 19 Global Series, including the the FIFA eClub World Cup,the official World Championship. Involving 16 of the world’s best soccer gaming clubs.

FIFA and the media certainly know where the money is. The question is whether the IOC will see things the same way.

Esports has already made some inroads. Intel hosted an esports tournament, the Intel Extreme Masters, in PyeongChang just prior to the 2016 Olympics. Games presented included Blizzard Entertainment's popular StarCraft II. (A separate exhibition featuring Ubisoft's action-sports title “Steep Road to the Olympics,” the official licensed game of PyeongChang 2018, was also included.) Esports is a full medal sport at the Southeast Asian Games as well.

But while esports fans say it’s a step in the right direction, they also caution that the IOC (with its aversion to anything other than esports based on real sports) has yet to hearken to what the NACE already knows. According to a 2018 article in USA TODAY, the games with the most play are all battle-oriented: League of Legends, Dota 2, CounterStrike: Global Offensive and Overwatch. Today, players add Fortnite, another FPS game to that list.

So with a summer of soccer ahead, it’s time for event owners to take stock of their opportunities for tie-ins, cross-promotions and more. Never put on an esports tournament before? Check out these tips from Bloomington-Normal, who put on their first League of Legends tournament – and sold out quickly.

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