I’ve got the fastest right index and middle finger in the West. Developed to work together with rhythm and timing through years of training at a very young age.
I wish those skills were honed by learning guitar. I always dreamt of the ‘aging legend’ 1980s hero slot on Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury.
Sadly, there’s no chance. My fast fingers were only developed bashing the ‘O’ and ‘P’ keys to make Olympic hero Daily Thompson move his legs quickly in his eponymous 1980s smash hit ‘computer game’ Daily Thompson’s Decathlon. Aging legend Daley might be, but there’s no chance of a crowd paying good money to watch me move a digital avatar around a big screen.
Or so I thought. Five-star smash hit ABBA Voyage and its virtual rockstars, anyone?! Money, money, money all the way.
It’s not just music, either. Last weekend saw the climax of the League of Legends World Championships, a game that has inherited Daley’s mantle to become one of the most popular in the world. Total concurrent digital viewership was over 5 million at one point in the Finals.
Where eyeballs turn, dollars follow. The businesses behind this new revolution are fascinating. The fact specialist gaming platform Twitch is now owned by Amazon tells you all you need to know.
Riot Games, the makers of the League of Legends title (plus Valorant, its likely successor) generated $1.5bn in 2021 alone.
Some of the best games players are the new rockstars, boasting tens of millions of followers on youtube alone.
Millions (yes millions) of micro-businesses have developed, both watching the elite play games with similar budgets to the world’s biggest movies, and also streaming the action as they compete at a more modest level with mates.
All of which is laudable. But I grew up loving the dynamics of live sport – hot tickets, tournaments, crowds, team loyalty, replica shirts to fill my Christmas list? Is that a total non-starter in this brave, fragmented new world? Has the whole industry of this new world already been disintermediated, turning the best into the world into back bedroom chat show hosts and iPhone viewers?
In short – not at all. Take a closer look at the League of Legends this weekend. Earlier legs of the event sold out Madison Square Garden. The Finals spurned cinema watch parties around the world. Turns out newer generations still love shouting themselves hoarse in an arena, too. Teams are a key part of this phenomenon.
British team Fnatic made it all the way to all the major eSports championships this year including the League of Legends Final. They’re one of the jewels in the crown of Britain’s emerging eSports industry, and even have a performance training hub for their talent – located in Germany as part of a significant deal with BMW, a brand that most professional football teams would dream of signing up.
Fnatic has some real characters on their roster – including Tekkz (a British multi-time World Champion) who will shortly be representing the team in competition on the EA Sports FIFA franchise, soon to kick off in EA Sports’ Stratford studio. Tekkz is by no means the only British star in the Fnatic line-up. They also feature the charismatic Boaster, a star of the Fnatic Valorant team. If you think his gaming is impressive, just watch him dance…
Fnatic is a fascinating business to study for a sports industry that is still learning how to use new digital tools to support the ‘traditional’ event match days.
Faced with the challenge of making digital competitions relevant to fans of all ages, like many teams they have used a blend of physical and digital tactics to do this. It is a fine balance to professionalise an approach to eSports without losing the soul of this very new culture, but they’re doing it very well.
Many of the more traditional sports events are dipping their toes in the water, too. The Olympic Games launched a trial ‘Virtual Series’ last year. This year, despite the Commonwealth Games deciding not to make eSports a regular medal event in 2026, the success of its pilot at Birmingham 2022 shows the future potential for eSports to become a staple of multi-sport events. Roll over volleyball, here comes Valorant.
Would Abba Voyage have been such a success without Riot Games? I’m not sure it would. Gaming is changing the way that live entertainment thinks, and the way that we are fans engage with it.
We might not yet be at a point of persuading Emily Eavis to put Daley Thompson’s 1980 avatar on stage quite yet, but don’t rule it out. If she changes her mind, I’ll be first in line.
Matt Rogan has built award-winning businesses in sport, music and consulting. His second book, All to Play For: How Sport Can Reboot Our Future (Ebury Press), was nominated for a Sunday Times Sports Book Award..