Aussie sports urged to explore Esports

Sports stars including two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin are turning to Esports during the coronavirus crisis.

SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN.
SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN. Picture: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Members of the Esports community say professional sports like the AFL and NRL should use the absence of sport during the coronavirus crisis to foray into the online gaming industry.

Esports are a form of sport competition using video games, often contested by professional gamers for considerable prize winnings, which can be streamed online to fans worldwide.

The NRL is the latest league to get involved, with Wests Tigers and Canterbury announcing on Thursday that players from each club will contest their scheduled Round 3 NRL clash on popular online game Fortnite, with the virtual event set to be streamed live on Facebook on Sunday.

Esports Academy director Patrick Chye says demand for amateur and grassroots Esports in Australia has tripled since the outbreak of coronavirus.

Chye says teams like AFL club Adelaide, who own a professional Esports team, should engage their supporters by creating online tournaments for fans.

"If they want to engage more of their members, and keep their members as members, they need to evolve that Esport team to create tournaments in their club," Chye told AAP.

"The Crows, for example, should create tournaments for their fans to engage them. Now's the opportunity. Everyone is at home anyway."

Mat Jessep, chief executive of the Esports Games Association Australia (EGAA), says the gaming world will allow clubs and players to create additional platforms for sponsors, improve fan engagement and create opportunities to sell digital broadcast rights.

"There are so many opportunities to integrate competitive gaming into your traditional sports offering," Jessep said.

"This alone probably would not save a club, or a sport in a position that the NRL is in, but it wouldn't hurt either. It could really form that incremental income, that come the next rainy day, there's a bit of savings set aside that a sport can fall back on."

Formula One, NASCAR and Supercars have created online races featuring real drivers in a bid to maintain fan engagement in recent weeks.

Australian two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will headline the All Stars Eseries next month, with all Supercars drivers signed up for the Esports event, which will be aired on Kayo and Fox Sports.

McLaughlin, a keen gamer who has his own simulator installed in his home, will also represent Team Penske for the IndyCar's new official iRacing Series this weekend.

Nico Hulkenberg, McLaren's Lando Norris, Williams racer Nicholas Latifi and golfer Ian Poulter competed in the F1 Esports Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix last week, with participants racing against each other through the F1 2019 PC video game live on Sky Sports.

Football Federation Australia introduced the E-League in 2017, which saw each A-League club connect with fans through the FIFA video game. Each club has two E-League stars, with Sydney FC's gamers becoming the Premiers earlier this month at ESL Studios in Sydney.

However, EGAA board member Daniel Chlebowczyk revealed Esports are also suffering financially from the absence of live crowds during the coronavirus crisis, and says professional athletes have always been gamers.

"This isn't a change in terms of professional athletes, they are already gamers. The change is the professional organisations, some of whom have already gone into gaming, (now foraying into the market)."


AAP