New Zealand rugby faces uphill battle with eSports-fanatic millennials

NZ rugby faces uphill battle with eSport-fanatic millennials

Recent independent research by The Gemba Group in New Zealand indicated that although there are more rugby union fanatics than eSport gamers, almost six times more people participate in gaming than rugby. Last summer, more than 10,000 eSport fans descended upon Sydney for the Intel Extreme Masters XII, which features many of the world’s leading professional “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” gamers. Many of the crowd were Kiwis, who had made the pilgrimage to venture into enemy territory to watch the action unfold live.

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There is a growing shift of Kiwi millennials demonstrating an interest in eSports as opposed to real-life professional sporting events. Because New Zealand is widely regarded as the world’s leading rugby nation, it’s alarming that more millennials are likely to be interested in the next eSports “League of Legends” tournament than checking out the upcoming Six Nations fixtures, which, coincidentally, starts up again in early February.

The interest in the world of eSports is only going to spread further across our islands since the Olympic Council of Asia incorporated eSports as part of the event at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games. The Kiwis’ “E-Blacks” did battle in Busan, South Korea, increasing the exposure of professional computer gaming as a credible sport. Furthermore, it must bode well for the future of eSports that a regional Olympic Council saw fit to recognize eSports as a genuine professional sport. The prospect of eSports figuring in the Commonwealth and Olympic Games must be growing by the day.

Last year, a number of Kiwis featured heavily in the Oceanic eSports Pro League, with the TM team featuring a student from New Plymouth as well as the team’s owner is another Kiwi, John McRae. Mr. McRae has seen the value in the eSports industry rise to more than $1 billion globally, with some of the best eSports stars on the planet picking up pay packets more than $1 million per annum. According to McRae, more than 300,000 people play “League of Legends” in Oceania. However, that figure is dwarfed compared to how many people play the game around the world — 110 million monthly players. This does suggest that Oceania is very much a potential growth market for the eSports industry.

Even some of the leading eSports teams are now being managed and operated as part of franchises of leading professional sports teams. The likes of Manchester City, West Ham United and the French giants Paris Saint-Germain have all created their own franchises as part of enhancing their sports brands and familiarity around the globe.

In the center of Auckland, SKYCITY is in the process of building New Zealand’s first purpose-built eSports broadcasting studio, which will screen live gaming action for the casino’s guests to watch on big screens. Each broadcast will be delivered in HD and 4K, with dedicated console booths allowing the facility to host eSports tournaments on-site as well as stream live online action to the casino concourse.

eSports attract such a diverse audience of both male and female and young and old participants. It is perhaps because of this fact that eSports appeals to a broader demographic than sports such as the rugby union that New Zealand is working hard to explore the possibilities for the future of eSports in Auckland and beyond. It would be well worth it if they did.

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