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Esports is booming in Brabant

Sports organisations and cities make loyal supporters of young people by offering sports competition via video games. Experts expect an esports explosion in Brabant in future years.

How do you communicate empathically with young people and make them loyal to your brand, sports organisation or your community in the long term? Competitive sport in a video game environment, esports, is proving to be an effective tool in achieving this aim. Esports is booming in Brabant and is destined to become even more of a phenomenon according to lecturer and esports specialist Ruben Been. “In 10 years, esports will overshadow football.”

Esports Arena for gamers and the public

In Eindhoven, the first Active esports Arena where players compete with each other in a video game environment opened its doors recently. The players wear a sports harness with sensors and a virtual reality headset while engaging in strenuous full-body activity and working up a sweat to score points in the virtual world.

The public can admire their agility on large screens which present a futuristic playing environment. Because the players sometimes have to contort their bodies in the strangest of movements, the public loves watching these esports battles. Due to this added human element, the matches are generally staged in large indoor spaces and arenas, and not solely presented on screens.

“Although esports is something you can do at home, it also has a significant social element”, says Ruben Been. He is the founder of mCon esports, one of the largest esports clubs in the Benelux. The company’s headquarters is located in Breda. “Because even though the players compete online, getting together and experiencing it first hand is also fun. In fact, esports offers all sorts of opportunities because it is competitive and requires social interaction.”

Ruben Been
Photo: Erik Van der Burgt

“Although esports is something you can do at home, it also has a significant social element”

Rapid rise in popularity

In 2018, 1.8 million viewers followed online esports competitions in the Netherlands.

The League of Legends, Counter-Strike GO, FIFA, Rocket League, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Overwatch and Fortnite are all well-known esports games. Anybody can broadcast these games via their own dedicated video channel on Twitch and collect an audience.

“Esports are rapidly gaining in popularity”, says Been. “A specific market is emerging.” The sector is also attracting more and more money worldwide. The Berkeley Economic Review reported that esports would reach an audience of 380 million viewers in 2018, with expected revenues of 1.4 billion dollars for the gaming industry.

Specific market for esports

Now that physical distance has become important in everyday life, contact is made more than ever through online channels. Young people were impacted enormously when the schools closed for weeks and meeting up with friends outdoors became subject to strict rules. But there was one activity that carried on as normal during this period: online competitive gaming. This prompted the municipality of Breda and Breda Actief to stage an online football tournament, the #StayHome Breda Cup. Young people from Breda with a PlayStation 4 had an opportunity to display their skills online.

Been’s company, mCon esports, was the organiser of this Breda cup competition. “There is a great deal of potential in esports, particularly in this coronavirus period”, Been says. “Young people don’t watch TV anymore. They spend most of their time on YouTube and Twitch. Brands, and even municipalities, have discovered that you can reach these younger target groups very effectively through esports.”

Esports is all about action and interaction, both online and offline. According to Been, this is also what makes esports gaming so attractive. “In football, minutes can pass without any real action. In esports, there is new action every few seconds. So it's very spectacular. In addition, there is a lot of respect for each other. Everybody knows each other; it’s a close community.”

Tweakers Gaming Live
Photo: Jeroen Weimar

First university course in Breda

Even more is happening in Breda though. Breda University of Applied Sciences, as the first institution in Dutch higher education to do so, has decided to offer a course for training professionals in esports Event & Media Management. This fits in well with the expertise that BUAS already has in the field of games, concept development, imagineering, experience design and event management. At the moment, the course is still a minor, but it will be offered as a separate specialisation in the future.

“Due to the meteoric rise in the popularity of esports, there is a strong need for professionals who know the sector inside out”, says Been, who also gives lectures for this course. “These students will soon be able to work as managers, coaches or event organisers in the esports world.”

Breda University of Applied Sciences provides a solid learning environment for this specialisation in which students, knowledge institutions and businesses exchange knowledge and develop new innovations. Businesses act as partners in this learning community.

High tech and ICT companies have an enormous need for young people who have been trained in the latest technologies. esports offers interesting approaches for teaching students 21st century skills. “Esport athletes spend a lot of their time in a digital environment, so they are among the first to experience the latest technologies.”

Leading role for PSV

That esports in Brabant has carved out a clearly defined position for itself is also shown by football club PSV's pioneering approach. PSV esports was launched in 2016 as the virtual football section of Eindhoven’s top club. PSV now has two esports athletes and an esports coach on the payroll, who represent the club at large national and international FIFA tournaments.

These esports athletes not only represent PSV at the highest possible level, they also play FIFA with the club's fans. So their activities also establish close ties with the club’s younger target group.

Make no mistake, this activity is sport at the highest level both mentally and physically. This is because esports games require strong tactical and strategic insight. The players have to train hard, be able to react at lightning speed and possess tremendously good hand-eye coordination.

So esports fall outside the categories of normal physical sports and mental sports, in Ruben Been’s opinion. “It really is a separate category, where luck plays no role. It’s skill-based, so a player wins because he has better skills and a greater knowledge of the game.”

Top players all have a personal trainer and train on a daily basis to improve their performance. International top teams even live together in a team house, where they receive special nutritional guidance and other support.

“In 10 years, esports will overshadow football”

Tweakers Gaming Live - Team Mcon
Photo: Jeroen Weimar

Active esports at PSV

PSV is now the first Dutch football club to venture into other esports environments, namely League of Legends and Exodus Burned. The club has chosen this approach to connect with young people who are interested in more than football alone. “Because of ageing among the fan base that comes to the stadiums, this is a good way of making loyal fans of a new target group and ultimately attracting them into the stadiums”, says Been.

PSV's decision to participate in Exodus Burned adds a new, more active element to the club’s esports activities because the athletes really have to get out of their seats. That matches PSV's societal objective of encouraging people to exercise more. Furthermore, PSV intends to collaborate with other major football clubs in setting up a European competition for active esports.

This will also give PSV's preferred partners and sponsors new opportunities for reaching this target group. Many gamers have a technical or IT background. PSV hopes to establish connections between these gamers and companies in the Brainport Eindhoven region that are looking for talented people of exactly this type.

Representing your home city

In future years, esports will attract even more money. More and more brands, such as Mercedes, are becoming sponsors. These companies have realised that events offer excellent opportunities for associating whiz kids with their brand.

“Initially, only computer-related companies were interested in sponsoring esports, however more and more brands from other industries are now stepping in”, says Been. “They see great opportunities for reaching audiences they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.”

Municipalities also see new potential in esports. Rotterdam wants to profile itself as the esports capital of the Netherlands, while Breda wants to be No. 1 in the area of education and esports.

Tweakers Gaming Live
Photo: Jeroen Weimar

Esports clubs and social interaction

Although online esports can be played anywhere and at any time, physical locations continue to be important in the esports world. In addition to national and international teams, there are also teams that are organised regionally.

For example, student teams such as E.S.E.V. Zephyr in Eindhoven and TSEA Link in Tilburg. “These esports clubs focus on gamers from a specific city or area. This leads to greater local involvement and more social interaction, both online and offline. Furthermore, representing your home city is really cool.”

Working out of his Dutch Game Garden office in Breda, Been has expanded his mCon esports company very successfully in the past few years. He is also the founder of Breda Guardians. This recreational esports club is for gamers from Breda and the surrounding area and is 100% focused on a city.

Fans are the lifeblood of any sport, because if no one is interested in watching the matches, the sport will eventually die out. And the same is true of esports. Looking to the future, Been predicts that every city will have its own top-level esports team, just as every city now has its own football club, which it supports through thick and thin.

He expects significant interaction between these esports clubs, cities and educational institutes, based on the American model where colleges are the main supplier of athletes for sports teams. “We can expect explosive growth in the future.”

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