Will we see a Wrestling eSports League?
Wrestling is always on the lookout for new opportunities, and the rise of eSports presents just such a chance. But would the two work well together?
What are eSports?
New sports are created every now and then, but most are decades if not centuries old. An entire new sporting category is a rare beast indeed, but one that was born in recent years is eSports. Combining videogames with sports, this competitive strand of live, multiplayer, competitive videogames has proved a hit with viewers.
The leading eSports games are DOTA 2, League of Legends, and CS:GO, with the top players making literally millions of dollars. There are plenty of other games that offer an eSports angle, with one cultural highlight being the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, which turned a number of players into millionaires overnight.
Watching eSports was getting popular in Canada and around the world anyway, which is unsurprising given that videogames are bigger than Hollywood, but this was supercharged by the pandemic lockdowns imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When traditional sports were curtailed, suspended, or even had seasons cancelled, eSports were able to keep on trucking with no problem at all, providing a novel distraction for millions of people who suddenly found they had a lot of time on their hands and that their usual distractions were off the menu.
Will eSports and Wrestling be a Match made in Heaven?
On the face of it, eSports and wrestling have some pretty big differences. The former involves a lot of videogame skill but is not exactly physically active, while the latter requires a huge amount of fitness and strength. However, it’s worth noting that there are plenty of wrestling videogames, and if the execution has occasionally been lacking the consumer interest is nonetheless present.
Back in 2019 speculation arose that the WWE might be about to form its own eSports league. Obviously, events in 2020 rather derailed a lot of projects, even those that are videogame in nature (the latest console launches weren’t exactly helped by the pandemic). Wrestling has a huge fanbase, and competitive videogames would seem a natural fit for the sport provided that the gaming quality is there (something that has been a bit iffy in recent years). However, the potential lucre offers a great incentive for the WWE to take their time and put in plenty of resources to ensure all goes well when it’s time for the league to launch (which is rumored to be called the Superstar Gaming League).
This would not be the first time that eSports and wrestling have come into contact, however. Back in 2017, the WWE invested in Cloud9 (one of the leading eSports teams), which competes in a range of videogames including League of Legends, Rocket League, and CS:GO, with considerable success.
The years since have only seen eSports grow more popular, and with a front row seat to this success, it’s no surprise the WWE is now contemplating taking a more direct role and forming its own league.
Wrestling and eSports on Game+
In October 2020 it was announced that hour-long wrestling series OVW Overdrive and OVW TV were both going to be aired on sports network Game+ (exclusive national cable broadcaster of OVW TV). OVW acts as the leading training ground for up and coming wrestlers, and now their entertainment in the ring will be aired alongside live action sports, poker, and eSports. The common channel viewership between a series that helped launch both John Cena and Dave Bautista and eSports is just one more indication that wrestling and eSports are a good fit.
eSports during the Pandemic
Touched on briefly above, another major asset of eSports compared to more traditional sporting entertainment has been its resilience during the COVID-19 global healthcare crisis. This has been a great boon for both players and viewers alike, but in some ways it’s been even more important than that.
Multiplayer videogames can foster a great sense of teamwork between players, and eSports fans can experience some of that mingled with the usual passion that all sports fans enjoy. The family feeling between the fanbase of Team Liquid, one of eSports’ top teams, has helped to make coping with the stress and worries of the pandemic easier. Steve Arhancet, co-CEO of Team Liquid, explained that handwritten letters and chatting with fans over the phone helped to foster a sense of community.
Other Successful eSports Collaborations
As technologically advanced series, it’s perhaps no surprise that eSports have already been seamlessly integrated into both Formula 1 and Formula E (the all electric category). Both of these top tier motorsports have eSports opportunities, with Formula E’s Accelerate contest featuring two dozen top drivers, six races, and a prize pool of €100,000. Meanwhile, in addition to its regular gaming, Formula 1 has recently teamed up with Rocket League, joining the eSport in May 2021 alongside NASCAR.
Online betting on eSports has also risen alongside audience numbers in recent years, with many casinos and sportsbooks featuring markets on game and tournament winners, scorelines, and more. Online casinos also have plenty of promotions they are now offering for existing players as well as newcomers, providing a great, and safe, way for cautious players to dip their toe into the betting pool.
Other sports are already getting in on the eSports action, and it seems eminently possible that wrestling will follow suit before too long.