Over the past 12 months the growing relationship between traditional sports and esports has blossomed worldwide. Sports-centric sponsors have begun to collaborate with competitive gaming organisations, such as Nike partnering with T1, whilst sporting teams have begun to integrate esports into its business.

Speaking at ESI Digital Summer’s ‘Synergies between sports & esports in Asia-Pacific’ panel, Buriram United Esports’ CEO, Chaichanok Chidchob, discussed how the football club transitioned into competitive gaming and also the benefits of doing so.

“It was a mixture of things. I think it was timing, opportunity, and it was also passion,” he stated. 

“Everyone here knows that esports is one of the fastest growing industries in this digital age. And I’ve always had a passion in it. So I took a gamble. And I spoke to the president and said, I really want to try and do this. It’s something that I feel like, I have a passion about. 

“At first, he wasn’t buying any of it because I grew up being also someone who was really engaged in gaming. He thought I was just wanting to do something that I liked. But eventually after some thought he said, you know what, okay, I’ll give him a go. Two years later, I think we really made a difference. 

“I spoke to many business owners, many big organisations and we worked together, we shed ideas and I saw a general trend. The trend I saw was that traditional sports was struggling to engage with new generations. 

“You’re not getting the new generation to become hardcore fans as easily as before anymore. After I’ve spoken to a lot of them, and after them having seen us do something, I think everyone’s kind of jumping onto esports now and we’ve seen a real difference, a different level of engagement, even though our intention was not the same in jumping in, but the result was obvious. I felt like esports is a good bridge or connection for the new generation within traditional sports.”

Despite only being founded in 2010, Buriram United is highly regarded as one of Thailand’s biggest teams, securing six league titles in the process. The club has followed the same path as Schalke 04 and Munster Rugby in creating a dedicated esports division to diversify the club and extend its global reach.

Hung Do Viet, the secretary general of the Vietnam national esports federation also highlighted the importance of esports to a young audience. With regards Vietnam, he explained that there is a harmonious relationship between esports and traditional sports, whilst emphasising the popularity of competitive gaming in the country.

Do Viet said: “In Vietnam, we do consider esports as sport. So that means that esports has a very important role in terms of  content production for  traditional sports in order to engage with the new young audience.

“There are some mixed models between the broadcaster company and organisers in order to get sponsorship and in order to get more resources for esport development in Vietnam. We found that 52 per cent of the audience who watch an esport title don’t play that kind of title. That means that the audience viewership is more expensive, more broad than than the people purely playing the game.”

The discussion, which was moderated by Reddentes Sports’ co-founder and managing director of Ren Kai Yip,  then shifted to how both sectors can learn from each other to increase the growth of either industry. Global Esports Federation Board Member Chong Geng Ng ran down the lessons both industries could teach the other, such as creating content and monetisation. 

He commented: “The key thing which esports has been doing really successfully, is actually reaching out to the average viewer or to the younger generation to give you a better idea of The average viewers age for esports is about 25 years old. Out of which 66 per cent of these viewers are male. If we  take a look at the top four sports, the average age of the viewers is about 47 years old.

“However, what esports does need to learn is to do better in terms of monetisation. Because if you take a look at the total global revenue, in terms of advertising and related things for eSports it’s only about $1.1 billion. Whereas for sports, the single most monetised sport’s revenue for 2018, the NFL is about $16 billion.”

David Harris, Managing Director of Guinevere Capital took the question a step further by emphasising that esports has a golden opportunity to learn from the mistakes that traditional sports has faced whilst becoming a sustainable business sector.

“I think having worked in both sectors, esports has the chance to learn from traditional sport and start again and I think it’s a chance to get things right early on and learn from a lot of mistakes that have been made,” he added.

“We really need to be on the front foot, with all the challenges that traditional sports had, esports will get as it grows. Things like gambling integrity. You see a lot of bodies are already being formed around the esports world to really try and address these and even things like how we interact with sportsbook makers and gambling. 

“As the money starts to come into this space, we need to be very wary of all the challenges traditional sports have faced and how we can be very proactive in making sure that it doesn’t adversely affect the industry.”

The underlying relationship with esports can, in most cases, be region-dependent, as Do Viet alluded to earlier with Vietnam, however, some areas have yet to be convinced by the sector.

Chidchob emphasised this by comparing the sponsorship opportunities between Buriram United, the football club, and its esports division, stating that whilst interest is apparent the conception of the industry in Thailand is not as well received.

“For me it’s a little more difficult with esports. But it’s not because of the actual package not being enticing or the value in it is not as good value for money,” said Buriram United Esports’ CEO.

“But in Thailand, there are some slight problems in terms of conception regarding esports. I think there’s still a lot of decision makers who see the interest in the esports industry but do not understand it yet. Big brands are still currently kind of concerned and worried about putting the brand image with gaming right now.”

Esport Insider’s Digital Summer event is taking place throughout the week, with a different region being showcased every day. To sign up for the event, which features a range of networking sessions, panels and presentations, then click here.