With the news that the actual NBA is launching an affiliated gaming league, complete with 5 registered players for each real-life NBA franchise, it won't be long until the EPL follows suit.


Given the massive reach and worldwide appeal of the EA Sports FIFA series and their especially close link to the EPL already (the past few years has seen meticulous recreations of all 20 Premier League grounds, kits, players, managers, chants, and so on, in a way not afforded to other leagues en masse), it would make sense that an official e-EPL isn't far away.

West Ham were the first Premier League club to sign an official e-sports player back in May 2016, when they signed the pro-gamer and FIFA's Interactive World Cup runner-up, Sean Allen, aka 'Dragonn', as one of their players.

He represents the club in official online tournaments and has been allocated squad number 50. He wears an official player's shirt when playing in tournaments and online.

And Manchester City followed suit a few months later, in October, when they signed 18 year old gamer Kieran Brown. He was recruited to represent the Blues whenever he plays online and in tournaments. He also produces City themed vlogs and YouTube content. Over in Germany, Wolfsburg also have their own e-player.

This might sound obscure and perhaps a little daft to the uninitiated, but online gaming is huge. Newzoo, a marketing research group, projects that the rise of the e-sports industry is so rapid that yearly global revenue will surpass the $1.1bn mark during 2019.

But why is e-sports growing so rapidly?

Credit:  artubr

Credit: artubr

Like anything, it comes down to money.

Although the initial driver, of course, for people to get into gaming is the enjoyment and addictive nature of the habit itself. "Just one more game" soon becomes "one more hour" and then more.

But, for years now, the most skilled players have been able to make a living off what older generations often see as infantile or "something to do when the missus is away and the lads come round for a few beers but there's a bit of time to kill until the real match kicks off on telly."

For a start, the online gaming world was monetised in the same way flash-in-the-pan gaming apps are ("Unlock all you need to conquer this level for only £4.99" etc). And this has unlocked the door and allowed the industry to grow. And grow. And grow.

Alongside this, YouTube channels with tutorials or just for entertainment purposes draw in millions upon millions of views. Popular sites live stream matches. It promotes social interaction and helps build audiences.

So advertisers naturally want a piece of the action. Once associated products are included, watching the videos then becomes part of a glossy package and experience.

Successful gamers' channels rake in the likes and plaudits - and then the money. This is something for the next generation of gamers to aspire to be like.

And the tournaments are huge. If you're good enough, you can't just make a living playing games; you can make a killing. And pick up trophies and stardom along the way.

This is because the rules in wider life have changed since the days of playing the - wait, I was going to mention ISS Pro on my first ever PlayStation here, that I played when I was, like, eight, but things have changed since even the last console I played before life got too busy, as it does in your late 20s - the PS3.

Gen-Z sees no distinction between online and "real-life" in the same way that even Millennials do. The online world is just another part of real-life. An online friend is just a friend like any other.

Back when I was first a college teacher, we had 16 year old kids who went whole first half-terms without speaking to each other face to face, but would get to know each other online first. This'd help them to work out if they'd become actual mates or just be online friends.

But now, just four or five years later, this distinction has gone completely. And the lines between online and real-life - or rather physical-life, because online life is real-life to Gen-Z - aren't even blurred anymore. They simply don't exist.

Shopping, amusement, friendships, dating, gaming, sport... it's all gone E. And given how much we hear and see that kids are spending more and more time online rather than out in the real world, their sporting interest is destined to follow suit.

Especially when you consider the fact that attending elite professional football matches is unobtainable to many kids. It's actually surprising that we don't already have an e-EPL.

By Paul Mortimer. Photo credit goes fully to Maxime FORT