The world of esports has moved well beyond its pre-pandemic position of being a niche area that “proper” sports don’t need to associate with. Saying it exploded in popularity to become a major player in the entertainment industry is an understatement, especially when the world of gaming is now worth more than its movie and television counterparts.
With advancements in technology and the rise of online gaming, youth engagement in esports has become a global phenomenon. It is estimated that by 2024, the esports industry will generate over $1 billion in revenue, with millions of fans tuning in to watch competitions and tournaments across a range of games.
Esports has also become an important platform for brands and advertisers, with companies investing in sponsorships and partnerships to reach a new, younger audience. As esports continues to grow and evolve, it's clear that it's here to stay, and its impact on the entertainment industry will only continue to grow.
However, the leap into the world of football has not been a smooth one. The most popular esports events tend to circulate around traditional titles such as League of Legends, CS:GO and Diablo. Whilst FIFA may dominate the market when it comes to the number of players competing, it hasn’t experienced the same growth in live events. However, the advent of top leagues collaborating with the esports community has seen that change.
The eSerie A TIM was born out of a natural progression in esports, particularly in FIFA tournaments based on major football leagues. The ePremier League, eBundesliga, and eLaLiga had already established themselves as popular tournaments, and Lega Serie A saw an opportunity to offer a similar competition to Italian football fans.
Infront’s long-term partnership with Serie A, which first began in 2008, and its willingness to explore a new world beyond traditional sport has seen the esports edition of the league begin to blossom in recent years.
"It seemed quite natural to us to propose an esports tournament to Lega Serie A alongside the Italian Championship, the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup, both for a question of presence on the market and because it is important to try to involve the youngest by offering them something more similar to them," said Stefano Deantoni, Marketing Director of Infront Italy.
The interest of clubs in building their own esports teams had also grown, and the organisers wanted to support them by designing a tournament format that includes a first phase in which all fans can play. This was then whittled down to create a shortlist of Italy’s best amateur gamers. The clubs could then choose their players through the draft system, with each team made up of one professional player and one from the draft.
"The draft system not only supports the clubs in building their teams, but also stimulates the participation of the general public of enthusiasts who have the possibility of realising their dream of being able to represent one of the clubs participating in the eSerie A TIM championship," said Alessandro Giacomini, Managing Director of Infront Italy.
The first edition was supposed to take place in 2020, but due to the pandemic, it had to be postponed for a year. Subsequent editions were limited in terms of audience participation, but the 2022/23 edition is the third official edition without any limitations.
“Over the years, with the advent of the internet, digital content and the second screen, the interest of young people has become much fragmented, and the habit of watching a full match on television or in the stadium is being lost, in favour of content easier to use, such as games of Fortnite or some eSports tournament," added Alessandro Zampini, Head of Resources Infront Productions Italy and eSerie A TIM's Executive Producer.
To reach this younger demographic, the organisers enriched the competition with live and face-to-face moments, involving the clubs more, and organising a roadshow in different territories to bring the competition closer to fans who are used to watching it on Twitch only. The goal is to have the tournament physically reach new supporters throughout the season, with a final event where the public can buy tickets to watch.
"The eSerie A TIM has become a movement of great value, with so much talent at its disposal, and it needed an institutional counterpart that could put future pro players in contact directly with the clubs and agencies of professional players," said Zampini.
The competition has grown significantly since its inception, with more clubs getting involved and more events taking place. The organisers have successfully engaged new audiences through a variety of online and live events, reaching out to those who dream of getting to this competition and fighting against the negative stereotype of who gamers were.