Despite being one of the world’s newest spectator sports, eSports already has an enviable global following. According to Goldman Sachs, the industry already has a larger audience than Major League Baseball.
In Spain this is no exception, as demonstrated by the second season of the Virtual LaLiga eSports Santander competition. After six months of the official FIFA 19 tournament, participation, sponsorship and viewing figures proved how mainstream the sport has already become.
In total 13,000 players took part in this season’s competition, completing 9,207 matches. Their games were watched by more than 2.8 million viewers across all platforms, including Twitch, Facebook, LaLigaSportsTV, LaLiga.es and UBEAT.tv. An audience of 700,000 alone watched the grand final in Madrid, which was ultimately won by Jaime Álvarez, known in the world of eSports as Gravesen.
These players, many of whom represent Spanish clubs, have been able to build a much stronger profile in the last two years thanks to the structure that has been put in place by LaLiga and the league’s partners, sponsors and broadcasters.
The second edition of the competition is provided thanks to the collaboration of LaLiga and Electronic Arts (EA), with Banco Santander as its main sponsor. Orange, Allianz, Visa, EVO2, Hyundai and the Global eSports Academy have also provided support throughout the season.
“What Spain was lacking when compared to other countries was a national league,” Gravesen said, explaining what the situation was like before the launch of Virtual LaLiga eSports Santander. “Now you have tournaments to be able to gauge your level against other players. You can create stories of rivalry and of friendship. This wouldn’t be possible in Spain right now without LaLiga and EA Sports.”
Zidane10, representative of UD Las Palmas and runner-up of the 2018/19 tournament, backed this viewpoint. “The event has been truly spectacular,” he said. “It would have been impossible to imagine something like this one year ago. We’re adding more sponsors and LaLiga is right in the middle of it all.”
One of the key reasons for the league’s rapid growth has been the involvement of clubs from across Spain. This year, players from 17 LaLiga Santander and LaLiga 1l2l3 clubs took part, among them AD Alcorcón, Cádiz CF, Rayo Majadahonda, CD Numancia, Gimnàstic de Tarragona, CD Leganés, Getafe CF, Levante UD, Real Sporting, RCD Espanyol de Barcelona, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, SD Eibar, Villarreal CF, Real Zaragoza and UD Las Palmas. More and more clubs are expected to join the competition in the coming seasons, bringing even more fans with them.
Sponsors are another key to the continued competition, making the renewal of LaLiga’s sponsorship agreement with EA SPORTS FIFA until 2023/24 promising news for eSports and for the players across Spain and beyond. The agreement will allow LaLiga to continue to connect with the excitement and authenticity of football in the world's leading electronic sport universe.
“Every day there is a greater variety of content and entertainment options for people to consume,” explained Alfredo Bermejo, the Digital Strategy Director of LaLiga. The eSports community is a huge part of this and the excitement of virtual football is there for all to see. We are increasing the number of tournaments and our objective is to create bigger and bigger spectacles, featuring more national and international players.”
LaLiga’s role in the virtual world is already well established, with a collaboration with EA Sports that stretches back many years and more than 10 games licenses worldwide. On top of this, it has developed three of its own games like Head Soccer, a casual mobile game that has a community of 2.5 million monthly users and more than 50 million downloads.