Esports protest sees soccer fans hurling controllers and consoles onto field

Professional soccer clubs are showing a growing interest in esports as they look for ways to exploit the growing genre with deals that tie in with their own sport. But some club fans aren’t happy about it.

Case in point: A section of fans from Swiss top-flight teams F.C. Basel and Young Boys brought their game to a halt on Sunday in a protest against esports that saw game controllers, consoles, and tennis balls thrown onto the field at the Stade de Suisse, the country’s second-largest all-seater stadium.

The offbeat protest also saw fans unfurl huge banners, one of which said, “f— esports,” and another that showed a giant pause button.

The game was halted for just a few minutes, but the fans had made their point. They’d rather see their clubs investing money in the team and facilities than spending it on digital leagues and other related deals connected to something they don’t believe is a real sport.

The clubs, however, would argue that esports is a fast-growing sector, and cozying up with it could result in a revenue boost that can then be invested back in the club.

Young Boys doesn’t currently have a presence in professional gaming, but F.C. Basel has its own team in the popular FIFA video game.

Big-money opportunities

Demonstrating just how much cash esports can generate for clubs, top English soccer team Tottenham Hotspur aims on making millions of dollars per event by hosting esports tournaments at its new stadium when it opens later this year, while German team Schalke, Dutch team Ajax, and the NBA have already jumped on the esports bandwagon for big revenue returns.

The recent launch of the NBA 2K gaming league in a deal with video game publisher Take-Two marked the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league, and brought together “the best basketball gamers in the world.” Teams comprise five professional gamers who play the game as user-created avatars, with the league following a professional sports league format.

There is also a string of tournaments where the best gaming teams can walk away with cash prizes. The NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament, for example, offered teams of gamers the chance to win a trip to NBA All-Star 2017 in New Orleans and a $250,000 grand prize — $50,000 for each team member.

And if you were in any doubt as to the impact esports is having in the world of regular sport, take note — it could be an event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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