The ePremier League is a concept which was originally launched at the beginning of 2019 with each of the twenty top flight clubs represented by two UK gamers.
Tekkz, playing on behalf of Liverpool was the eventual winner, and his success was lapped up by thousands of FIFA aficionados around the world. In 2020, this virtual extravaganza was ramped up a notch with the unveiling of the ePremier League Invitational, a tournament that almost exclusively featured professional footballers such as Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Musician Tom Grennan was the only non-footballer to take part in the event with the Bedford-born rocker chosen to represent Manchester United.
With many professional footballers describing themselves as “avid gamers”, this was the ideal chance to put their skills to the test. The majority of players spent their formative years playing FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer; however, non-sporting titles such as Dota 2 and League of Legends have tended to dominate in recent years.
Football and gaming have become closely intertwined in recent years with many clubs forming their own esports squads, and the majority of teams now attract the lion share of their younger fans through their various digital platforms.
Wolves’ Diogo Jota eventually came out on top in 2020, beating Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in extra-time. The Portuguese playmaker ousted Leicester’s Wilfried Ndidi, Burnley’s Dwight McNeil and Sheffield United’s Lys Mousset en-route to the final. With 68 additional minutes on the clock, fans certainly got their money’s worth, and this intense head-to-head clash between two PL stars also prompted plenty of discussion on social media.
The tournament attracted 150 million viewers worldwide and supporters will certainly be hoping that this virtual event can become an annual occurrence. Three million fans tuned into the final on Facebook whilst a further 70,000 opted for the far more traditional approach of following all of the action on Sky Sports. There was also a reported 275% increase in interest from the opening round to the final, and that bodes well for future stagings of the tournament.
Esports has enjoyed an exponential rise in popularity in recent years, and although sports titles such as FIFA are generally eclipsed by multiplayer online battle arena and first-person shooter games, there has been a significant uptake in interest so far in 2020. Bookmakers have also capitalized on this growing trend, but titles such as CS:GO, Dota 2 and League of Legends dominate as can be seen online at Space Casino with FIFA yet to establish the presence these titles have in the esports scene.
There have been plenty of tournaments already this calendar year with England test captain Joe Root competing in the NHS Charities Together Cup alongside Love Island star Chris Hughes. FIFA’s eWorld Cup is generally considered to be the pinnacle of this genre, although this isn’t scheduled to get underway until July. The winner will receive $250,000 so there is plenty at stake, and the popularity of this lucrative competition appears to be increasing year-on-year.
The MLS has also followed a similar blueprint with players such as Javier Hernandez and Nani both representing their clubs in this nationally televised tournament. There is clearly a significant appetite for this format, and with the popularity of this year’s event, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two parties join forces once again in 2021, and return for the second instalment of the ePremier League Invitational.