The rise and rise of eSports in the Netherlands

If you’re not familiar with the concept of electronic sports, or eSports, then it might surprise you to hear that 2016’s League of Legends World Championships was watched by 43 million people worldwide. This rivals the viewership of the NBA Finals and the MLB World Series. League of Legends, an online multiplayer game from the developer Riot Games, is one of the most viewed games in the world of eSports but its growth is not anomalous.

The 2015 League of Legends World Championships in Berlin (Source: commons.wikimedia)

Even though revenues in eSports still pale to other sports, the growth of the industry is immense. The past few years have seen double-digit growth percentages and expectations to break $1 billion revenue by 2019. Geek-Culture is also slowly, but surely, being de-stigmatized. Add that to a worldwide audience that is increasingly familiar with technology and it leads to an ideal climate for the growth of this field.

eSports in the Netherlands: The Birth of the E-Divisie

The Dutch Eredivisie is one of the latest to jump on the bandwagon by creating the ‘E-Divisie’. This new league is perhaps best thought of as a virtual league where players represent each Eredivisie team. Each player will end up playing 17 games of FIFA 17 Ultimate Team. One game against each other competitor. The winner will also go on to compete in the European championships. At the time of writing, the competition is being dominated by Ajax’s Dani Hagebeuk, who stands undefeated with a +31 goal difference after ten games.

While it isn’t the first FIFA Ultimate Team league in the world, the E-Divisie is the first to have its players tied officially to corresponding clubs. The league, organized in cooperation with Endemol Shine Nederland and EA SPORTS, has found a weekly spot on FOX Sports alongside Twitch and YouTube broadcasts.

This style of professionalization is a big step for Dutch eSports and it wouldn’t be surprising to see other countries follow suit soon. The NBA already has plans to do so. Nevertheless, the E-Divisie has a long way to go and its current flaws may lead to an early demise for this venture. Despite enthusiasm from the league’s organizers and clear hopes to capitalize on the rise of eSports, it is clear that they are still busy figuring out this new field.

A Long Way To Go

In its current format, games are streamed with a face-cam of the two players, who are seated essentially shoulder to shoulder. Squeezed in behind them is the shoutcaster, who peeks nosily over their shoulders like a curious little brother. And just like a little brother, the shoutcaster is frequently a clear distraction to the competitors. It’s no surprise to see a player occasionally make an irritated comment or throw a nasty look backwards. Early streams even had game audio commentary interrupting the live shoutcaster, and while that has since been fixed, many issues still lurk.

In its current state, the E-Divisie is treating the game of FIFA like actual football. This often becomes clear in the shoutcaster’s rather obvious ignorance. They comment on the team’s players (superstars like Messi, Ronaldo, and Bale), their actions, and the results. All necessary, but they ignore the elements that make FIFA Ultimate Team a video game and not a physical sport. It becomes all too apparent when players flash through their tactical changes at blinding speeds, leaving the shoutcaster at a loss to explain it due to his own inexperience.

Blinding speeds of tactical changes.

Options in the game such as changing player instructions, altering team instructions, and adjusting formations on the fly are all essential to the success of high level players. Without guidance from a knowledgeable shoutcaster, viewers are left unaware of what is actually occurring.

EA has done its best to create an accurate, fun, and playable simulator of football, however, it is ultimately a different game. The E-Divisie must understand this and adjust their approach to broadcasting and viewer accesibility. If they do so, then the division can certainly look to a bright future. If not, then it’s likely this trip into the world of eSports will be short-lived.

And if you’re curious about what it all looks like in action, check out some highlights.