Experts of the international online discussion “Motivation and training in the context of the pandemic: the impact of Internet technologies on sports” reached the mutual conclusion that the pandemic will boost the development of e-sports and broaden the way sports are perceived in the world. It’s expected that the existing trend will strengthen: over the past 3-4 years, the audience of e-sports events has grown 5-6 times.
The discussion was initiated by the Gazprom International Children’s Social Programme Football for Friendship, which has, for the first time, brought the entire season online in 2020. Meanwhile, the annual World Championship for Young Participants from more than 100 countries is held in the new football simulator Football for Friendship World. In the future, the app will become a gaming platform where anyone can train, join mixed international teams, and play their favorite game in the Football for Friendship format without leaving the comfort of home.
The guest experts — football players and e-sports players — shared their views on how the pandemic is affecting the training process, and whether e-sports will be able to fully replace traditional sports in the future. Alexey Smertin, adviser to the President of the Russian Football Union and Ambassador of the Football for Friendship programme, and Alexandra Kosteniuk, grandmaster, three-times winner of the World Chess Olympiads, and European Chess Champion, spoke about the impact of the pandemic on professional sports. Igor Bugaenko, head of the Special Projects Department of the Russian eSports Federation (RESF), spoke about the development of Russian e-sports. The discussion was attended by representatives of FC Schalke 04: head of the e-sports division Tim Reichert, League of Legends coach Dylan Falco, and professional FIFA player Tim Schwartmann (“Tim Latka”). The discussion was moderated by Euronews TV host Andy Robini.
Igor Bugaenko expressed his conviction that the pandemic can also have a positive impact on sports: “Despite the cancellation of many offline sporting events, we are doing our best to maintain the quality and spirit of the competitions that are currently held online. The pandemic has affected how people spend their free time. I think the main achievement of this period has been to broaden the way sports are perceived, enabling people to re-evaluate the role of e-sports in the world”. The expert also noted that Russia was one of the first countries to officially recognize e-sports. According to Bugaenko, in the last 3-4 years alone, the audience of e-sports events has grown 5-6 times.
However, according to Alexey Smertin, e-sports are hard to compare to traditional sports, with their “physical overcoming of oneself, pain and hard-to-achieve results”. On the other hand, if we take a professional approach, in both traditional and e-sports it’s important to focus on achieving results; so, in this sense, there’s no difference between them.
Tim Schwartmann (Tim Latka) has a similar view: “If young people want to be successful — be it in e-sports or traditional football — they have to work hard, train a lot for the game, and never rest on their laurels”.
Today, many football clubs are developing e-sports as a separate area. “In recent years, the popularity of e-sports has become evident. By investing time and effort into developing e-sports, we hope to establish a dialogue with the younger generation of football fans”, explains Tim Reichert, head of FC Schalke 04’s e-sports division. Reichert expects that self-isolation will accelerate the merging process of traditional and digital sports several-fold. In his opinion, e-sports and traditional sports already have many things in common: league structures, competitions, psychological demands for players, and regular training.
Alexandra Kosteniuk noted that the past months have become a landmark in the history of sport:
“The pandemic has opened up a real Pandora’s box for chess players: if earlier, part of our competitions were already being held online, now it’s the most convenient format for both the audience and participants”. As she explains, the pandemic has stimulated an increased interest in online competitions over the past few months, “even in the case of chess, which is not the most popular sport among viewers, not to mention the world of e-sports in general”.
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