Will rugby league ever be a hit in esports?

In the past decade, many traditional sports such as football and motor racing have managed to get varying levels of success within the esports world. Whilst sports purists are often sceptical about the growth of esports, competitive gaming has become hugely popular and can be an effective way of bolstering a sports club’s revenues and boosting their support base.

As a result, it has been surprising to find that the world of rugby league has so far remained remarkably distant from the hugely popular esports realm. It’s hard to see whether it’s the lack of decent rugby gaming titles, or something more deeply entrenched within the mindset of the governing authorities. But rugby league clubs are looking like they could miss out on one of the fastest growing entertainment trends in the world.

The esports industry is widely expected to hit the $1.7 billion mark by 2021. Whilst the majority of competitive gaming events featured on betting resources like www.esports.net tend to be battle arena games and first person shooters, certain sports simulators have been making their presence felt in this quickly growing realm.

From the arrival of the ePremier League, to the Formula 1 Esports Series, many sporting organisations have sought to offer fans a digital version of their favourite sports. But as rugby league has traditionally suffered from a dearth of quality video games, there are fears that this classic sport might find itself excluded from the vast revenues enjoyed by esports.

However, there are growing signs that some rugby union organisations are waking up to the call of esports. Whilst rugby league has always keep a distance from rugby union, it seems as though they could take a few lessons from how this code is starting to cater to esports.

Take New Zealand Rugby, who have collaborated with the esports media company, Let’s Play Live. The partnership saw several top All Blacks rugby union stars appearing on Let’s Play Live’s weekly esports show, The Night Squad.

Whilst famous New Zealand rugby union players like TJ Perenara and Rieko Ioane were only playing the popular battle arena title, Fortnite, it showed a surprising amount of enthusiasm for gaming in the rugby world. In addition to this, we have seen agencies like Ireland’s ProRugby take the surprising step of adding professional esports players to their roster. And South Africa’s famous Sharks rugby union team even set up their own official Sharks esports team.

But perhaps the most surprising incursion of esports into rugby was seen at the start of 2019 when it was announced that Twickenham would be home to a League of Legends training centre. The competitive gaming team, Excel Esports, will now be based at the home of English rugby union and will benefit from all of the facilities of this legendary sporting arena.

This will include special scrimmage rooms that will attempt to match the atmosphere of competitive gaming tournaments and will give Excel Esports a good head-start before they enter the League of Legends European Championship tournament. Whilst esports has often been kept apart from traditional sports, the fact that top gaming teams are learning training methods from rugby union’s elite shows just how harmonious the relationship between the two activities can be.

Despite this, there’s still an alarming lack of esports that are actually focused on rugby league. Much of this can be blamed of the sheer lack of decent rugby-based gaming simulators. Whilst EA Sports released reasonably good videos like EA Rugby 06 in the past, nobody has managed to continue the success of these titles in recent times. Plus most of these titles seem to focus on rugby union, rather than rugby league.

Last year, Koch Media struggled with the release of Rugby 18. This delivered a pretty poor simulation of rugby union with a lack of decent gaming modes and an alarmingly weak presentation of the sport. Whilst Wicked Witch’s Rugby Challenge 3 also failed to give fans a decent simulation of the game. So although there is no shortage of fans who would love to play rugby league games competitively, it seems that games developers have yet to meet the challenge.

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