Team loyalty in esports just isn’t the same as in regular sports, especially when looking at football. Where one could easily picture a fan of Manchester United making football culture a large chunk of their personality, the loyalty of esports fans is split between teams, professional players and streamers.
When comparing team loyalty in esports with football, the international nature of esports makes it harder for teams to have a geographical connection to fans. Not to mention that football and other sports teams have had decades upon decades to build a loyal fanbase, a strong culture and a community creating a sense of belonging among fans.
How people become fans of sports
When choosing a team to follow, Thomas Sweets argues for Bleacher Report that in his experience, there are three main reasons why a soccer fan picks a team. Either a person is born into it, becomes heavily invested over time or is a casual supporter.
In reality, there are, of course, probably hundreds of ways a person can become invested in and engage with a sport, but we found this analogy decent for explaining how the dynamics of sports and esports teams differ in terms of their fan bases.
Some families just have football in the blood, where watching games together is a natural part of the family bonding experience. Whenever there’s an away game, the family might invite friends to watch a game together, drink beer and eat food, essentially making football part of a lifestyle. Having knowledge of players, scores, transfers and where Neymar’s dad grew up becomes ingrained in a person’s identity, and a football team can feel close to a second family.
Another type of fan might be the one who hasn’t grown up with football yet has started following specific teams based on personal interest, having a favourite player or liking a team based on their general performance. This type of fan might not have the same unbreakable bond with a team that generational football fans do but can certainly grow into adamant supporters and possess a similar level of knowledge about a team as die-hard fans do.
The third group of fans are the casual viewers who watch or attend a game on occasion but rarely keep tabs on the current standings, player transfers or past performances of a team. They are fickle in terms of team loyalty and are more likely to be fair-weather supporters, e.g. fans who show up when a team performs well but lacks interest when the team loses.
Esports enthusiasts and occasional viewers
Football has been one of the largest sports in Europe for decades, which has fostered generations of fans that are incredibly loyal to their teams(die-hard fans). In contrast, esports as we know it has been around for around ten to twenty years. This means that esports fans generally fall into one or two viewership categories minted by Newzoo, esports enthusiasts and occasional viewers. Compared to the aforementioned categories of football fans, they can be easily translated to sports enthusiasts and fair-weather supporters.
Esports still lacks fandom spanning generations
This means that the generational fan base that football and other sports enjoy has yet to materialise in esports. Esports enthusiasts might be born out of following specific players or teams but lack the generational fan bases that can only be built over the transgression of time.
Nonetheless, there are still loads of esports fans that are enthusiasts, watching several matches a month and keeping tabs on roster changes, performance and so on. They’re just not necessarily loyal to specific teams.
This means that the esports teams that manage to attract and maintain a loyal fan base of esports enthusiasts now, have the potential to retain generational, die-hard fans in the future.
How fandom impacts betting habits in sports
As Daniel Wann, Professor of Psychology at Murray State University, said, “Research shows similarities between a fan’s identification with a sports team and how people identify with their nationality, ethnicity, even gender. Team identification “is the extent to which a fan feels a psychological connection to a team and the team’s performances are viewed as self-relevant”.”
As a team affiliation can correspond strongly with a person’s sense of “self”, it might also impact how fans bet when their favourite teams play.
While one might suspect that fans bet in favour of their team, a team affiliation can instead result in the opposite. In the report “An investigation of highly identified fans who bet against their favorite teams” conducted by Agha, N., & Tyler, B. D., which explores fans betting against their team, fans can either back their favourites more ferociously or bet against them if they deem the matchup unfavourable. The logic behind fans’ betting against their favourite teams is that they would know their team best and subsequently know if the team would win or lose.
Moreover, it creates a win-win situation for the fan. If their favourite team wins, the punter would be happy to cheer them on. If they lose, the punter would at least win the bet awarding them some money.
As seen in the aforementioned studies, team affiliation can impact the betting behaviour people express in sportsbooks.
Football and other sports have a long heritage, meaning they also have strong, long-withstanding fan cultures. As such, it can be beneficial to look at football for inspiration when creating products. Moreover, it can act as a blueprint to understand fan behaviour at large and its impact on betting.
Nonetheless, esports isn’t as mature as football and other sports in fandom and culture, so it isn’t always possible to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Not to mention the fact that esports is digitally native and stems from internet culture, which has a great impact on fan behaviour, consumption and demographics.
At Abios, we’ve delivered data-driven esports products for over 10 years, consumed by millions of fans worldwide. It has given us an in-depth understanding of the esports audience and helped us create engaging betting experiences for the esports fans.
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