Tennis is one of the most-watched and most played sports in the world. According to Sports Show, there are around 1 billion tennis fans across the globe, although the majority are based in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
This places tennis 5th on the list of most popular global sports, behind soccer/football, cricket, basketball, and field hockey.
Around 400 million people tune in to watch the four Grand Slam events, with TV broadcasters spending millions for the rights to air them. Over The Top (OTT) broadcasters, like the Amazon Prime Video streaming service have also begun buying the rights to major tennis competitions, including the US Open.
It’s also prominent in other media forms such as newspaper articles and sports pages of most major news websites. Compared to sports like volleyball, table tennis, shooting, and badminton, tennis receives a significant amount of coverage.
Wagering on tennis is also very popular, with casino and sports betting brands like Sky offering extensive markets for tennis fans.
In the UK, tennis is the second most bet on sport, behind only football and even ahead of horse racing.
With so many people interested in the sport, it’s perhaps surprising that there isn’t a prominent esports competition based around tennis. Will this ever change? Let’s look at the factors that could influence it.
What Are Esports?
Esports are leagues and tournaments where contenders compete by playing video games. They started as a niche concept with only video game enthusiasts taking part and watching, but have quickly grown into a billion-dollar industry with around 500 million fans around the world.
Events can take place online or in arenas and stadiums, just like traditional sporting events.
The Most Popular Esports Niches
Many other sports leagues, federations, and governing bodies are investing in esports. In North America, the NBA, MLB, and NHL have all invested in esports, as has FIFA and Formula 1.
These have enjoyed relative success, with tens of millions tuning in to watch each competition. They’ve also proved to be great marketing tools to sell the officially licensed video games.
However, esports modeled on traditional sports have not attracted anywhere near as many spectators as games like Dota 2, League of Legends, or Fortnite. The second season of the NBA 2K League also saw a significant decline in viewing figures.
Therefore, the limited success of a venture into esports for other sports leagues may put the International Tennis Federation off from launching its own competition.
The Lack of a Recognizable Tennis Video Game
All of the other sports listed above have one thing in common, popular video games that are released every year. The NBA has NBA 2K, MLB has MLB: The Show, NHL has “NHL” and football has FIFA.
Tennis doesn’t have a recognizable, popular video game. This is despite the first-ever video game being Pong, a table tennis-inspired title that required the player to move their rectangle up and down to return the ball to a computer-controlled opponent. A tennis game was also popular for the Nintendo Wii thanks to the bundled Wii Sports game.
Tennis World Tour was released to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch in 2018, offering the best virtual tennis experience yet. However, it received a string of negative reviews including ones that described it as “the worst tennis game…ever released”, a “complete mess” and one that compared it unfavorably to Pong.
It was released ahead of time to meet commercial deadlines, delivering a below-par game. It was even advertised as having an online multiplayer function that simply did not exist when it was released.
The game will be used in 2020 for the first-ever esports competition that uses a tennis game, although it has not received much attention from the press or esports fans.
The lack of a loyal and active fanbase for a video game makes it difficult to host an esports competition. The most successful esports games today started out just as popular video games and slowly morphed into esports before their publishers got involved. Examples of this include League of Legends, Dota 2, and Call of Duty.
Tennis is a sport enjoyed by older people. According to the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, the average tennis fan is 61 years old, up from 51 years in 2010. This doesn’t bode well for creating an esports competition based on tennis, or even a tennis video game since these are both usually targeted at those under 40 years old.
Comparisons to the Real Thing
The most popular esports games are those based on fiction. Fantasy RPG, first-person shooters, and even turn-based card games are the most popular, with sports games trailing far behind.
One of the biggest problems for sports games is that they can be directly compared to the real thing, while a fantasy game can’t. The diehard and purist tennis fans are likely to be categorically opposed to a tennis-themed esports tournament.
Many esports commentators and journalists have also described the unfair advantage that some teams and players have in sports video games make them less attractive. For example, to replicate the real-world characteristics of leading players like Novak Djokovic, his playable character in the game needs to be better than most others.
This means that players that don’t get to play as Novak Djokovic will be unfairly disadvantaged. In a game like Call of Duty, this disparity doesn’t exist, creating a level playing field for competitors.
These two issues will also be significant hurdles that a tennis-based esports competition will need to overcome.
It seems unlikely there will be any major esports competition for tennis any time soon. The only video game that would be likely to host it is considered to be poor by most gamers, and most tennis fans don’t seem interested.
It’s also difficult to see fans of esports being interested in a tennis competition since sports games tend to be less favorable.