Konami has sought to underline its commitment to the burgeoning e-sports scene by re-branding Pro Evolution Soccer as eFootball PES 2020. The world of competitive gaming has exploded in popularity over the past five years and this trend has turned many players into millionaire superstars. It is big business too: the industry is expected to be worth $1.1 billion in 2019 and it is constantly growing as it attracts more fans across the globe. No esports title has truly cracked the nascent esports market just yet and Konami is making a bold bid to seize the initiative.
League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 are the biggest esports in the world right now, while Epic Games is channelling $100 million into its attempt to gatecrash the party with Fortnite this year. These games offer huge prize pools and the pros can earn fat salaries and major sponsorship deals on the back of their exploits. Most leading betting sites now offer esports odds – a respected sportsbook like Bovada will have plenty of markets to choose from – and this further fuels the boom.
The only sports games that offer reasonable prizes, sponsorships and betting markets are FIFA and NBA 2K. Some 20 million people entered last year’s FIFA eWorld Cup qualifying process before the winner was crowned in London, and there are more tournaments this year. FIFA outsold PES last year, and Konami appears to be taking a different tack this time around as it seeks to surge back ahead of its long-term rival. It said it wants to usher in a new decade of industry-leading football simulation, with a bold promise to revolutionise eFootball and introduce the sport to a global audience.
“The announcement of eFootball PES 2020 and our new positioning recognises this company’s commitment to the emerging sport of eFootball and progress we’ve made in that direction with previous PES titles,” said Jonas Lygaard, senior director of brand and business development at Konami. “With Konami’s continued investment in the PES League and eFootball.Pro tournaments, plus our dedication to continually raising the bar for football simulation games, we’ve never been more excited for the future of the eFootball PES series.”
The publisher is emboldened by its latest financial results, which saw it increase revenue to ¥262.5 billion ($2.37 billion) and profit by 11.8% to ¥50.5 billion ($456 million) in the year to March 31, 2019, compared to the previous 12 months. Pro Evolution Soccer was a major driver for that performance, and Konami is keen for it to remain at the forefront of gaming trends. There is no reason why it cannot become a huge esport, as it boasts legions of dedicated fans, it is easy to get into and appreciate, and it has a high skill ceiling.
The rebranding exercise clearly signals its intent, but now the onus is on Konami to help foster a strong competitive scene. We know it is in rude financial health, and if it could bankroll some bigger tournaments it could reap the benefits. Epic Games noticed players starting to migrate from Fortnite to the newer Apex Legends earlier this year, but they quickly returned to Fortnite once details of the $30 million World Cup were announced.
One way to keep up dedicated fan base is to turn PES into a spectator sport, and to do that you need professional players that can be reasonably well compensated for their endeavours. Players will be keen to master the eFootball PES 2020 if they know there are lucrative prizes on offer.
Cracking the esports market would ensure the popular series has a healthy future, and it will be fascinating to see how it unfolds. The new name may take some getting used to, but this is a bold new direction for Konami and a sensible one. Competitive gaming is only growing in popularity – more people watched the League of Legends World Championship than the Super Bowl last year – and it is about time a great sports title carved out a proper piece of the action. PES is the greatest game of all time for many fans, and it should become a popular esport going forwards.