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Why e-sport brings together so many fans in France

Cheering supporters during the League of Legends inter-season video game tournament in Paris on May 19, 2018.

Saturday May 7, the French of Karmine Corp won the European Masters (EUM), the European championship of the game League of Legends. A total of 296,000 people watched their performance live on Twitch, including more than 200,000 from the OTP channel, the official tricolor broadcaster. A craze for e-sport – video game competitions – which is confirmed year after year in France: during the last two editions of the European tournament, the meetings arousing the largest audiences were systematically those of French clubs.

An unparalleled fervor first linked to excellent results. This year, three French teams made up the last four of the EUM. “Going through the LFL [la League française de League of Legends, le championnat national]it’s a bit like at one time going through Arsenal “, explains the sociologist and specialist in e-sport, Nicolas Besombes. But France is also establishing itself as a dominant nation in other games: the French team Vitality is considered one of the best in the world in Rocket League ; reigning European champions, the French also climbed to the top step of the world podium in 2019; and on the shooting game Counter-Strike: Global Offensiveit is Lensois Zywoo (real name Mathieu Herbaut), who was voted best player in the world in 2019 and 2020.

The French “esportainement”

“In France, we have had a very dynamic ecosystem since the end of the 1990s. There are a lot of competitions. (…) We have an associative fabric with many actors spread throughout the territory “, analyzes Nicolas Besombes. More than 80 gatherings take place each year, some of which have revealed talents: Kinstaar and Hunter, for example, made themselves known to the general public in 2018 at the Lyon e-sport, before qualifying a year later for the championships of the Fortnite world. Tournaments with a central role therefore, to which must be added a large pool of players: in 2021, 4.2 million French people played video games at a competitive level, according to the France Esports association, an increase of 900,000 compared to to 2020. In three years, this number has even doubled since the discipline gathered only 2 million followers in 2018.

Read also: Karmine Corp, an atypical club at the top of French e-sport

Beyond sports performances, French e-sport is also distinguished by its community aspect, much more marked than among its European neighbors. And for good reason, in recent years, many structures have developed around personalities already known and appreciated by the youngest: streamers. The Karmine Corp, for example, was built under the impetus of Kameto and Prime, two figures of the French-speaking Internet.

Kamel Kebir, alias Kamet0, and Amine Mekri, alias Prime, after an interview with Le Monde.  They pose a few minutes before a Karmine Corp stream in Paris on May 12, 2021.

“When there are people you like who launch a project, you will inevitably take a look. And if behind the project people like it, it’s easier to be federated than if it were a stranger”, explains Sakor Ros, president of Solary. Its structure, created in October 2017 by several recognized streamers, such as Chap or Jbzz, today brings together several hundred thousand supporters. “A lot of people said to us ‘I didn’t necessarily watch e-sport before, but when you launched the project, I got attached to the team, it makes you want to support'”, he says. Older structures also use this lever, such as the Vitality team, created in 2013, which now has ambassadors on social networks. “They allow the values ​​of the team to be propagatedexplains Fabien Devide, president of Vitality. To tell a story, to create a feeling of belonging and sympathy. »

With communities reaching over a million viewers, streamers have breathed new life into the discipline, creating what Sakor calls“sportingly”, a mix of competition and mainstream entertainment. E-sport touched before “mainly from rather well-to-do social classes, who had an appetite for computers and video games”, notes Nicolas Besombes. Now, aided by easier access to matches (most are now live on Twitch or YouTube), streamers have “reached a more popular, more diverse audience”.

Integration into daily life

With them, these new fans bring the culture of supporterism and the ultra. Placards and anthems prepared in advance, they give voice and person for their favorite team. The atmosphere, which now recalls that of major football matches, gives a whole new dimension to the tournaments. This is one of the reasons that motivated global superstar Rekkles to sign with Karmine Corp: “I watched them and supported them on the French stream and the feeling was so pleasant. (…) I knew it was going to be crazy when I joined them, but at this point, never”he testifies with the journalist Laure Valée.

During the in-between rounds of the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron confided to the site The Big Whale his desire to give more space to e-sport: “In this respect, we have a historic opportunity: that of the 2024 Olympic Games. It is up to us to take advantage of it to make the link between the Olympiads of the two worlds by hosting the biggest e-sports events in the world that year. » Even if this declaration was made in an electoral context, it remains revealing of the integration of discipline in the daily life of the French. More and more cities in France are hosting competitions, like Strasbourg, which hosted the final of the Trackmania Cup in 2019, or Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine) which will organize a day of LFL July 21. As for traditional sports clubs, they too are reducing the boundary with online sports. Since January 2020, Olympique Lyonnais has, for example, been a partner of the French team LDLC.

It must be said that the potential of the sector is attracting more and more investors. While they injected only 5 million euros in 2017, this figure rose to 29 million in 2019, according to a study by the Interministerial Center for Foresight and Anticipation of Economic Changes. A financial vitality which makes it possible to attract talented players from all over Europe and to offer ever more performances to the fans. A virtuous circle which shows that e-sport has succeeded in a few years in becoming, in the words of Nicolas Besombes, “a total social fact”.

Read also Paris, world capital of e-sport for a day (and more if you like)

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