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What Holds Back Boxing as an Esport?

Esports games have become a growing international fascination over the last few decades. From small tournaments held in literal basements, modern eSports tournaments can take up entire stadiums and put millions of dollars on the line. Yet, despite how successful eSports have become, proper sports games like those based on boxing are rare entries in the mainstream arena. Why is this, and what would have to be addressed for boxing to become a respected eSports competitor in the future?

Boxing is More than the Sport

The first challenge when adapting boxing to eSports comes from how boxing is more than just the time between when the bell is rung and when the last punch is thrown. Boxing is about the journey towards the match, and everything the fighters experience until that point. Their training, their trajectories, the press conferences, all of this real-life drama goes into making a match stand out, and it’s not possible in the same way in a virtual match.

Similar issues appear when looking at the organizations and fandom that lie just outside of the match and the players. Sports betting is a huge example here, as it reflects the overall passion and excitement of fans towards any sport. Whether looking at boxing, soccer, golf, or football, a developed wagering environment is important for the visibility of a sport. Each eSport has to evolve its own infrastructure to compete in this way, and boxing games haven’t yet reached this point.

Few Video Games Compete on the Main Stage

The biggest and most popular Esports games like DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike 2 are hugely profitable, and this leads developers to chase similar success. What they often fail to take into account is that eSports popularity is practically a zero-sum game. For a new title to succeed quickly, it has to pull players from other games, and this is a huge ask.

A new game needs to draw players away from a title they have hundreds or thousands of hours in, where they might have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on their accounts. In the case of sequels like Counter-Strike 2 or Street Fighter 6, pulling players from one generation to the next is simple, but for unproven genres like boxing, this is far more challenging.

Hope for the Future

The one big hope for the future of boxing in eSports comes from the steady growth of gaming and related industries. Boxing betting, to turn back to a previous example, is more popular now than ever. Modern websites help players find matches, understand the minutia, and easily place bets for a healthier overall environment. Esports are also more successful than ever, and new ground is constantly being explored for untapped potential.

What this means is that, as long as boxing games keep trying, and as long as developers understand what makes existing eSports popular, there are real possibilities that boxing could one day be a serious Esport. The only question is which developer could do the sport the most justice, and whether or not the license could be kept out of negative market forces like EA and Ubisoft.