Gamers can attest to the fact that esports and offline sports are of two completely different disciplines. But that did not dampen the spirits of Singapore’s football players, who resumed their rivalries online over two weeks of competitions in the Singapore Premier League’s (SPL) very own football video game tournament. The Tampines Rovers emerged victoriously.
Officially termed eSPL, the tournament premiered on 11 July 2020 and was a joint initiative between the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Redd+E Sports, Zenway Productions, and The Gym. And although the tournament was likely born out of circuit breaker requirements, it was part of a pilot project testing the league’s plans to push domestic games into the esports arena.
“With COVID-19 having curtailed our plans for the 25th anniversary season, the introduction of the eSPL is a timely one which will allow football fans to catch some sporting action featuring players from our SPL while waiting for the resumption of the league,” said Jonathon Wong, the FAS Director of Commercial and Marketing.
The eSPL tournament featured all eight Singapore-based football teams, with two representative players from each club competing in the football simulation video game eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer (eFootball PES) 2020.
Teams were easily identifiable, with eSPL having used the game’s built-in editing mode to dress in-video football players in the playing teams’ actual jerseys.
“Great effort has been put into localising the look of the teams so that SPL fans can have a stronger sense of association to their favourite teams when watching the games,” said Wong.
The duo that represented Tampines Rovers in eSPL were Haziq Mikhail and Joel Chew, who went from strength to strength pursuing three straight victories to finally defeat Lion City Sailors despite a rocky start at the beginning of the tournament.
This was not Chew’s first victory in the esports football space, who recently won the StayandPlay Asian series 2020. However, neither Haziq nor Chew were familiar with the Pro Evolution Soccer video game which they competed on.
“It really feels great to help Tampines Rovers be crowned as the first-ever eSPL champion, and it is always nice to win something,’ said Chew.
There were also two mini-tournaments that took place alongside the key eSPL tournament. One of them was a women’s tournament which featured four players from the Women’s National Team, including Lutfiah Hannah who won.
There was also a celebrity tournament that saw SGAG and the Sailors in a face-off, where the Sailors won.
Although not in a stadium, the tournament garnered a high viewership after being broadcast on Singtel TV (mio Sports 111), StarHub TV (Hub Sport 2), and meWATCH as well as streamed on the SPL Facebook page. The tournament recorded north of 1 million impressions and 154,000 views over to weekends of competitions.
Keeping abreast of non-physical requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, eSPL had set out to keep the local sporting landscape, as well as to merge the elements of sport and entertainment in times where both forms are scarce.
“The eSPL has demonstrated that eSports and our Singapore Premier League can complement each other well, judging by the encouraging numbers of fans tuning in to our Facebook page to cheer on their favourite SPL clubs in the virtual arena,” said Wong.
The pilot project was concluded by FAS to be successful and as a marker of new milestones for SPL.
“We will continue looking into more creative ways to bring SPL action to fans as we work towards progressing together with the evolving sporting landscape so as to always remain relevant,” shared Wong.
The eSPL tournament’s finals took place on 19 July 2020. Fans can still watch all matches on the SPL Facebook page.