MMA and Esports Could Be a Knockout Combo: Here’s Why

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As we know, the MMA industry is huge. With an estimated 300 million people considering themselves fans of MMA, the market for clubs and studios in the United States alone is believed to be worth $9 billion. Dana White’s UFC has a $10 billion market cap, and other brands, such as Bellator, are grabbing market share with their main events as well.

That stands up when compared to the esports market. Online virtual sports have become insanely popular in recent years, especially since 2020, when virtual sports were the only entertainment the world could enjoy. Since then, the market has grown alarmingly; an estimated 285 million esports enthusiasts worldwide contribute to a market worth around $4.3 billion in 2024. That poses the question of why there is no thriving MMA esports scene.

MMA in video games

Video games have been around for more than half a century, and they’ve certainly progressed at an impressive rate. However, there hasn’t been a truly great MMA simulation that has blown gamers away. The titles have been good but not great; they are not quite challengers for an esports place.

The most recent release is EA Sports UFC 5, which dropped at the end of last year. There’s a career mode and the online ‘fight week’ feature, but while it was described as a giant leap forward for gamers, it still wasn’t perfect. It didn’t offer a long-term challenge, and that’s been the bane of MMA games throughout history. When you consider the best MMA game, according to Metacritic, is from 2000, and none of the top five are from the last decade, you begin to get a feel for the problem.

Why no esports?

To put it simply, there are no games worthy of including as an esport. That’s not just MMA’s issue; it’s a combat sports problem across the board. Hockey, football, soccer, basketball….. the list of sports with thriving esports scenes goes on. However, these are all team sports, producing energy-filled matches dripping with adrenalin. They’re also a spectator’s delight; one of the biggest pieces of advice offered by these esports betting tips is for fans to watch games and study rosters, tactics, and approaches. That’s easy with team sports but with a three-round fight in UFC or a boxing match that is slow and tactical? Fans would soon be turning off. It could be argued there doesn’t seem to be a hunger for such a title, but that’s not entirely accurate. Online forums can easily be found asking why there’s no thriving MMA esports scene.

Developers need to harness the popularity of MMA, and indeed boxing, but present it in such a manner that the culture around esports can also thrive. That means attracting viewers, a few gamblers and plenty lots of interest.

What’s the potential in the future?

If developers can produce a game that grabs this, the potential is huge. The esports market is thriving, and it’s been proven that fans of a certain sport will engage with the corresponding esport much more often than something they’re not familiar with. A study on the behavior of sports fans shifting to esports suggested they found engaging with the new platform easier because of their pre-existing interest in sports and even felt more connected. That suggests that should a developer find a suitable platform or title for esports, a portion of those 300 million global MMA fans would transition to watching and engaging.

There’s the financial reward for doing so as well. Call of Duty is a behemoth of the esports scene and has made Activision Blizzard somewhere in the region of $30 million. Fortnite, by Epic Games, is credited with generating around $9 billion, while EA Sports was making around $1.8 billion per quarter from their FIFA Soccer franchise. Those are staggering numbers, but that only accounts for sales, not the peripheral culture. As well as game revenue, there’s a lot of other money floating around in esports; prize pools for some tournaments, such as Dota 2’s The International 2021, reached $40 million on the back of heavy sponsorship. In the world of streaming, in 2022 alone, esports sponsorship is believed to have reached $837 million, media rights $207 million, publisher fees $130 million, and merchandise $107 million. Then there’s the betting market and the money it generates, as well as a multitude of other revenue streams.

The esports world is awash with money for those that get it right, in terms of players, streamers and developers. Sadly, without the latter getting it right, the gateway won’t be opened for MMA fans. However, given the numbers we’ve just mentioned, it will surely only be a matter of time before EA Sports, owner of the UFC franchise and a company with a proven record of impressing in the esports scene, find the perfect formula.

Only then will MMA be ready to deliver a knockout blow to the esports world.

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