With the Singapore Premier League (SPL) suspended since March 24 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has starved local football fans of any live action from their favourite teams for an unprecedented lengthy period. But this weekend, their long and painful wait could finally be over as the SPL teams are set to do battle again, albeit on an entirely different platform.
Eight of the Singapore-based SPL teams will be facing off with each other but this time, it will not be on the familiar grass pitches that fans have been so accustomed to. Instead, teams will be trying to outplay and outfox each other in the enthralling video game of eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer (eFootball PES) 2020.
Officially named as eSPL, the competition will premiere on July 11 as the league’s inaugural edition of their own football video game tournament, with two footballers from each SPL club sent as representatives.
While esports tournaments featuring football players duelling with one another is not a new idea in the market, the eSPL will be hoping to stand out through its carefully crafted aesthetics. Through in-depth customisation, the tournament will showcase all eight participating teams decked out in their original matchday jerseys, with both players and officials represented as well. Fans can thus expect to feel a sense of familiarity and identity towards their favourite teams while watching the tournament unfold.
Esports has traditionally not been in the purview of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and there are doubts about whether this combination of esports and traditional football will continue in the long run. However, according to the FAS, they are confident that such competitions are here to stay and views the inaugural eSPL as part of a larger goal to broaden the domestic game into the uncharted 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. 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,” explained FAS Director of Commercial and Marketing, Jonathan Wong, who was speaking at the tournament draw.
“Today’s football fans, particularly the youth, are also avid gamers as they translate their love for the game on the grass pitch to the virtual arena. By introducing the eSPL tournament, we want to provide another avenue to reach out to a younger generation who have keen interest in both football and eSports. This also ties in with our overarching strategy to extend the reach of SPL beyond physical football alone, as we look to officially introduce e-tournaments in the future.”
On top of the eSPL, the Singapore Women’s National Team footballers will also get a taste of the esports event through a small knockout tournament featuring four of their own players. And one of them would be Nur Raudhah Kamis, who is looking forward to the event.
Expressing her excitement, she said: “I feel that this is a good initiative as it allows football players like ourselves to come together outside of the actual sport itself. Furthermore, with our football season currently on hold, it gives us an opportunity to continue engaging with fans in a safe manner and also to stay connected to the sport we love.
“I am definitely looking forward to getting together with my fellow teammates and to compete against each other in the e-sports arena this time!”
As it could still be some time before live football action resumes in Singapore, this might not be too bad of a substitute for hungry football fans in the meantime.
Photos courtesy of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).