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Published on December 7th, 2017 | by Patrik Kuitunen

Can competitive gaming become a mainstream sport in Finland?

Esports is gaining more ground in Finland with help of a new league and a solid base of professional and semi-professional gamers. Can this new sport become a trendsetter in the north just like it has in other countries worldwide?

Competitive gaming or eSports is a growing trend globally that has divided the sporting world into two camps. The majority still don’t consider it a proper sport and barely pay any attention to  competitive gaming.

On the other side are those who are doing their best to push gaming into a mainstream position, determined to make it one of the most popular competitive sports in the world.

One such entity resides in Finland, the Finnish eSports League or FEL. It was founded in 2015 by a group of passionate gamers who shared a history of competitive gaming.

Since then, FEL has grown into the biggest eSports league in Finland and is expecting more rapid growth in 2018, with eSports being on the rise worldwide.

“There has never been anything like FEL in Finland before,” said the league’s account manager Matti Kailanto.

“We saw an opening because of a large group of professional gamers and regular gamers who consider competitive gaming as a serious occupation or a sport. There were a lot of tournaments but no league activity and that’s what we are providing,”

Limitless participation

The significant advantage eSports has compared to a lot of others is the fact that there are no gender or age limits or restrictions on making it as a professional.

“We have a lot of 18-24 year old men playing, but we do want to offer everybody and anybody a shot a participation. Our core group is basically everybody who wants to play,” added Kailanto.

“Women are taking more and more part in eSports and we are definitely seeing a rise in numbers at league level. This is still a fresh sport that can offer the same opportunities to everybody, no matter who you are.

“Everyone has a smart phone or a computer these days and that’s all you need. However, just like in other sports, becoming champion is demanding and requires hours of systematic training.

“But it’s still one of the most easily approachable hobbies out there because of current technology,” Kailanto explained.

Not child’s play

Rauli ‘zumpp’ Rinta-Aho is a 29-year-old competitive gamer from Finland. His most recent achievement was worth $7,500 when he won the Hearthstone Card Game Grand Prix tournament held recently in Sweden.

The tournament attracted 250 participants and Rinta-Aho took home the biggest prize.

‘In the land of ice hockey, a new sport such as competitive gaming definitely has a lot of obstacles to overcome before it can claim its place at sport’s top table’

“Some people watch TV or do other stuff during their free time, but I play video games,” he told me. “Since I was little, I have always played all kinds of games. Then after a while I started playing online poker and now I play Heartstone. I do have a full-time job, so competitive gaming is still a hobby.”

Despite the easy access, making it as a professional gamer takes time and dedication. Rinta-Aho has demonstrated impressive potential already.

But as he approaches his thirties, he is unsure whether eSports is the right career path for him since it has still not reached mainstream status in Finland.

“I don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future. I know that [in other countries] eSports has become quite big and is treated as a professional sport. There’s been a rise of new teams in Finland compared to last year, so I’m expecting that it will become a proper professional sport here as well.”

Exposure

The gamer has hopes that companies like FEL will help eSports cement its status as an accepted sport amongst the masses in Finland.

“These first seasons have done wonders for the sport here. The league has been listening to the players and taken their wishes into consideration regarding formats and scheduling.” he said.

“Regular live streams of tournaments and finals are also a big plus in regards to getting more exposure,” summarised Rinta-Aho.

In the land of ice hockey, a new sport such as competitive gaming definitely has a lot of obstacles to overcome before it can claim its place at sport’s top table.

But with the help of FEL and the ever-growing community of gamers, one could expect a slow but steady eSports invasion in the coming years.

Feature image courtesy of Michael Arsers via Flickr Creative Commons.

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