Euro football will be played well in 2020 ... but on video games! Despite the postponement of the European Championship to 2021, UEFA has maintained its "esport" version which will be played online this weekend, to "reach a new audience, consuming the sport in a completely different way".
The "real" Euro being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, France's trophy hopes in 2020 are no longer based on Kylian Mbappé's crampons but on the flashes of two aces on the controller for the game Pro Evolution Soccer.
"That's it, it's all up to us!" Confides to AFP Lotfi Derradji, 21, one of the two players of the France eFoot team, considered to be the "big favorite" of the first "eEuro" Of the history.
"We receive a lot of messages from people who are passionate about this competition. We will represent the French through the console", adds teammate Walid Rachid Tebane, 26, triple world champion in the discipline individually.
Stake ? A prestigious title, of course, but also a "prize money" of 40,000 euros for the winners, a significant sum for players whose monthly club salaries vary between 2,000 and 6,000 euros.
The competition between the 16 qualified nations was to take place in "physics" in London between the semi-finals and the final of Euro-2020 in an overheated atmosphere. But the health crisis has upset the plans.
- Looks "more riveted on us" -
"We are a little disappointed but on the other hand, it is a good thing: the eyes will be more focused on us", hopes Lotfi, who notably trained with Antoine Griezmann, a great video game lover, during the confinement.
In a context of almost general stopping of competitions since March, with only a very recent recovery in Germany, will international football enthusiasts be ready to follow the eEuro?
"We have seen the multiplication of esports competitions in the last two-three months because it was an alternative for fans and sportsmen," said AFP Guy-Laurent Epstein, UEFA marketing director, citing the examples of Formula 1 and tennis "which had a fairly significant audience".
"We finally realize that weaned sports fans would be ready to watch esports competitions when they had never considered it before," he added.
With "the most global" distribution possible via its usual TV broadcasters, the digital channels of its sponsors and the social networks of its member federations, UEFA's objective is to bring together "a minimum of 4 million people on the two days "of the tournament.
For this, the European body builds on the craze of "countries that we are not used to seeing in the final phase of our usual competitions", such as Luxembourg, and an attractive format where each participant plays with the nation he represents.
- Complement to "real football" -
Against Greece, Israel and Austria in pools, the Blues will each play a "single" by adding the scores of the two matches. In the event of a tie, the confrontation is settled by a third support match.
And in order not to favor the big nations with the best numbers in the game, the overall level of the teams has been harmonized while keeping the identity of each player.
"A Mbappé will always be more fluid than a Mitroglou (Greece) for example, but on the other hand it will not be stronger than him", explains Lotfi.
An egalitarian system likely to make the eEuro as attractive as the "real" Euro in 10 or 20 years?
"No, this will never replace football! We are not going to lie to each other," said Walid. "It is not easy for people to accept that there can be competition for seated people."
Instead of seeing the emergence of esports, in particular via games like Fornite or League of Legends, as "a competitive risk", UEFA rather wants to seize it "as an opportunity" to promote its "competitions" major ", like the Champions League which also has its e-tournament since 2019.
"We are committed to esports to complement what we are doing in real football," says Epstein. "We will continue to invest in the future, no doubt about it. I think there will be a big boom following this eEuro".
© 2020 AFP