In the vocabulary of mad inventors, brains with a thousand ideas, this thing has a name. It’s called a nice boost. On April 23, 2022, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron decide, on the eve of the second round of the presidential election, to take a stroll on the beaches of Le Touquet. The presidential candidate then wears a conspicuous tricolor hooded sweatshirt that reads “Team Vitality”.

“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing…the one at the store too,” recalls Fabien Devide. The 30-year-old, co-founder in 2013 of this professional e-sport team – competitive practice of an online video game, alone or with others – is better known on the web under the pseudonym “Neo”. “We ran out of stock in less than an hour!” It’s the revenge of the geeks! “, laughs the one who has been honored with the prestigious ranking of “30 under 30” in the category “Sport

A few months away from blowing ten years of Team Vitality, “Neo” can breathe a sigh of relief. His professional team of Counter-Strike Global Operation (CS: GO, a team-based online shooter of 5) has just won his ticket to the BLAST. tv Paris Major (the equivalent of the World Cup in the discipline) which will take place for the first time in France for 10 years, from May 8 to 21. An event that will be followed by tens of millions of people around the world.

To explain this presidential spotlight in 2022 on a seemingly anecdotal sector, it is important to look at the numbers. According to the France Esports 2022 barometer, 10.8 million Internet users aged 15 and over are interested in the discipline and, among them, 1.3 million play exclusively in ranked games and/or register for competitions. By way of comparison, in France, only football is approaching two million licensees.

In 2013, however, when Neo launched Team Vitality, and its emblem representing a bee, with his friend and colleague Nicolas Maurer, “esports was not considered a sport, not even a livelihood…” Whatever, the two friends have the ambition to develop the future leader of the sector in France. To do this, the first takes on the role of a team coach on Call of Duty (CoD) – a famous first-person shooter video game – while the second takes care of everything related to administration. “There was no model to follow at the start… The main difficulty was to convince sponsors to follow us and to trust us. We were lucky to have been able to count on CoD players with large communities on YouTube, like Gotaga (4 million YouTube subscribers, editor’s note), who acted as spotlights on the discipline. “The team quickly strings together good results, on the most popular games.

To achieve their goal, Fabien and Nicolas invest heavily. Between 2017 and 2022, Team Vitality multiplies fundraising for a total amount of more than 50 million euros. In 2018, the club broke the bank to recruit CS:GO’s Kylian Mbappé, Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut (whose monthly salary is estimated at several tens of thousands of euros and the value of his contract at several million euros). euros) or when they pay nearly 8 million euros to join the prestigious LEC, the biggest European closed league (a league without relegation, like the NBA in the United States) of the game League of Legends. “A ticket valued five times more expensive today,” says the young president. At the end of 2019, the team inaugurates new premises in the heart of Paris, boulevard Sébastopol. Called V.Hive, it brings together over nearly 1,000 square meters, the team’s offices, a cybercafé and a training area for the team’s professionals.

“The esports economy has similarities to traditional sports, with ticketing, merchandising, etc. », Comments Vincent Chaudel of the Economic Observatory of Sport. But unlike football for example, for which you generally have to subscribe to a channel to follow the matches, generating broadcasting rights, in e-sport everything is (still) free. “It remains the weak link in the economy at the moment. The rights are not yet negotiable and you can only monetize through advertising, “says Vincent Chaudel. But the outlook is encouraging. According to a Business Wire report, the global esports market is expected to reach $12.49 billion by 2030,…

Football is one of the main sources of inspiration for “Neo”, who drew on the works of great managers, such as Alex Ferguson, legendary coach of the Manchester United club, Carlo Ancelotti or the Frenchman Arsène Wenger. at Arsenal, to dig up the recipes for success. “In all humility, if I had to refer to a president of the football club, it would rather be that of Olympique Lyonnais Jean-Michel Aulas, he specifies. Like him, I sometimes overplay bad faith, turning myself into the team’s lightning rod during hard times.” As in a traditional football club, Team Vitality can count on an association of assiduous supporters during competitions, the “Golden Hornets”, which launched in 2018.

And why not a stadium, to continue spinning the football metaphor? The following year, the Stade de France began looking for a resident club. Neo just thought, “Why not us?” We found it ironic that the first resident of the largest Stade de France came from e-sport. It’s a way for us to get to a high place of performance and for them to learn from us on the digital side.” The team has since organized residences for its professional teams in a part of the enclosure, called V.Performance.

With a free spirit, he can concentrate on the other aspects that are close to his heart in the development of digital sport. Starting with diversity in video games; according to figures from Sell (union of leisure software publishers), women represent 50% of occasional players but only 5 to 6% of professionals… Team Vitality thus announced, on April 3, the creation of the “French Bees”, her women’s team on LoL. “This low representation remains an anomaly to be fixed in our industry,” he explains. It is up to us to educate our community from an early age on diversity”. The next step revolves around prevention related to cases of harassment on the Internet: “we sometimes forget that we have influence, he admits. We have to be the first educators on these key subjects, they are real scourges of social networks which make them not always places where we feel good today”.

If there is one who does not lose a crumb of this development, it is Emmanuel Macron. In 2022, in an interview with online media The Big Whale, the last before the second round, Emmanuel Macron claimed that video games were “an important component of French cultural soft power” and that he wanted to have “a strategic approach to continue to create the conditions that will make France the country of video games. »

On January 16, 2023, the Ministries of Sport, Culture and Digital Transition therefore brought together various players in the sector to consolidate the government’s 2020-2025 plan in this area. Fabien “Neo” Devide pushes him to go further. “National Education could also have its place. We would like to include a training component for young professionals under the age of 16″.

In the meantime, France has just positioned itself to host, in 2024, the second Olympic Week of e-sport, the equivalent of the online sports Olympics. Before perhaps for the discipline to integrate the high mass of Olympism and make e-sport a sport like the others? “That’s the point of the story,” hopes “Neo.”

Figures to make you dizzyVitality is 12 million fans who follow the results of the seven teams involved in six different games, for a budget equivalent to a French second division football club. On the Internet, these 2.0 athletes compete in shooting games that oppose terrorists and law enforcement (Counter-Strike Global Offensive); sports simulations (Fifa); or the hugely popular League of Legends, which pits two teams of people against each other with the goal of destroying the opponent’s base.