The Kings League, pachanga football and a good show | Sports

There are a handful of fifteen-year-olds at the entrance to gate 34 of the port of Barcelona. They spend the cold and wet Sunday afternoon in a roundabout. “Watch out, an expensive car is coming,” shouts one of them. And he puts the rest on alert. Yours is an exception. Sunday afternoons are now, for those of his generation, afternoons to be hooked on Twitch. That is, to the computer, to the television or to the mobile. Any device with an internet connection that allows them to follow the Kings League, the league of streamers. A parallel universe in which the real and the virtual come together: a day of 7-a-side football matches, from four to nine at night, when the last one starts; and a series of programs on-line and live led by a dozen streamers, the communicators of the new era. A universe that has its meeting point in a large ship in the port of Barcelona, ​​beyond that access 34.

The structure hides a pavilion with a stand — day four was followed by on site 265 people, including a team from EL PAÍS—, a VAR room, booths for the streamers-presidents, a (small) VIP area and some showers. The nearby heating fields are outside. Also the offices or the production room, a prefabricated booth where the signal from more than 14 cameras is collected, including the one worn by the referee on his chest, for example, and from where it is broadcast for the official Kings League Twitch channel. , which receives an average of views in real time of more than 300,000 viewers. Or consumers. Or fans. Who knows what one should call what is considered almost a community of believers. Not in vain, the Kings has a larger audience —they have reached a million views between the different related channels— than most LaLiga matches. “Let’s see who sees a Rayo-Betis now,” Adri Contreras, one of the presidents and well-known content creator, even said. EITHER tiktokersince Tiktok is the network in which it began to accumulate visits.

Kings League realization hall.
Kings League realization hall.Kike Rincon (Kike Rincon)

On the track, on a manicured mantle of artificial turf, football. There was always football in our lives. Soccer —the usual one, 11 against 11—, indoor soccer, 7-a-side soccer, singles versus married matches, company leagues… This Kings League is little more than a party. It does not have the pim pam pum or the walls of futsal; neither are the transitions or the changes of direction that one can see in LaLiga; but the fact that the field is small offers other incentives: a capital speed of play and the facility for the fast counterattack. “Here the players play with great intensity, they have a lot of technique and a good one-on-one,” explains Joan Capdevila, a former soccer player and one of the stars of the competition.

Six play and the goalkeeper amateur with ex-professionals —some are better preserved than others: a cruel exercise to compare, for example, De la Red, for whom years have not passed, with Capdevila—, and are governed by rules as curious as they are malleable. Because here if something does not work, it is changed, as in modern companies.

From the stands, one attends the show oblivious to what is happening on the different Twitch channels. Pay attention to the game, of variable quality, and see how the lucky cards are raffled off, those that have been invented to make the show more entertaining: A 6 vs 6 comes out. Disappointment among the public. Lucky that a little later a 2 comes out vs 2, the first time in four days, which agitates the spirits of those present. It is also brought out by a guest of honor: David Broncano, who joins the movement, sitting in the box next to Gerard Piqué, the president and ideologue of the Kings League together with Ibai Llanos. For a short period of time the teams play it two against two. The most daring (and the smartest) are Porcinos, the Ibai Llanos team. They go out with a goalkeeper-player and achieve a clear superiority. With a magnificent Hugo Fraile (Second player until last summer) they take that duel and the game.

The attendees, guests (you cannot buy a ticket), are neither from one team nor from the other. Except for honorable exceptions. Rayo de Barcelona is followed by a mini tier of animation: two kids, a bass drum, a flag. There is, however, a lot of curious knowledge: ex-soccer players and coaches take advantage of the day to see, in person, what the topic is about. And they warn that this must be much more fun from the sofa at home because in this decorated pavilion one cannot listen to Ibai, or TheGrefg, or Piqué.

And so the afternoon goes by, between letters and penalty shootouts, like the ones that decide two of the duels that reached the final 40 minutes tied. They are career penalties. The player runs from the center circle, the goalkeeper from the goal line. And it would seem that, unlike conventional football, the goalkeeper has the chance to win, restless, gripping, while advancing and leaving the scorer without spaces. The tiebreaker between Annihilators and Saiyans is vibrant: with saved penalties, dribbling goals and hats that went to hell. The first ones won.

Equality prevails in the league, where there is no longer any unbeaten team. And they all keep dreaming of being in the final four of the month of March. The Camp Nou will open the doors to Piqué’s invention. And it will put to the test —more than 30,000 tickets have been sold— the viability of an event, more spectacle than sport, which, despite everything, puts traditional football before the prospect of reacting if it wants to attract and retain the younger public.

“The new generations are looking for another type of entertainment. This is an alternative to other sports”. Capdevila knows it because of her children, 12 and seven years old. “They teach me, they know everything.”

“What we want is for people to be entertained, to have a good time,” explains Kun Agüero, who has been on Twitch for two and a half years, chairs one of the clubs and even dared to play on the third day —and on the second. fourth, but his physique gave him four quality touches and little else: he retired with muscular discomfort— after leaving football due to a heart problem two years ago. “We knew it was going to have a lot of audience, although not that much,” he confesses.

Kun Agüero in a moment of the match against Pio FC on the fourth day of the Kings League.
Kun Agüero in a moment of the match against Pio FC on the fourth day of the Kings League.Kike Rincon

No one knows how long the life of this project will be, but its takeoff has been a success. Partly because, in times when pay television rules, Kosmos defends that the league will be “always free and open.” The profitability is given by the sponsors. Including big brands like McDonald’s, the latest to join the party. “Brands are becoming more and more interested. Obviously, the objective is that, after a significant investment, the competition is profitable”, explains Oriol Querol, director of Kosmos and CEO of the Kings League.

The keys to the success of this event have a lot to do with the initial idea, which “was born from a reflection on how traditional football has been losing interest for a number of consumers,” says Querol. From the rules to the broadcast to the referee, they thought about how to modify every aspect of the game to make it more attractive. “We add people who have a large audience, who are used to doing things together, but who had never done anything like this before,” he adds. The surprise was also catching a follower profile that they did not count on: older and not exclusively male. “There are people who have gone the other way, because they have entered Twitch to follow the Kings League, not the other way around,” he says. For all these reasons they have decided to exploit the model and set up a women’s league: the Queens League begins on May 6 —same competition, same system, identical salaries—, which will celebrate the draft in April and will air on Saturdays.

You can follow EL PAÍS Sports on Facebook Y Twitteror sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.