The world of eSports has now become so popular that some experts believe professional football clubs will not survive the coming decades without having their own eSports team. Newzoo’s release of its 2017 Global Esports Market Report suggests revenues in the eSports industry would reach $696 million in 2017, rising to $1.5 billion by the turn of the next decade. Much of that revenue growth will be due to brand sponsorship, with professional sports teams fast acknowledging the marketing benefits of running their own eSports outfit.
Evolve or die: The importance of eSports
Leading eSports commentator and presenter, Paul Chaloner, who has his own eSports agency called Code Red Esports, believes professional football teams are finding it increasingly difficult to entice the next generation of fans to games. Chaloner believes that virtual versions of the Premier League and the English Football Leagues are perhaps the only way to maintain the exposure of even the world’s biggest football clubs. Manchester City and West Ham United have blazed the trail for professional football clubs in the UK, transitioning into eSports by developing their own FIFA teams. In fact, it was the Hammers who dipped their toes into the water first, signing up professional FIFA gamer, Sean Allen to lead their team. It turned out to be an excellent strategic move for West Ham, as Allen went on to finish runner-up in the eSports FIFA World Cup in 2016. Furthermore, West Ham recently teamed up with Betway and eSports team Ninjas in Pyjamas to try to teach two West Ham players, Michail Antonio and Javier Hernandez how to play Counter-Strike:GO as part of raising the Hammers’ eSports profile.
Manchester City soon followed suit by signing up their first dedicated eSports professional, Kiera ‘Kez’ Brown in the summer of 2016. The 18-year-old would represent City at a string of eSports tournaments around Europe and beyond. City’s vice-president of media and innovation, Diego Gigliani, acknowledged that eSports is continuing to “gain momentum” and that it was a sensible option for City to “be part of the action” and “get closer” to their fans, many of which now religiously play EA Sports’ FIFA online and offline. City followed up the signing of Kez Brown with their second dedicated eSports professional at the end of last year. Danish teen, Marcus ‘ExpectSporting’ Jorgensen signed as the club’s dedicated PlayStation 4 gamer. Jorgensen prevailed in the world’s first FIFA Interactive Club World Cup in August 2017, outperforming a string of fellow eSports professionals representing other top European football clubs such as Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Sampdoria and Valencia. City then added reigning FIWC PlayStation World Champion, Kai ‘Deto’ Wollin to their PS4 FIFA ranks, enhancing their PS4 team.
Using eSports to tease upcoming real-life sporting events
eSports is also becoming a means of marketing real-life contests too. Manchester City were due to play FC Basel in their Champions League last 16 encounter and the teams’ eSports pros faced off against each other as a preview to the main event. City’s pro, Marcus Jorgensen partnered with City fan, Mike Bates, to face Basel’s pro gamer, Tim ‘The StrxngeR’ Katnawatos and one of Basel’s supporters in a two-legged battle. eSports gives professional sports teams the chance to branch out their brand into other sectors of sports. Where some professional teams have established their own professional women’s team or even a branded basketball team, eSports is another avenue to explore. While Kez Brown was signed up to Manchester City he hosted his own YouTube shows and streamed live on Twitch, with all videos comprehensively branded in Manchester City badges and sky blue colours. This unique content ensures more possibilities for fans to digest the brand via their website, on social media platforms and using various tech.
FIFA is not the only video game that football clubs are beginning to explore. Teams further afield in Europe, such as Schalke 04 and Besiktas, have put together professional eSports teams to compete in other leading eSports tournaments such as League of Legends. Schalke were a definite trailblazer for alternative eSports when they bought team Element’s EU League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) spot, as well as the team’s roster. Schalke have since developed their eSports team, snapping up professional gamers to represent the German Bundesliga club in FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES). There’s no doubt that eSports has now become an important platform for the world’s leading football clubs to futureproof their brands in real-life and digital worlds.