Is Football actually ready for the Esports revolution?


This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Trevor Keane – Fans engagement and eSports Consultant

I recently attended an Esports event and got involved in a discussion on Football and Esports. An interesting and timely topic given the now seemingly daily news emerging from clubs in Europe.

The question, not quite quoted verbatim, but positioned as follows, was; “We want to get into Esports but we are not sure how and why”. It came from the representative of a well-known Premier League club.

My response at the time was if Esports is part of an over strategy for the business, not the team, then it makes sense to explore it further.

I added that if the club struggles with the content they offer fans on their websites – conservative news that is afraid to touch the boundaries that popular sites like Ladbible for example explore then they will struggle with having professional e-sports players don their jersey and play ‘shoot-em-ups’.

I have thought a lot since on that. Obviously there is huge interest in E-Sports but the fragmented approach to it by Sports clubs is on one hand almost disrespectful to an emerging sport with talented individuals.

The interest in Esports is being driven by a desire for club chairmen and their digital reports to reach a younger generation. Generation Z. The digital generation. The very ones that prefer highlights over live games, streaming instead of satellite and think Facebook is passe.

Clubs want a way to connect with them and then convert them to their brand and see Esports as the way to do this. Naturally then it would make sense that they would assume that PES and EA FIFA are the vehicles to achieve this.

Between the two games, approx. 17 million copies are sold annually with the latter the dominant force and market leader.

We know some of the studies behind video-games. That rather than be a driver of lazy, introvert and isolated behavior they can actually promote growth in physical participation. If you do a neat trick on FIFA/PES chances are you want to replicate in real life.

However the sudden focus on Esports as a digital tool for clubs is leading to a disjointed approach.

X-Sports or extreme Sports grew in popularity in the 1990s but was there a clamor for football clubs to jump on the bandwagon and use Parajumping or Powerboating as a way to reach a new audience?

The same needs to be applied to Esports. FIFA/PES are just two publishers in a very competitive market that involves multiple gaming titles and an already very global reach.

If the English are credited with bringing football to the world then the Koreans and Americans can high five each other for their role in its cyber version being adopted by the likes of Manchester City, PSG and more.

The huge focus in both countries where filled out arena are creating a modern day sporting star have led to the huge focus on Esports. Brands, like clubs want to be involved and reach a new demographic, therefore it is no surprise that the business is expected to be a $1.23 billion dollar business by 2019.

But for this to be a success, clubs clamoring to get involved need to take a step back. We have recently seen Ligue 1 reveal their intention to launch a full e-sports league. Great news and one no doubt that will be replicated across the other big 4 leagues.

However this is going to continue the patchy approach. Sports clubs around Europe are not just that, they are sporting organisations. Barcelona’s reputation is built on football but they also focus on Basketball, Ice Hockey, Rugby Union and Rugby League.

E-Sports needs to fall under this umbrella. It needs to be a separate arm of a sports business to allow it to have its own character. Sure it can be part of the football’s clubs strategy and they would be obvious cross-overs but there is a bigger picture here.

Schalke, Wolfsburg and Valencia are three that seems to be on target for this approach. The two clubs have decided not to just have FIFA players on their roster but to in fact have e-sports teams that compete in popular title such as League of Legends and HearthStone.

It is entire division of the club. It has its own objectives, its own management and budgets not to mention its own focus.

This is not about handing a professional Esports player a jersey and having him play against fans and football players to create content. This is about recognizing the bigger picture of what Esports is about.

Focus and strategy are required and clubs that adopt this approach will benefit in the long run and reach their audience and derive the revenue they desire.

PSG, Santos, Schalke, Valencia and Lisbon have dedicated twitter accounts for their Esports teams while Manchester City and West Ham United do not. – credit Result Sports

Sportego has advised clubs looking to break into Esports and are involved in the Celtic Esports League – a new league for clubs lacking resources to enter into the world in a dedicated and focused fashion.

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