Why AFL’s Adelaide Crows are investing in esports

Max Melit Columnist

By , Max Melit is a Roar Expert

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    Legacy eSports in their OPL semi-final victory (Photo: Legacy eSports)

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    AFL’s Adelaide Crows recently announced their acquisition of staple Australian esports organisation Legacy Esports.

    To many who don’t follow or understand the role esports plays in the current Australian media landscape, this move can easily bring about the dismissal of scepticism and doubt, and understandably so.

    The acquisition, however, has further layers of depth beyond just “the capitalisation on a millennial trend” that the press release pushes forward. Although that is certainly the primary force driving the move for the Crows, as it is for almost all organisations getting involved in esports right now, one also has to look at their focus on League of Legends in particular.

    From a marketing perspective, their statements cover the reasoning behind investing – specifically in regards to the demographic and industry growth – but there are important factors that aren’t as easy to explain to the uninitiated.

    If you have no idea at all what esports is, and want to have a base understanding before reading further, here is an introductory piece designed just for you.

    The Australian esports ecosystem currently exists in a very interesting place. The two primary titles grappling for control over the number one spot for most popular Australian esport are League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).

    As of right now at least, one is pretty clearly getting the better of the other.

    Both games run diametrically opposed in their approaches to existing in the Australian esports marketplace.

    League of Legends is run and controlled almost entirely by the same company which developed the game – Riot Games. As such, it’s very uniform, streamlined and stable in how it runs.

    Riot has designed the ‘Oceanic Pro League’ (OPL) similarly to many traditional sports formats and runs their broadcast in many ways similar to a sports broadcast.
    Teams play weekly games over a split where winning earns them ladder points, the top sides go through playoffs and the grand finals are the penultimate conclusion to that split.

    There are two splits in a year, a designated off-season, an in-theory ‘sanctioning body’, high focus on professionalism, and an overall polish. Importantly, being in the OPL also guarantees organisations league stipends from the developer, giving team owners comfort in having a guaranteed figure to build their side around.

    In short, League of Legends offers a lot of positives to a non-endemic organisation coming into the space, stability, familiar sports models, guaranteed stipends and probably very neat pie charts in pitches.

    Yet, despite this, League of Legends is by no means the biggest title at this moment in time.

    Following recent investment and a flux of international attention, the number one spot belongs to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and pretty firmly too.

    Unlike League of Legends, CS:GO’s developer had taken an entirely hands-off approach, letting third parties, which in the case of Australian esports is very grassroots, run the scene.

    Organisations, teams and event coordinators, nearly all of which started as a group of mates doing something for fun, are now some of the key scene drivers.

    There is no set split or weekly play in CS:GO; third-parties can have multiple leagues going on at the same time, big events pop up sporadically and very little emphasis is put on a uniform structure.

    This lack of developer structure has allowed the CS:GO scene to rise and grow entirely organically, allowing the space to conform around (more or less) to the wants and needs of the community.

    This makes for a strong viewership base and gives international companies like ESL the opportunity to work with their domestic branch and bring big events to Australia. It does not, however, instil any confidence in investors like the Crows.

    Adelaide Crows AFL fans at Adelaide Oval

    (Adriano Rotolo/flickr)

    They key in the Adelaide club’s acquisition is that they did not simply buy out the League of Legends team slot and its managers, running it under their name and sponsors. Rather, they acquired the entire Legacy organisation. That means they also acquire the Legacy CS:GO side and other smaller teams as well.

    So although we see the primary focus put on the League of Legends side, they haven’t totally dismissed the strong yet frustratingly complex CS:GO side of things either.

    This is very important for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is that they aren’t coming into the overall esports space with the intention of an easy, quick bid to win millennial support. While that might be an implied hope, there is a clear, more long-term plan in place.

    Where esports has historically swallowed big investors whole is when they come into it with misinformed intentions and no backup plan or ‘wide net’. It seems, at least as an outsider looking in, the Crows have some broader ambitions – which is a good thing for them and the scene as a whole.

    The key will be to see whether they actually capitalise on their ‘big fish in a small pond’ budget and try to make the most out of their other entities in titles that are far bigger than League of Legends – even if they aren’t as stable.

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