Creating eSports league “maybe no different” than creating a women’s league: AFL

Stirling Coates Roar Guru

By , Stirling Coates is a Roar Guru

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    Months after the Adelaide Crows announced they had purchased Sydney-based eSports franchise Legacy, the AFL’s general manager of growth, digital and audiences Darren Birch has claimed the league is investigating the possibility of more of its clubs branching into the world of competitive video gaming.

    In an interview with Sports Business Daily, Birch said his perspective of the video gaming world was changed by a conference he attended in New York before the season began.

    “We’ve had a console game for a long time and we’ve always thought, “Where do we go in this gaming space?”” he said.

    But after seeing a large portion of the conference dedicated to eSports, Birch said he saw “the opportunity to connect with a new and broader audience for our brand.”

    According to Birch, more than two thirds of the recently-created AFLW’s audience had never been to an AFL game before and, with clubs already branching out into other sports like netball, the potential for officially affiliated eSports franchises to bring an entirely new audience to AFL-sanctioned content is enormous.

    While Birch admits it’s unlikely eSports fans would necessarily start watching AFL football as a result of any partnership, he also claimed that wasn’t very important.

    “It has a significant interest to your club’s sponsors and stakeholders that are looking to connect to a millennial audience.

    “The audience is highly engaged and highly passionate. When the match finishes, they eat, they drink, they buy merchandise. It’s really no different.”

    Birch clarified any eSports venture by the AFL would almost certainly not revolve around an AFL video game, with partnerships likely to focus on vastly more popular fantasy strategy games or shooters.

    Birch also claimed the AFL-owned Etihad Stadium, thanks to its closing roof, was being “looked at” as a potential venue to host eSports events.

    Partnerships between ‘real’ sporting clubs and eSports franchises are surprisingly common in the USA and Europe.

    NBA franchises the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers already own eSports teams in the US, while Paris St-Germain, AS Roma and FC Copenhagen have high-profile partnerships with European franchises.

    Australia has seen several successful eSports tournaments take place this year already.

    The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) in May saw crowds flock to the Qudos Bank Arena at Olympic Park for two days of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive action, while The Star was sold out for three days in July for the group stage of the Overwatch World Cup.

    Several clubs are reportedly interested in joining Adelaide as eSports partners, including cross-town rivals Port Adelaide who are looking to strengthen their venture into the Chinese market.

    The West Coast Eagles and Greater Western Sydney have also reportedly expressed interest in eSports.

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