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Is eSports the next big revolution in the sporting market? With Spanish club Valencia set to announce their new eSports division, it looks like big European sporting clubs are looking at eSports to be something worth investing in.
So what does this mean? Personally, I believe that big clubs and names backing eSports legitimises the scene. Sporting personalities like Shaquille O’Neal, Aaron Rodriguez, Rick Fox and Mark Cuban have all publicly thrown their support behind eSports.
European clubs appear to be at the forefront of the investment wave, with the ones involved looking at FIFA players in particular, because of its familiarity and popularity in the region. With the Turner CS:GO E-League being broadcast on cable networks in the United States, and with FOX Sports in Australia broadcasting the CS:GO and CoD Crown Invitational tournaments, we could be seeing an acceptance of eSports into the traditional domain.
Does this mean we could see a Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers FIFA player sometime soon? Maybe down the line. Australia’s professional eSports scene has reached a point that the North American scene was around three years ago. As our infrastructure improves, so do our chances of reaching that level of public exposure in the eyes of Australian sports fans.
There’s a variety of sports games that could see clubs looking for players, most notably NBA 2k, Madden and the NHL series. If these clubs can connect the fans of the traditional sport to its electronic counterpart, there’s the very real possibility of exponential growth in eSports.
2K, the studio behind the NBA 2K series, has already hosted its own competitive tournament in NBA 2k16 with ‘Road to the Finals’, and a USD$250,000 prize pool.
Here’s a quick primer on some of the clubs and sports personalities currently investing in the eSports scene:
West Ham: One of the most popular names in European football, and a staple of the English Premier League, West Ham made waves in May when they signed Sean ‘Dragonn’ Allen in their FIFA division. Complete with his own jersey and stadium announcement video, it looks like billionaire owner David Sullivan looks to tap into the eSports market.
WfL Wolfsburg: After signing FIFA player Benedikt ‘Salz0r’ Saltzer in May last year, they made a further commitment by signing a second player, David ‘DaveBtw’ Bytheway. Salz0r has already seen some success with the club, after being named in the top eight in the FIFA Interactive World Cup, as well as the ESL Spring Championship.
FC Schalke 04: An immediate success story, Schalke bought a European League of Legends Championship Series spot, and filled it with experienced players. Already 2-0 in the European LCS, their success story in the biggest eSport market could be a catalyst for the larger European sports clubs to invest in eSports. The club has also expressed their interest in hosting the European LCS in their own Veltins-Arena. The EU LCS is currently held at the Riot Games studio in Berlin.
CF Valencia: Spanish La Liga giants, CF Valencia, are set to announce a brand new eSports division, with Hearthstone, FIFA and Rocket League teams in the works. The team is also looking at entering the European League of Legends scene, although at this point, it’s unsure whether they’ll buy immediately into the LCS like Schalke, or they instead purchase an upcoming Challenger Series team to qualify into the LCS as a reassurance of their player’s quality.
Besiktas: The Turkish club was one of the earlier eSport adopters, entering into the Turkish League of Legends scene in January of 2015. One of the top tier Turkish teams, they’ve become one of the Turkish mainstays in the International Wildcard tournaments.
Echo Fox: Founded by former NBA player Rick Fox, the team has started to make an impact in the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Fox, an advocate of eSports, has publicly stated on sports news shows and even ‘The View’, that he believes in eSports and wants to remove the stigma from the title. His son is an avid eSports fan, and was influential in Fox’s views about the subject.
NRG eSports: Although not a sporting club, the gaming organisation has caught a few keen eyes from some prominent sporting legends. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, Yankees player Aaron Rodriguez and Chicago White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins are said to have approached the NRG chairman Andy Miller directly.
Mark Cuban: The billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks has long been an advocate of eSports, and has even appeared at ESL events, playing in League of Legends showmatches. It’s possible that he may invest in a League of Legends team in the future.