FC Schalke 04 and VFL Wolfsburg are the first Bundesliga soccer clubs with own teams in eSports. Other clubs, like Hoffenheim, are analyzing the eSports market and will make a conclusive decision in the foreseeable future whether they will enter this area or not. What’s the trend behind this topic and why don’t have all the Bundesliga clubs their own eSports teams?
eSports is an interesting case of the so-called “Digital Twins” phenomenon, which means that every real-world entity will have a digital counterpart. They can live together; it’s not necessarily one field disrupting the other.
In this case, the equivalent of playing real-world soccer on a pitch is playing video games, like the FIFA series, on a console. While everyone knows about playing soccer, the percentage of German internet users who have already heard of eSports is about 24% (Statista, 2016). But public attendance is growing very fast. So almost every second 16-24 year old in Germany has seen an eSports match on Youtube or Twitch – potentially making this age segment one of the most important target groups of existing soccer clubs in the future. Although the existing market is much bigger than eSports now.
The reason is: the overlap of eSports and real sports could be significantly higher than you may think. The common ground is the main source of income of these sports areas: most of it coming from direct sponsoring and merchandising. Bundesliga clubs fear the growing influence of sponsoring expenses in the eSports market.
Young sports fans usually favour a mixture of real and eSports. Meaning if Bundesliga clubs can’t participate in these two worlds if they are old-school only. It’s especially interesting for clubs with decreasing sponsoring expenses (like Wolfsburg due to the “Diesel Gate” of the club’s owner, Volkswagen) and/or image problems like Hoffenheim (one of only a few clubs in Germany with low-level spectator numbers) to get some pioneer dividends in this area. They can address new target groups and brighten their public relations within (compared to professional soccer players) moderate salaries for the eSports squad.
The problem is, professional eSports is not consolidated (perhaps, it won’t be) in any way. Consoles and games are changing very fast (the FIFA series gets at least one update a year). The war between PC players and console players is undetermined and the field of eSports is multi-optional. You can play sports games (what would be obvious for Bundesliga clubs), but there are shooters and simulations too. Professional players are focused and specialized in one game with stable hardware. So the Bundesliga clubs mustn’t only decide whether they want to be engaged in the eSports market but also in which concrete field of this complex area. This is far and away the most difficult task that the clubs have to solve and probably the reason for the German clubs’ caution.