With a global live streaming audience of 728.8 million and an industry value of 1.1bn USD, per Newzoo, it is easy to see why people are clamouring to get involved in esports.
Drake, Imagine Dragons, Will Smith, Mike Tyson and NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal are just some of the mainstream talents that have invested in the esports space. However, it is not just limited to former stars, musicians, and A level actors. Footballers and football clubs have also entered the esports space with wide-ranging approaches.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, David Beckham, Sergio Aguero, Christian Fuchs, Jesse Lingard, Casemiro, Ronaldo and César Azpilicueta are just some of the big-name footballers in esports. Ibrahimovic invested into an esports tournament platform called Challengermode, while Ronaldo CNB e-sports Club alongside two major poker stars, Andre Akkari and Igor Trafane Federal. David Beckham meanwhile is a co-owner of multi-title esports organisation Guild esports.
Aguero, Fuchs, Lingard and Casemiro have taken a more traditional route into esports, forming their own teams, across various titles such as FIFA, Rainbow Six Siege, Valorant, Rocket League and CSGO.
So, why would famous footballers gets involved in the world of esports? First and foremost, esports is exciting, fun and entertaining! But I guess that may not be enough, so let’s look at some other factors:
Footballers play video games, a lot of video games. A top-level footballer’s life is a bubble in many ways with the ability to walk the streets often very difficult. The nature of their sport means that going out for drinks and partying is more than often reserved for retirement making video games and consoles a great way to pass the time. Away games spent in hotel rooms, no problem, bring the console and play online or with your teammates. Video games is a hobby for players.
Hobbies can become businesses very quicky and given that the modern-day footballer are also often savvy businessmen, they recognise opportunities that will give them revenue and purpose beyond their on-field careers. Esports can provide a footballer with purpose during their downtime between games and training.
There are compelling long-term, and short-term, benefits for a footballer to developing a personal esports strategy that provides them with new opportunities to be involved in a business once their career ends.
Footballers have a large social reach and having an esports team allows them to be “hands-on” in the business as a content creator and generate significant revenue through Twitch and YouTube with relevant, owned content. This helps them engage and connect with their audience beyond football as well as diversifying their audience reach and growth across all channels.
Given that the core age demographics of esports is 16-35 and title dependent, predominantly male, the esports team ownership and subsequent audience can with commercial partnerships.
The more hands-on footballer in esports beings their elite level mindset and professionalism to a new vertical, showcasing success across sports and esports.
All footballers are unique and need to explore esports strategies tailored to their own gaming interests and personal ambitions. It’s not a copy and paste solution, but for a footballer with a passion for gaming it makes sense to think about how they best engage with the world of esports and gaming in such a way that they get the best return possible.
The same is applicable for football clubs. Esports is a natural extension of their brand, something that is not uncommon in the world of football. A visit to the Nou Camp doesn’t just offer opportunities to watch Ronald Koeman’s men, it also allows the chase to watch Barcelona branded in basketball, handball, roller hockey and futsal. Alongside the four other professional teams they have nine amateur teams and you guessed it, an esports team, competing in the efootball league owned by PES.
Barcelona is not alone with most major football clubs, including Manchester City, Wolves, Wolfsburg, Ajax and many more developing dedicated esports strategies.
Having an esports team aligned to a sports team is not a strategy to increase the number of fans in the football club stadium, it is, just like the footballer opportunity about providing new opportunities to compete, and win, in a different vertical, it is about broadening your appeal to commercial partners, increasing your footprint in targeted markets, and building new communities on emerging platform like Twitch & discord with a new fan centric content strategy.
But like the footballer, the strategy and approach needs to fit with the ethos and vision of the club and requires buy-in from key stakeholders.