The Rise of eSports: How Professional Teams Have Bought into the Craze


The growth of eSports has created an entirely new ecosystem for marketing and investment. It is a rapidly growing niche with traditional media and sports companies taking a greater interest every year. Statista’s survey numbers reveal that in 2017 the global viewership of eSports amounted to a total of 143 million, with that number projected to hit 250 million by 2021. While games like Counterstrike and League of Legends generally dominate the eSports virtual arenas, EA Sport’s FIFA football game is becoming a major game on the circuit. So much so that football clubs throughout the UK and Europe are creating their own eSports teams and hiring professional gamers.

Sport has always been a cornerstone of the gaming industry with Pong being one of the earliest arcade games. Since then the industry has expanded and developed to provide sports fans the opportunity to engage with their chosen sports on multiple digital platforms. These have ranged from the realistic sports simulators like the FIFA series to sports games that have been adapted to online platforms. Slingo’s Bicicleta slot game combines two different elements, football and online gaming, to attract fans to the game. This demonstrates how much of an influence sport, particularly football, has on the gaming industry. The FIFA eSports teams and tournaments are the next step in the evolution of sports gaming.

The eSports industry is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years with projected revenues reaching £1.34 billion by 2020 as brand investment increases. PC Gamer reports that the worldwide eSports market is worth £1.06 billion, with Asia being the largest market and worth £288 million in revenue. Europe is not too far behind with £211 million in 2017.

With numbers like these, it’s no wonder that sports clubs have invested heavily in eSports. French clubs like PSG have created their own eSports franchise, stating that it is a way to find new fans of the brand without necessarily just focusing on football. In contrast, English clubs like Manchester City and West Ham currently employ professional FIFA gamers to represent them. FIFA is quickly becoming a popular game at tournaments due to the popularity of football, and the franchise being the highest selling console video game year in and year out, as we’ve previously mentioned here on EiF Soccer.

For eSport gamers the prize money is a huge attraction with the figures increasing every year. One of the biggest tournaments in eSports in terms of prize money is The International, which was held last year in Seattle with a total prize pool of over £17.5 million. The largest prize money for an eSport FIFA tournament was the FUT Championship held in Berlin in 2017 with total prize money of £284,000. Although a huge disparity considering the mass appeal of football, FIFA’s popularity is growing every year. With major clubs throughout Europe like Wolfsburg, Schalke, Valencia and PSG, to name a few, creating their own leagues and hiring professional players, sponsorship and corporate money is starting to pour in.

The growth of competitive eSports has come a long way from basic shooting games in the 1990s and eSports is quickly becoming a profession for many players. While football club signings are normally paid to use their feet, these new signings are paid to use their thumbs to play football online. As such, the list of football clubs with competitive gamers on their payrolls is expected to grow significantly. Football clubs see this move into eSports as an extension of what they are already doing in terms of branding, advertising and rights. For many clubs eSports engages current fans and generates revenues from previously untapped demographics. With a lot of money to be made it is no wonder many clubs have bought into the craze.

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