Why are Premier League clubs getting into e-sports?
Manchester City announced the signing of a young European star on Friday morning but you are unlikely to know his name. That’s because he’s not technically a footballer. Instead, Kai ‘Deto’ Wollin is the latest e-sports player who has managed to turn playing video games from a lazy pastime into a professional career.
In the coming months, Deto will represent the club at various e-sports tournaments around the world by playing EA Sport’s FIFA video game and he’ll do it without ever having to touch a football.
Deto is one of a growing number of e-sports players who have signed to professional football clubs in recent years and their success is turning e-sports into a credible sport; one that is even being considered for the Olympics. He came second in last year’s FA Interactive World Cup, losing to the English player Spencer Ealing, which makes him officially the second-best FIFA player in the world.
That might not seem like an impressive achievement to some but it is a lucrative one; research has shown that some professional e-sports players are earning more than professional footballers. Average prize money for the top 10 FIFA players was £56,870 in 2017, according to the International Business Times, compared to an average £47,372 for an English League Two player.
The incentive for e-sports is clear for its players but what about the clubs who sponsor them and pay for their travels around the world?
The simple answer is branding. E-sports might not make clubs a lot of money directly but it could lead to major profit indirectly. Clubs can make money off the streaming rights and ticket sales to their matches but what they are really gambling on is the brand recognition that e-sports could bring them, particularly in Asia. E-sports are a big deal in South Korea and China, where matches are watched by millions of people every year.
Nuria Tarre, Chief Marketing Officer for City Football Group, said that the signing of Deto has “provided another way for [Manchester City] to connect with our global fan base, particularly our younger audience, and bring them closer to the club they love”.
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to keep a player like Deto at the club, compared to the astronomical wages paid to Man City’s star players, and the rewards could be spectacular. Industry predictions have forecasted that total revenue from e-sports could reach $1.5 billion in 2020 with a global audience for 589 million people. It’s not hard to see why some clubs are interested in getting a piece of that pie.
Currently, there are four e-sports football teams in England: Man City, West Ham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and UniLad, the controversial British website devoted to celebrating lad culture. However, that puts England way behind other countries like the Netherlands and the USA, where clubs have embraced e-sports more readily. In the Netherlands, they’ve even managed to create their own e-sports league, eDivisie, with teams from the Eredivisie premier league.
Deto is set to represent Manchester City for the first time in April, when he will play in the FIFA Ultimate Team Champions Cup. Whether or not the club’s investment in e-sports is a wise one is still unclear but this new signing shows that the club is committed to making the sport work. If projections about its growth are anywhere close to being accurate, you can expect to see more clubs join them.
The appeal of e-sports goes beyond the financial reward for the clubs though. With extortionate ticket prices and the promise of more goals than your average football match, it’s possible that some fans might see FIFA as a better spectator’s sport than the real thing.