One of the most eye-catching articles of the past week came on the BBC Sport website which looked at whether investing in an esports player could be a way for lower league football teams (in this case in England) to develop their brand name across the globe.
Speaking with FIFA esports commentary duo Richard Buckley and Brandon Smith and alongside the FUT Champions Cup event, which took place in Manchester this past weekend from April 13 to April 15, Buckley pondered whether esports could be a simple way for lower league teams to instantly raise their profile around the globe.
“If a team in League One or League Two get a FIFA player they can attract a worldwide audience almost instantly,” claimed Buckley, who also felt that English clubs were lagging behind other teams across Europe when it comes to adopting their own esports representative.
“In Germany, every single big football club apart from Bayern and Dortmund have got FIFA players – ‘esporters’ as they call them out there.
“The understand the potential this [Esports Gaming] has.”
The Esports situation in English Soccer
Currently in the Premier League only Manchester City and West Ham United have their own full-time esports representative. However, that situation is compounded somewhat by the fact that many of the top FIFA players in the UK are not signed up with specific sports teams, but instead with major players in the field of social media, such as UNILAD.
This famous social media organisation signed Spencer “Gorilla” Ealing this year after he won the 2017 FIFA Interactive World Cup, making him in many people’s eyes the world’s best FIFA player.
Buckley cites the positive press that has come the way of teams like Danish side Brondby IF and Germany’s second tier VFL Bochum in recent times. This was after players who supported these teams and represented them in major FIFA tournaments, performed exceptionally well and thus created column inches and interest for both their ‘owner’ clubs.
Buckley states “an American soccer fan isn’t going to look at a League Two club. But take Brondby last year, no-one had really heard of them before they had one of the best FIFA players in the world and people began recognising Brondby because of that.
“German player MegaBit was tearing up online qualification for the last event in Barcelona and that man has given VFL Bochum some fantastic press.”
So, is Buckley right? Would signing up an esports player to represent them on a national, international and potentially global stage provide lower league clubs with the kind of positive exposure that they would require to make such an investment worthwhile?
Why Esports makes sense for Lower League teams
There is no doubt that there is an element of truth in what Buckley is saying. The profiles of teams like Bochum and Brondby were raised when their esports players began to shine on the world stage and the idea that any exposure is better than none certainly rings true for smaller clubs for whom the amount of money on offer in the esports industry, particularly at the major FIFA events, would be very enticing indeed.
Particularly when you consider that a talented FIFA Player could well pay for themselves in terms of tournament earnings. A Casumo study revealed that the top 10 FIFA gamers in 2017 earned an annual figure of £55,911 from tourmament play, whereas the salary of an average League Two player was £47,371.
What is equally staggering is that the prize money earned by the top 10 FIFA players from 2015 to 2017 has increased from $8,316 and $8,710 in 2015 and 2016 up to a massive $78,905 in 2017, an almost tenfold increase in earnings.
The fact that as an employer of an esports player, lower league teams could expect a significant cut of the winnings any player achieved would not be such a great incentive, but more valuable would be getting the team name out into the world of Twitch TV and across the realm of esports. It is hard to put a dollar figure on how much this positive exposure would be worth but for some clubs even if it results in the sale of just a few extra replica strips or match tickets, it would likely be a positive investment.
Why Esports may not make sense for Lower League teams
Of course, while there are positives for involvement in esports for some lower league sides, there are some negatives too and these have been glossed over somewhat by Buckley in his optimistic appraisal of how esports could be a lifeline for lower league sides.
There is of course the issue that to make money, lower league teams would need to employ a talented esports gamer. Just as in real life football, if they do that and their gamer starts to make waves on the scene internationally, then what is to stop a bigger team offering to sign that esports gamer for more money? In football loyalty lasts only as long as the next payday for many players and in the esports world, it is a similar situation.
Furthermore, for a lower league team to enjoy the benefit of employing an esports player it is dependent upon a player achieving sustained success and that is extremely tough in an industry where every week new players are coming to the fore.
There is also the issue with how any exposure a team receives from their esports player would pan out. Sure, Brondby and VFL Bochum received greater exposure in the media from their esports players performances. However, there is no real indicator of what this exposure means in actual monetary terms for the club. Did the exposure lead to further shirt sales or ticket sales for example? The setting up of supporter’s clubs in other countries? It is these tangible benefits football clubs are looking for beyond that of just becoming ‘better known’ in other parts of the world.
In addition, for a lower league side to invest in a player it would presumably require them to invest cash, which many clubs have not got, to develop their presence in esports. While Premier League sides can afford to spend several thousand pounds, or even tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds, on developing a credible esports presence, lower league sides just do not have that money available.
There is absolutely no doubt that sports teams and organisations are very keen to become involved in the burgeoning esports industry. Many teams from different sporting disciplines have already begun to get involved from F1, Basketball, American Football and Soccer too. However, as a practical way for lower league teams to increase their popularity with fans across the globe, the jury is still out as there are too many indeterminate factors which could make such an investment impractical for teams with a very small budget to break into the esports industry.