Over the last few years, the number of professional sports teams involving themselves in esports has grown remarkably. Formula 1 supremo Fernando Alonso has his own esports racing team, and the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team purchased Team Dignitas.
Perhaps most notably where soccer teams are concerned, Fenerbahce 1907’s League of Legends team made it through to the Group Stages of the World Championships last year. Then, many other professional soccer teams have also signed up esports teams: Paris Saint-Germain, Denmark’s Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, and German sides VfL Bochum and Schalke 04.
In the UK, the interest hasn’t been quite as great, but that has not stopped the likes of West Ham United and Manchester City signing up FIFA players to represent their interests on the global esports stage.
You’ll notice a common thread here. Existing sports organizations have attempted to break into the esports industry by “adopting” an established team or individual player to represent the club in tournament play.
It is a tried and trusted formula. However, British soccer club Aston Villa has adopted a very different approach.
An esports and soccer sleeping giant?
Villa, who hail from England’s second city of Birmingham, have had a disappointing few years. Relegated from the Premier League back in the 2015-16 season, the club has been in a battle for promotion from the Championship in the two seasons following. This year, they narrowly missed out on promotion by losing the playoff final at Wembley 1-0 against Fulham.
Considering Aston Villa is one of just five English teams to have won the European Cup (now Champions League), this represents a huge drop in achievement.
One of the main concerns when dropping out of the lucrative Premier League is the massive financial hit. Premier League clubs, when you add endorsements, TV money, sponsorship and other assorted incentives, receive around £170 million per year in revenue. £100 million of that is TV sponsorship money.
In the Championship, that TV money amount drops to just £6.3 million, a shortfall of £92.7m.
It is therefore unsurprising that clubs like Aston Villa are looking for a way to engage with their supporters and generate new income streams. With the precedent set and the esports industry in such great health, the only thing surprising is the route Aston Villa have decided to take.
As reported by Eurogamer, Aston Villa have taken the bold step of not adopting a current esports team; instead, they have decided to go a step further and launch their own esports league.
Aston Villa’s esports league
AVFC Gaming is the name of the innovative new platform set to debut this month with a somewhat predictable series of FIFA 18 tournaments. The club has decided to work with the European Gaming League in the development and presentation of the league. It will see gamers compete to win Pro Points.
Players can collect Pro Points over time and trade them in for a number of different prizes. These include match tickets for Aston Villa FC, signed photographs of the players, signed FIFA player cards, and even AVFC Gaming-branded consoles.
In a press statement, Aston Villa’s Will Radford, the club’s head of digital media and content, outlined the reasoning and thinking behind the move.
“The launch of AVGC Gaming is all about embracing the fans doing what they love,” Radford said. “We want to be able to reward the Villa faithful in their social lives and our partnership with the European Gaming League allows us to do this in a way no other club has.”
Radford also stated Villa aims to become “an innovative leader in the business of sport” and that this first foray into the world of esports gaming “will act as a springboard to launch further digital gaming experiences to entertain and engage all our fans over the coming months.”
It will be interesting to see how Aston Villa develops this initial idea. Is there potential to add more games to the platform alongside FIFA 18? More importantly, will this bold move be a success?
Will AVFC Gaming succeed?
Villa’s appeal as a football team remains undiminished in the eyes of their supporters, but this move into the esports industry is, I believe, inspired by the success of new tournaments, particularly the Overwatch League.
While pro sports teams can see their esports players increase the profile of the club within the esports community, the financial returns for these teams are generally small for the clubs involved.
I think Villa’s approach is an attempt to invest in the esports industry more profitably. Certainly, the initial AVFC Gaming setup will appeal to Villa fans, but I think it will soon broaden to include FIFA players that follow different clubs around the world. In that respect, esports avoids the rabid parochiality that is evident at some clubs.
It is going to be interesting to see how it unfolds and whether it succeeds in attracting the numbers and quality of players to be a success. If it does, expect plenty of other top teams to think about following suit shortly thereafter.
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