FIFA's eSports Future Is Via Pro Teams

FIFA'S ESPORTS FUTURE IS VIA PRO TEAMS

FIFA 17 Regional Final (Photo: EA Sports)

FIFA 17 Regional Final (Photo: EA Sports)

TNL Take: This past year, EA Sports made serious strides with their first real full season of FIFA eSports under their Competitive Gaming Division by announcing $1.3M in prize pools (including travel/expenses).

The FIFA 17 Regionals from Paris became the 1st ever eSports program shown on ESPN's flagship channel garnering 110,000 viewers - considering it was tape delayed and shown at 6PM on Super Bowl Sunday.

TNL Infographic 040: 2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic 040: 2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

At EA Play last week - EA's coming out party the weekend prior to the start of E3 - EA Sports announced some pretty big changes for FIFA 18 with the last 2 being the most crucial:

 

  • A partnership between EA and FIFA launching in Fall of this year for a year long competitive infrastructure
  • Real teams sponsoring athletes via official tournaments
  • An All-Star tournament featuring athletes signed to teams

 

FIFA 18's Grand New Plans (Photo: EA Sports)

FIFA 18's Grand New Plans (Photo: EA Sports)

This shouldn't be surprising based on EA's previous moves in the space:

 

AUGUST 2016: PSV EINDHOVEN

PSV Players Playing FIFA (Photo: PSV Eindhoven)

PSV Players Playing FIFA (Photo: PSV Eindhoven)

Eredivisie team PSV Eindhoven became the first Dutch team to become involved with eSports bypassing the "normal" route of sponsoring an athlete directly, PSV held an EA Sports FIFA 17 tournament to determine their player.

 

Further, at the time I mentioned this could be a hint of things to come:

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

 

JANUARY 2017: DUTCH E-DIVISIE LEAGUE

Dutch FIFA eSports League (Photo: Eredivisie)

Dutch FIFA eSports League (Photo: Eredivisie)

The E-Divisie is a partnership between Dutch football league Eredivisie, Endemol Shine Netherlands and EA Sports. The games are broadcast on Twitch, YouTube and TV via Fox Sports.

Each of the club athletes competed in 17 rounds of games of FIFA 17 Ultimate Team which determined the E-Divisie Champion, but also which club would represent Netherlands at the European level and a chance to move onto a World Championships.

Again at this time I mentioned a potential future with EA Sports driving the selection process:

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

This is a no brainer for EA Sports but 2 large questions remain.

 

/01 WHICH CLUBS WILL BE INVOLVED?

EA Sports did not mention which clubs would be participating at launch and did not respond when reached out for comment.  

I'd venture that it will be primarily European teams and if I had to bet on 1 club being involved: Bayern Munich. 

 

/02 IS THIS THE BEST ROUTE FOR CLUBS?

From EA's perspective, it makes absolute business sense to grab as much control over the eSports infrastructure as you can, especially when pro teams are still so very uneducated about the space. 

 

But does it make the most sense for the pro teams?

 

Here's the reason: Follow any FIFA athlete on Twitter and you will see constant gripes about the lagging, the buggy nature of the game or disconnecting before a loss - to be fair, it's common across many eSports titles. 

As the game changes every year, the previous year's "best" player may not be the current years  top rated player, which means a relative unknown could win and become a clubs official player.

Sticking with the Bayern Munich example, would the club rather find a FIFA athlete via this process with 24 Twitter followers or find someone that is both a top player, produces content and has a large social following across a variety of media?

Time will tell which soccer clubs will be most successful but you can definitely be assured of this:

 

EA NFL Madden is next.


ICYMI, here's TNL eSports Guest Podcast 005 with Paris St-Germain Head of eSports, Bora "Yellowstar" Kim.

Holland Is 3rd Country With National eSports League

Holland Is 3rd Country With National eSports League

Dutch FIFA eSports League (Photo: Eredivisie)

TNL Take: Europe has been light years ahead of the US when it comes to eSports and looks like things aren't changing in 2017.

The Dutch Soccer League, Eredivisie, is launching an EA Sports FIFA National eSports League with all 18 teams called E-Divisie. The Netherlands joins France's Orange e-LEAGUE 1 and Spain's Orange Superliga.

The E-Divisie is a partnership between the Eredivisie, Endemol Shine Netherlands and EA Sports. The games will be broadcast on Twitch, YouTube and TV via Fox Sports.

The eSports Athletes will compete in 17 rounds of games in FIFA 17 Ultimate Team which will not only determine who becomes the Champion of the E-Divisie, but also will represent the Netherlands at the European level and a chance to move onto the World Championships.

A few other takeaways:

 

  • I've spoken to a few people close to the EU FIFA Scene and here's the most interesting part: How were the Athletes chosen? Ajax already signed Koen Weijland last year. Seems as if the other 17 teams held local tournaments and chose their Athlete via that route.

 

Now which country will be next?

France Is On All In On eSports

FRANCE IS ALL IN ON ESPORTS

Legia eSports Cup (Photo: Qwatti eSports )

TNL Take:  The convergence of Pro Sports and eSports is only accelerating.  A day doesn’t go by without more Pro Teams and eSports investment.

Another example is the Legia eSports Cup 2016 Tournament which took place recently with 10 European Pro Football clubs.

The Next Level and eSports Daily News partnered for an Exclusive interview with Pedro Honório Silva, Qwatti eSports Agency founder and Legia eSports Cup 2016 Tournament organizer about the event.

Let’s start with France’s eSports investment and then move to the Legia eSports Cup.

 

/01 PRO TEAM INVESTMENT

TNL eSports Infographic 016: Pro Teams eSports Investment (Graphic: The Next Level) 

If Europe is taking the lead in eSports infrastructure development, then France is spearheading that effort.

After last week’s signing of an eSports FIFA Athlete Adrien Viaud, France’s League 1 takes the lead for EU Pro Sports team investment with four teams: Paris St.-Germain, AS Monaco, Olympic Lyonnaiss and now FC Nantes.

They're moving so quickly I need to edit the chart again and add OL.


/02 ESPORTS LEAGUE

Last month, EA and France's League 1 announced a partnership to create an eSports league centered around the 20 teams in League 1.

With EA Sports FIFA handling the tournament infrastructure, each of the 20 teams would get 1 eSports Athlete per both Xbox and PlayStation platforms for a total of 40 Athletes.

Just as EA is helping PSV Eindhoven select their FIFA eSports Athlete, EA will now be doing the same for e-Leauge 1.@qwattiesports 

This shouldn’t be surprising.

As 20 EU teams have now signed eSports Athletes and made investments in Teams, the Publishers will naturally try to get even a bigger slice of the eSports pie.

 

/03 GOVERNMENT BODY

France and eSports (Photo: Reuters)

France's Secretary of State Axelle Lemaire announced the formation of a government sponsored “France eSports” federation.

France eSports will act as the industry’s representative body and be the official “partner for all matters relating to eSports".


/04 BROADCASTING

Canal Plus and ESL (Photo: ESL)

2016 Legia Cup (Photo: Qwatti eSports)

Yes this was in Poland but look at the French teams involved.

Another example is the recent Legia eSports Cup 2016 Tournament which took place two weeks ago with 10 European Football club participation.

The Next Level and eSports Daily News partnered for an Exclusive interview with Pedro Honório Silva, Qwatti eSports Agency founder and Legia eSports Cup 2016 Tournament organizer about the event.

Q: Legia FIFA Tournament took place recently in Warsaw on Nov 5th and 6th.  How did you manage to organize this first European event?

PH : My partner and I created Qwatti 18 months ago and we knew at the time that Pro clubs were going to invest in eSports. Honestly, it went faster than what we expected. We’ve been working on the idea to promote eSports & Pro Sports and to organize tournaments like the one which took place in Warsaw in partnership with the Legia football club. I have to send a big word of appreciation for Legia’s Marketing Director, Wiktor Cegła, who invested a lot in this event and was an excellent host.

 

Q: For this event, there were only players represented by Professional teams vs. traditional eSports teams. Why was that?

PH: eSports is not a new thing in Europe. Sports franchises began getting into eSports slowly last year and now everyone is moving in very quickly to the point that now it’s pretty much mainstream.

Qwatti also works very closely with Pro Teams with their business strategy and wanted to showcase what an Event like this could look like without the normal eSports teams.

Another big factor was that ESWC (eSports World Convention) just recently happened and we didn’t want to duplicate that. We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before.

 

Q: What is Qwatti and what teams do you work with?

PH: Qwatti is an eSports Agency which aims to assist Sports Franchises get into eSports by providing services like Event Management, eSports presence creation, Partnership Acquisition and Player Representation. We currently work with Pro Sports organizations in Europe, namely:

  • Sporting Clube de Portugal
  • Schalke 04
  • Legia Warsaw
  • We also work with eSports teams like Splyce, who we represent in Europe.

 

Q: What are your thoughts on EA and their partnership with League 1 and the FIFA eSports League?

PH: We believe this is an important step in the right direction. Our expectation is that, with time, more and more countries will start doing their own FIFA League, to somehow mimic the Pro Football leagues. This will be key for FIFA development, hence the involvement of EA, but also to the development of eSports within Pro Sports Franchises.

 

Q: Why have 15+ European Pro Teams have made investments in eSports and yet 0 US MLS teams have entered the space?

PH: Football is by far the biggest sport in Europe. Sporting Portugal, for example, has been around for over 110 years. 

The Pro Team digital strategy also seems to be a bit more mature in Europe than the US. I think both of those factors have contributed to why European Football teams have taken the lead.

Pro Clubs are starting to understand that this is a perfect angle to reach new market segments like Millennials.

 

Q: What were some of the engagement numbers from the Legia Sports Cup?

PH: Over the course of the 2-day event, we had a total of over 1M Views globally, on 4 different broadcasting platforms, and 43,000+ total hours watched on Twitch.

The highest Max viewers during the event was 11,000 people watching the final game.[PS2] 

The event was also covered by 5 different TV channels in Poland, 100+ journalists requested accreditation and had covered in 20+ countries.

 

Q: It’s amazing that you got a Non-Endemic Brand like Doubletree to Sponsor the Event. How did they participate?

PH: The Doubletree in Warsaw is one of the most popular hotels in the area. They covered the accommodation costs for all eSports Athletes a Sponsorship deal around the overall Event.

Not only did they have full Branding associated with the Legia Sports Cup but had exposure at the Event itself as well.

In fact, when we were leaving, the Polish National Football Team was coming in to stay. That was pretty cool.


Q: It’s amazing that you got a Non-Endemic Brand like Doubletree to Sponsor the Event. How did they participate?

PH: The Doubletree in Warsaw is one of the most popular hotels in the area. They covered the accommodation costs for all eSports Athletes a Sponsorship deal around the overall Event.

EA Killing Konami In Soccer eSports

EA KILLING KONAMI IN SOCCER ESPORTS

(Photo: Konami)

TNL Take: The game to own the global soccer eSports market is currently being won by EA's FIFA.

Or to put it another way, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer is not even on the pitch.

Yesterday, Konami announced that German team Borussia Dortmund would be an official team in Pro Evo 2017.

(Photo: Konami)

(Photo: EA Sports)

EA and Konami have longed battled each other with EA having maintained the Official FIFA license for a while now.

It looks like now both companies are fighting for individual team sponsorship with potential future eSports implications.

Here's how it's currently looking:

/01 Official Teams and League Sponsors

PES 17: FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Liverpool (which I would have loved to see EA get as they're Competitive Gaming Chief Peter Moore's beloved hometown team).

FIFA 17: Juventus, Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Bayern Munich and English Premier League Sponsor

 

/02 eSports Athlete Sponsorship

EA's FIFA is clearly winning European Sports teams eSports involvement:

FIFA 17: VFL Wolfsburg, Saski Baskonia, Sampdoria, West Ham United, Schalke 04, Valencia CF, Manchester City, Sporting Lisbon, PSV Eindhoven

PES 17: 0

 

Now look at Official Team Sponsorship coupled with PSV Eindhoven and Schalke 04 both scouting for talent via FIFA 17 tournaments, the importance of eSports going forward becomes more clear.

 

/03 eSports Strategy

While EA may have been behind Activision-Blizzard in eSports for a while, they've done a good job playing catch up very quickly.

While there's no competition for Football or NHL eSports with EA controlling both licenses, Konami could have at least competed on the Soccer side. But it doesn't seem like Konami is ready to make an eSports move just yet.

The largest prize pool that I could find on Pro Evolution Soccer was for $40,000.

In 2005.

EA's recently announced FIFA 17 $1.3M prize pool, which is greater than the $1M they announced for Madden, dwarfs this.

I've already shown why it make sense for Publishers to invest in eSports.

Time for Konami to make a move.