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:



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)



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.



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. 



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.

Pro Hockey Slides Into eSports


EA Sports NHL 94 aka The Best Hockey Game Ever Made™ (Photo: Racketboy)

EA Sports NHL 94 aka The Best Hockey Game Ever Made™ (Photo: Racketboy)

TNL Take: We've seen a majority of European soccer clubs invest in eSports, the NBA taking the lead in the US and the MLS finally making its first move.

Now Pro Hockey is starting to slowly enter eSports - I so badly wanted to use "skate" but that's just awful. Ok, slide isn't that much better.

Either directly or through a consortium of sports investment, here's the history so far:



New Jersey Devils (Photo: New Jersey Devils)

New Jersey Devils (Photo: New Jersey Devils)

Washington Capitals (Photo: Wallpaper Cave)

Washington Capitals (Photo: Wallpaper Cave)

aXiomatic, became a new eSports joint venture between a massive amount of sports investors and athletes including Peter Guber (Warriors, Dodgers, LAFC)  and Ted Leonsis (Wizards, Capitals, Mystics, Valor, Verizon Center ) who bought a controlling stake in Team Liquid.



Finland's Helsinki Reds eSports Team (Photo: IFK)

Finland's Helsinki Reds eSports Team (Photo: IFK)

Finland was the first country to make a direct investment when Helsinki based Hockey club IFK Helsinki launched an Overwatch team under the name Helsinki REDS.

I spoke with IFK's Sales Manager Jussi Patjas about why they got involved.



Boston Bruins (Photo: Wallpaper Cave)

Boston Bruins (Photo: Wallpaper Cave)

Delaware North, parent company of Boston's TD Garden and home of the Boston Bruins - which is also owned by Delaware North chairman Jeremy Jacobs - announced a strategic investment with eSports team Splyce.

I spoke with Splyce Co-Founder Marty Strenczewilk on the investment and what it means for both Delaware North and the team going forward.



Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo: Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo: Tampa Bay Lightning

The latest hockey investment is Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik who becomes an investor and co-chair of eSports super group aXiomatic.

Like other aXiomatic investors, Vinik is also involved in multiple sports properties including a minority owner of Fenway Sports Group (Boston Red Sox, LFC) and owns Arena Football team Tampa Bay Storm.




Just like the NBA has driven US Sports league investment in eSports, if a team doesn't have a standalone arena, they usually play in an NBA Arena (Ex: New York Knicks and New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden).

Why do Pro Sports teams invest in eSports?



3 Pro Sports Teams Investing In eSports In Last 4 Days


Delaware North/Boston Bruins Investment In eSports Team Splyce (Photo: Splyce)

Delaware North/Boston Bruins Investment In eSports Team Splyce (Photo: Splyce)

TNL Take: As we all move toward the singularity and live more of our lives in a digital world, we increase the pixelated ephemera we leave across Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Twitch and whatever pops up next.

For better or for worse, we at least have a recorded timeline of our history and yesterday and I got a digital reminder of the following I wrote 1 year ago to the day:

Traditional Sports Invade eSports (Photo: Arena Online)

Traditional Sports Invade eSports (Photo: Arena Online)

If you're a regular reader you'll know how involved Pro Teams have been in the last year but here's a quick recap:

TNL Infographic: Pro Sports Team eSports Investment (Infographic: The Next Level)

TNL Infographic: Pro Sports Team eSports Investment (Infographic: The Next Level)

In just 9 months in 2016 since I wrote that, 20+ Pro Sports teams invested in eSports.

In the last 4 days we've seen 3 pro teams look to invest in eSports.

Here's a recap of the teams and leagues looking to make the leap since the last update:



MLS's 1st eSports Signing: NYC FC's Chris Holly (Photo: NYC FC)

MLS's 1st eSports Signing: NYC FC's Chris Holly (Photo: NYC FC)

After watching European soccer teams and leagues dominate eSports involvement, the MLS finally made a move with New York FC signing FIFA athlete Chris Holly

It's not a surprise that NYC FC was the first to make the move as they're partially owned by Manchester City, which was the 2nd English Premier League team to sign a FIFA athlete last July.



Not much was revealed outside of a Tweet however Liga MX team Club America would be Mexico's first pro team eSports investment.



French Soccer Club Lille Olympique Sporting Club (Photo: Pinterest)

French Soccer Club Lille Olympique Sporting Club (Photo: Pinterest)

France has been one of the most active participants at the intersection of pro sports, eSports and media starting last year with several teams getting involved and Webedia purchasing the ESWC (Electronic Sports World Cup) and eSports platform; in addition to their national league, Orange e-Ligue 1.

2017 is no different with Olympique Lyonnais increasing their investment by signing 4 Chinese FIFA players.

OL's 4 Chinese FIFA Athletes (Photo: Olympique Lyonnais)

OL's 4 Chinese FIFA Athletes (Photo: Olympique Lyonnais)

This week saw the 4th Ligue 1 team looking to make the move with LOSC not only looking at FIFA but League of Legends as well.



Australian Football League's Adelaide Crows (Photo: Getty Images)

Australian Football League's Adelaide Crows (Photo: Getty Images)

Earlier this month, the Australian Football League announced their intent to enter eSports and potentially hold a tournament at Etihad Stadium.

Note to the AFL: Please don't attempt your 1st involvement in a 50,000+ seat capacity stadium

A day after the LOSC announcement, the AFL's Adelaide Crows announced the purchase of Legacy eSports, a local team fielding teams in several games.


The Houston Rockets hired a Director of eSports Development and the Warriors have an open position. Expect even more investment and job opportunities as these two industries collide.

Why Pro Teams Invest In eSports


The Miami Heat Invest In eSports Team Misfits (Photo: Ginx TV)

TNL Infographic 027: The NBA's eSports Investment (Source: The Next Level   Infographic: Jordan Fragen)

This week, John Gaudiosi wrote an article on alistdaily titled "Miami Heat And Misfits Find Synergy Between Basketball And eSports" - which sums up everything I've said for almost the past year. 

I'm going to quote directly from the article, Miami Heat executives and Misfits CEO Ben Spoont to look at exactly where the venn diagram of Pro Sports and eSports overlap.

Here's what Heat CEO Nick Arison had to say about the deal: "The Miami Heat pride ourselves on being innovative in all aspects of sports and business. For us, it made perfect sense to partner with Misfits, a young and ambitious franchise in a sport that is blazing a trail in terms of 21st century recreational competition amongst Millennials"

Quick story: When I was in college back in the Triassic period, I interned at the Miami Heat and Nick Arison was 14 years old then. This quote is from Bloomberg "Nick Arison, the Heat’s chief executive officer who declined to comment for this story, has spent most of his 32 years chasing basketball autographs -- first on posters and scraps of paper and now on hundred-million-dollar contracts". I got him Michael Jordan's autograph. I'll leave it at that.



The young eSports Audience (Photo: Riot Games)

While the average NBA viewer is not as geriatric as Major League Baseball, 37 is still older than than the "prime" advertiser demographic of 18-34. But eSports fit's squarely in that target market with the average viewer age around 25.

Michael McCullough, Miami Heat's EVP and CMO said “The opportunity was the fact that the eSports audience is, for the most part, younger and digital and social media savvy. We were interested in finding out if there was any crossover with their audience and ours, and how we could access that youthfulness for the benefit of the Miami Heat."

Schalke 04 was the 2nd team in Germany's Bundesliga to invest in eSports after Vfl Wolsfburg. What they recognized was the potential of eSports in attracting a younger audience.



The Miami Heat At Home (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

McCullough has seen Misfit fans who are Heat fans and are excited they have an NBA team they can root for and Heat fans who are eSports fans come to the forefront. 

Read that again. The marketing opportunity goes both ways.

Manchester City made moved into eSports in May 2016 by signing Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown.  Kez is a Twitch streamer, branded videos on YouTube as well as Facebook.

Since the start of the 2013/14 season, Man City’s Facebook page has grown 287 per cent.



ASUS ROG Sponsors French Team PSG eSports (Photo: PSG)

PSG FC (Paris Saint-Germain) has not only made the eSports move but heavily promote their team across social media.

It's not shocking that they've been one of the first Pro Sports associated eSports team to garner a sponsorship.

VfL Wolfsburg’s eSports team partnered with Turtle Beach and will use their gear and accessories during competitions.

The Miami Heat are handling the sponsorships, sales and activation and marketing for Misfits directly. Misfits CEO Ben Spoont said that one benefit of having the Heat handle that business is that brands that are non-endemics to eSports are endemic to basketball. The professional service an NBA team can provide is unparalleled.

“We’ve seen potential business partners who are either involved in the eSports world or want to be involved and are excited we partnered with Misfits and are looking to do things with both of us,” said McCullough. “That’s been the most eye-opening thing in this experience so far. We didn’t expect that.”

Read that again.



Germany Soccer Club Schalke 04's eSports Team (Photo: Schalke 04)

This is an absolute no-brainer - merchandise and jerseys make a lot of money for Pro Sports teams.  Now leverage this with eSports.

Pro Teams that have invested in the space - like PSG, Schalke 04, VFL Wolfsburg - all have their eSports athletes wear the traditional Sports team jerseys.

McCullough said the Heat are creating an entire line of Misfits clothing by its in-house creative team for the Heat-specific brand Court Culture.  

“It’s very localized and we can react to things quickly on the court with player-specific shirts that resonate with fans,” he said. We’re implementing the same process we use for Court Culture, where it’s all locally designed and created and we have local distribution through the Heat store channel." 


By investing in eSports, Pro teams get access to 1) a younger audience 2) a potential new International fanbase 3) Marketing opportunities for both the traditional team and the associated eSports team 4) Brand opportunities and 5) Sell more merchandise. 


Your move MLS and NFL.