Almost a year ago, Football Federation Australia announced their intention to conduct an “E-League” competition with people to compete against each other in FIFA18 on both the Xbox and Playstation versions of the game. It was met with derision at worst – by people who thought it was a ridiculous waste of time – and amusement at best – by people who thought it was just a bit of harmless fun. This reaction of the masses is much more a reflection of the people reacting than of the validity of e-sports themselves.
One of the players (Marcus Gomes) is ranked top 5 in the world, and is looking to represent Melbourne City in the FIFA eWorld Cup in February and while it gained a small following, (and the live viewing numbers on Twitch for the matches at times rivaled the crowds that turn up to Central Coast Mariners A-League matches) it never captured the imagination of people outside of those closely following it. Last week, one of the competitors (Cripsy) revealed that he would be quitting for, among many reasons, the lack of pay. The reactions of some to this were worse, as people saw fit to mock the expectation of compensation as a ridiculous notion simply because the work was competing in a video game. It still got by far the most mainstream Australian media coverage of any esports competition that we have seen here, but as a region, Oceania is lagging behind the rest of the world on this, and for a people that like to think that they can “punch above their weight” in any sort of endeavour, that shouldn’t sit well with us.
When most people think of esports, they think of huge crowds in Korea and young people that are good at video games becoming major stars, and while that isn’t necessarily false, it can no longer be dismissed as a localised phenomenon in Eastern Asia.
One of the ways that the E-League attempted to gain some quick support was by having each A-League team field a team in the competition, immediately tying the members and fans of that club to that E-League team, but since this isn’t a luxury that most games have, esports organisations have evolved over time to become unlike what is seen in most of the sporting world.
There are sporting clubs in Europe such as FC Barcelona that have spread their wings into other sports such as Basketball and European Handball, but it pales in comparison to the likes of Team Liquid (who are run out of the Netherlands) that field teams in no less than 14 different games across the globe.
Team Liquid aren’t an anomaly either. There are plenty of professional esports teams/companies, and almost none of them are exclusive to just a single game. There are other big organisations such as Cloud9 who compete in 11 games, Team Solomid who compete in 7 games, or OpTic Gaming who compete in 6 games. The revenue model for esports is very different to what the sporting world is used to (there isn’t really the flow of money from “TV Revenue”), and it makes competing in multiple games a necessity.
Now the part where we talk about the money.
There are literally hundreds of Esports organisations all over the world so to keep it simple, I will stick with numbers for the 4 teams I have already mentioned. Team Liquid, Cloud9, Team Solomid and OpTic Gaming.
The Team Liquid organisation is valued at $200 million (all valuations by Forbes) and throughout the course of their history have earned a whopping $25.3 million in competition prizemoney alone. They have 1.8 million combined followers on their social media accounts. As mentioned before, they are run out of the Netherlands but they are owned by aXiomatic, an entertainment and sports management company. That company boasts investors such as NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, Golden State Warriors executives Rick Welts and Kirk Lacob, Washington Nationals owners at Lerner Enterprises, Chicago Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney, and former NFL player Dhani Jones. The smart people from the sports world have already made the jump over to esports.
Could 9 are valued at $310 million and through their history have won $8.3 million in prizemoney. They have a combined 2 million followers on social media. They are a team based in the USA that is known for being the first North American team to win a “Major” in the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive (Counter Strike is arguably the grandfather of modern esports) and they are the team of retired professional gamer and now one of the most popular streamers in the world Michael “shroud” Grzesiek*.
Team SoloMid (TSM) are valued at $250 million and through their history have won just (lol) $2.9 million in prizemoney. They have a massive 6.6 million social media followers. They are again a team based in America but they pull their player base from all over the western world (for example their current Rocket League roster is entirely from Europe). In spite of being one of the biggest players in the esports scene, they have struggled to come up with major success, and yet it hasn’t had a major impact on their value.
OpTic Gaming are valued at $130 million and through their history have won $7.4 million in prizemoney. They have 5.8 million social media followers. They are another team based in the USA, and one of their co-owners is also a co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. They have their beginnings in competitive Call of Duty games but have expanded across to many of the other first person shooter games.
The point of all of these numbers are to show you that this is bigger than you think, and all without the help of TV coverage. It’s not just an Asian phenomenon, and some of the biggest teams are based out of the US and Europe. There are many (many) issues with the community that I haven’t gone into here (everything from cheating to sexism) but one thing that can be said is that for better or worse, they have cultivated something from the ground up that is not going away any time soon.
People may have laughed at the E-League, but it’s getting a second season, and with the state of Football in Australia, we aren’t really in a position to be laughing at anyone.
This probably all seems like an overwhelming amount of information to take in, on a topic that is possibly foreign to you, but all it takes is one game to suck you in. For me that game was PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds. A game which dipped its toes into the competitive gaming scene in a real way at the same time as the E-League was launching in Australia and after a year of major and minor events spent tweaking how to get the best coverage, agreeing on a points system and finalising the in game rules, they are set to launch major weekly leagues in North America, Europe, Korea and China.
But I will get to that in the next article…
*I am going to have to get into it at another time, but shroud retired at the ripe old age of 23 because he could make more money live streaming himself playing games on Twitch. He was not wrong. He has over 40,000 paid subscribers to his channel, which probably doesn’t seem like a lot when you hear about the number of YouTube subscribers that some influencers have, but when you consider that it costs $10AUD PER MONTH to be a subscriber it really starts to add up. He also has 3.5 million YouTube subscribers with over 20 million monthly views. But like I said, Twitch and streaming is an entirely new article that I will have to write at some point.