Premier League football clubs are set to follow the lead of Manchester City and engage future generations of fans through the rapidly growing medium of eSports.
That is the view of Brandon Smith, commentator on the FIFA 19 competitive gaming scene, after the top flight of English football announced the inaugural ePremier League.
The English champions already have professional FIFA players on their books including twice FIFA eSports world champion Kai ‘Deto’ Wollin.
“It’s another angle of fan engagement and a great idea to bring young fans into football clubs,” Smith told BusinessCloud. “Look at what Manchester City have done so far: hopefully the same effect will happen with a number of other clubs.”
Smith commentates on FIFA alongside fellow student and business partner Richard Buckley for eSports organisations such as Gfinity, which will run the ePremier League.
‘Deto’ himself (pictured below) won three German Bundesliga eSports titles before joining City earlier this year.
“If you go across Europe – the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 [in France], the Eredivisie in Holland – all of these guys are already doing virtual leagues but the Premier League getting involved is the best thing ever. It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Smith continued.
“That’s the league that needs to be behind it and pushing it. I’m excited to see all these football fans now that will have their kids going ‘I don’t want to be a footballer any more – I want to be the virtual gamer for Man City or United’.
“It’s going to create so much hype and be amazing.”
Each Premier League club will hold online qualification rounds from January to find the best FIFA 19 players which support their club. They will then hold a tournament at their home ground to identify winners on both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One platforms.
The 40 winners compete in the finals in London on 28-29th March, with the event broadcast live on Sky Sports as well as the league’s social channels.
The popularity of FIFA eSports was shown when 29 million people tuned in to watch the latest eWorld Cup, also broadcast by Sky as well as online platforms around the world, in August.
However fans of Swiss club Young Boys recently staged a bizarre protest against the club’s plans to move into eSports, throwing PS4 controllers on the pitch during a match against Basel.
“It was a weird one,” said Smith. “Maybe they were worried that the club would put money into something other than the first team.
“I worried that Premier League clubs might react in the same way, but publicity is publicity – and it is important for clubs in the long-term to get involved in eSports.”
The FIFA scene is tiny compared to long-establish eSports such as Counter Strike and Street Fighter, while other more recent games such as Fortnite and Rocket League are already establishing a foothold in an industry now worth billions.
“FIFA is not a traditional eSport but it’s growing rapidly. It’s only been pushed for 18 months – add five years on to that and who knows where we’ll be,” said Smith.
Brighton fan Smith and Barnsley supporter Buckley (pictured, left, with Smith) are multimedia sports journalism students at UCFB’s Etihad Campus and founded eSports Commentary in 2017.
After winning the £5,000 first prize in the university’s Sports Entrepreneur Award competition, they have invested into better equipment to grow their business – and hope to be given the opportunity to commentate on the ePL.
“There’s a whole new world out there now of streaming online and making YouTube content,” said Smith, who is targeting advertising revenue as well as accepting donations via the pair’s Twitch streaming channel.
“Our business is to make as much content as possible around eSports and build up the awareness for it. After investing the five grand back into ourselves, we’ve already seen our channels grow quite heavily.”