It's only a matter of time before most clubs have an esports team – Fnatic

Esports has got everyone talking and experts predict that it will attract global revenues of more than £1bn by 2020.

Organised, competitive computer gaming that can be staged in front of a live audience and millions more online, it's no wonder that top professional sports teams are already seeing the value in creating their own esports teams. 

We spoke to Róisín O'Shea, Senior Partnerships Manager at Fnatic, whose players attend more than 75 international events per year.

Esports is creating quite a buzz at the moment – why is that?

Esports – the 'new world sport' as we like to call it at Fnatic, is one of the most impactful things happening in the world of sport and entertainment.

Millions of people tune in online to the tournaments, hundreds of thousands watch players stream their games online, and social media engagement is bigger and better than any other sport. Prize money in some titles can reach $21m, and the pot is getting bigger.

All of a sudden it seems as if the audiences for esports are competing with real-life sports events – what is the attraction?

Audience numbers in esports totally eclipse those of traditional sports, and although it's hard to imagine why, as soon as you go to a live event you'll understand.

Finals of League of Legends, for example, are hosted in venues as big as London's O2 Arena and have sell-out audiences, and that's not to mention the number of people watching online all over the world.

The EPL is probably the closest thing you could equate the audiences to in terms of numbers and reach, esports is at an awareness level globally of about 1.2 billion, and over 300 million viewers right now.

It truly is a global sport, and depending on the game, you've got huge audiences stretching across each continent. People sometimes ask why do people watch people playing games?

The answer to that is the same answer to why people watch people play football, or any other sport. It's entertaining, it's exciting, it's emotional, and you can't help but get swept up in it.

Even professional sports teams are getting in on the act it seems – what’s in it for them?

There are a number of sports teams investing in esports teams across a number of titles, predominantly FIFA (Ed – the Electronic Arts game).

This makes sense to football clubs right now, to create a FIFA team attached to their club for reasons including the fact that so many football fans are also fans of the FIFA game.

Offering your fans another way to engage with your team is important, and it also adds another revenue stream of course. Fnatic have recently launched a FIFA team with AS Roma who compete professionally against other FIFA teams around the world. 

Are the big sports teams who are not yet embracing esports missing a trick then?

Again, this is FIFA related, but I don't think they're missing a trick just yet. It is only a matter of time before most football clubs have a FIFA team that sits alongside their football teams.

It's important to remember esports isn't just FIFA played on a console – it's also PC games like Counter-Strike (CS:GO) and League of Legends, as well as Call of Duty and many other titles. For example League of Legends has over 100 million monthly active players. But for most people their first intro into esports will probably be via FIFA. 

What are the commercial opportunities for clubs and brands?

The commercial opportunity lies in the access to millions of engaged fans globally, predominantly males aged 14-35, which we all know is a pretty difficult demographic to penetrate.

These fans are mainly online, but also travel and buy tickets to live events. They love merchandise and are very loyal supporters of their chosen team. The attraction right now for brands is to be a part of something before their competitors are, because it's only a matter of time.

Can you see esports disciplines being held at traditional sports events?

This is an interesting idea, but something that is pretty far-fetched in terms of a big multi-sport event for the immediate future.

Unless, of course, we’re talking SEA or China. Here we are seeing events getting bigger and more mainstream than in Europe and North America, so I imagine if esports were to become part of a multi-sport event, Asia is going to be where we see this happen.

Ultimately, you’ve got people who like to watch live sport, and a decent competition to entertain them – it’s the same concept as traditional sports events, and with the growth of virtual reality is only a matter of time before esports becomes more physical too!

Will we ever see the day where esports stars are lauded in the same way as a Usain Bolt or Cristiano Ronaldo?

Well, within the world of esports these guys are huge celebrities. They have huge social media followings, they have big salaries, they have their own sponsorship deals, and are used for marketing campaigns all over the world. As esports becomes more mainstream, so too will the pro players. 

What does Fnatic do specifically within esports?

Fnatic is the longest running esports organisation with consistent success at the highest level.

It is made up of 10 teams who play in eight different games, each wearing Fnatic jerseys. The list of games that are played professionally around the world is growing every year, but for Fnatic we are very careful to choose titles we know will have the support of a professional league and organisation behind it.

Fnatic was founded 12 years ago in London, and has grown to become a global entity with operations in the Far East, South East Asia, North America, and across Europe.

Each of the players who are signed to Fnatic have player contracts, as a footballer would with his or her club. Fnatic also manufactures gaming hardware, called Fnatic Gear, which is designed by and for gamers.

We also are the first team to have a physical presence with Bunkr which is in Shoreditch, London.

This is where fans of Fnatic can buy a Fnatic jersey or pick up some Fnatic Gear, as well as a place to come and meet or watch our teams play on the big screen.

Our mission is to bring esports into every household, and we're working with some great partners to help us do that.

Do you have any events coming up?

We host events at Bunkr quite often but next month (May) will see us host an intro to Fnatic, and esports to brands and agencies working with brands looking to learn more about the opportunities within esports, and why they need to be considering getting involved.

It's an invite only event, but if people are interested in coming along, just drop me a line, roisin@fnatic.com