The AFL could be the perfect partner for professional gaming, with the up and coming sport looking to make a dent in the mainstream sporting psyche.
The league, Australia’s largest in pro sports, wants to utilise its forthcoming ownership of Etihad Stadium in Melbourne to establish a foothold in the $1.2 billion eSports industry, according to a report in The Age.
The pro gaming scene stands as perhaps the next battleground for economic dominance as AFL teams look to move on from controversial ties to the gambling industry, with a large number of AFL clubs relying on pokies venues as a steady stream of revenue.
The AFL takes ownership of Etihad Stadium in October, and it hopes to host eSports events at the venue. It’s also hopeful that clubs will establish or sponsor eSports teams, similar to efforts in the AFL Women’s and Super Netball leagues.
Australia is rising up the eSports ladder, having competed in the shadow of pro gaming juggernauts US, China and South Korea for years.
Interest is rising, with more young adults looking to build a career and establish themselves as pro gamers. In the US, a travel visa exists that recognises pro gamers as athletes.
This weekend in Sydney, the Intel Extreme Masters kicks off a $260,000 Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament. Six of the international invited teams have won over US$3.8 million dollars in major tournaments.
“eSports events sell out,” Darren Birch, the AFL’s growth, digital and audiences general manager, told Fairfax Media. “They are amazing live events.”
Pro gaming could definitely stand as a prime opportunity for AFL clubs to expand their brand, and encourage millennials to get involved in both sports.
“eSports is very strong in the millennial area, so for us it is about diverse exposure to that audience,” Birch said. “That’s no different to AFLW where we became more relevant to a female audience.”
It’s hard to ignore the allure of eSports, and the potential it has for generating revenue.
According to a report from research firm Morgan Stanley, The Overwatch League, Blizzard’s official city-based eSports league the company hopes will revolutionise the sport, is likely to generate around $100 million in revenue in the early years, but there’s the potential for it to generate more than $700 million per year in revenue.
“Whether that translates into football is somewhat relevant but also not totally relevant,” Birch continue. “We want AFL, through eSports, to have the ability to generate a broader appeal for clubs and be able to bring more sponsors, revenue and consumption of your brand – whether that’s a live footy event or a live eSports event.”
What are your thoughts? Would you like to see the AFL invest in eSports? Maybe we could have a LoL curtain raiser before an AFL match.