As esports becomes more mainstream, football clubs have been investing in their own esports teams. For some clubs, the natural transition is to focus on FIFAe. Others have gone further, taking an “all-in” approach and building esports teams across a range of popular video game titles.
Here we take a look at why football clubs are branching out into esports, and pick out the five European clubs that are topping FIFAe rankings.
esports as a marketing strategy for football clubs
Esports attracts a younger demographic than traditional sports. The average age of Premier League fans is now 42, getting older by the year. By contrast, the average age of esport viewership is 26.
As a marketing strategy, esports can help football clubs to attract a younger audience and keep them interested in the sport. Branching out into esports also protects the longevity of the brand, ensuring loyalty among young fans.
It’s a strategy that clubs like Manchester City have been building on for years. City launched their esports team in 2016, and were one of the first in the Premier League to do so. They have focused on FIFAe and have used their presence in esports as an extension of the brand.
In the 2020/21 season, Shaun “Shellez” Springette, who represents Man City, beat Olleito of Leeds United in a penalty shootout to win the Grand Final. Shellez remains the player to beat in the ePremier League this season.
Sponsors also benefit when football clubs branch out into esports. For example, if Manchester United show Adidas and Chevrolet throughout their FIFA esports branding (which they do), this provides more exposure for the sponsors, potentially allowing them to reach a younger segment of the fanbase.
Going “all-in” on esports
Football video games are considered a niche in esports. There are much more popular and well established esports competitions that offer millions in prizes. The only problem is it costs a fortune to invest in the infrastructure to run, say, a successful League of Legends team – player salaries alone dwarf that of FIFAe.
It’s a smooth transition for a football club to enter a FIFA or PES league – not so dissimilar from a live player turning to online poker. The transition is not always so smooth when a club decides to branch out into the wider esports world.
Clubs that have taken an “all-in” approach to esports include Schalke 04, FC Copenhagen and PSG.
Schalke 04 are a German football club established in 1904 and have seven Championships to their name. Schalke first launched their esports venture in 2016 and have since been involved with FIFA, League of Legends, Dota2, Pub G, Fortnite and CS:GO.
Although esports has provided the club with additional revenue streams, their recent relegation from Bundesliga along with financial difficulties experienced during the pandemic mean that Schalke 04 recently sold their League of Legends European Championship license to team BDS for €26.5m.
PSG ventured into esports in 2016, starting with their FIFA team and then expanding into Dota2, League of Legends, Brawl Stars and Rocket League. PSG have had success in Dota2 in partnership with LGD Gaming. They won their first two majors in a row as well as the tournament phase of the 2020 China Dota2 Professional League.
Top five European football clubs with FIFAe teams
FIFAe rankings take into account team performances for major FIFAe series over the last few years.
The very top spots in the rankings are dominated by well established esports companies, such as first place Complexity Gaming and second place Mkers.
But look only a little further down the list and you start to see the names of famous football clubs. Here are the top European football clubs in FIFAe:
RB Leipzig – At number five is Bundesliga contenders RB Leipzig. They are ranked 22nd overall in the FIFAe rankings. The main team is Richard “Der-Gaucho1o” Homes, who reached the Virtual Bundesliga Grand Final in 2019 and 2020 and is ranked 35th on Xbox, and Umut “RBL_Umut” Gultekin, who is ranked 17th in Europe on Playstation.
Manchester City – The current champions of the Premier League, Manchester City don’t do too bad when it comes to esports either. They are ranked 16th overall in Europe for FIFAe. Shaun “Shellzz” Springette is the star of the show. He’s been with the team since 2018 and has represented City for three World Cups and one ePremier League. He’s joined by Ryan “MCFC Ryan” Pressoa.
AC Monza – AC Monza play in Italy’s Serie B and are looking to reach the top flight for the first time ever this season. Their esports team is up there with the best. They made the semi-finals of the FIFAe Club World Cup in 2021 and are ranked 12th overall in FIFAe, higher than Manchester City. Raffaele “Er_Caccia98” Cacciapuoti has been with AC Monza since the team was formed in 2017 and is joined by Renzo “Nzorello” Parave.
Schalke FC – It’s been an unfortunate year for Schalke FC, who’s football team crashed out of Bundesliga and who’s esports team finished a disappointing 11th out of 13th in the Virtual Bundesliga. The team, made up of Tim “Tim Latka” Schwartmann, Julius “Juli” Kühle and Joe “JH7” Hellmann, did make it through to the semi-finals of the FIFAe Club World Cup in 2021, before falling to champions the Mkers. Despite recent shortcomings, Schalke FC still occupy 12th place in the overall FIFAe rankings. They’ll need a decent performance this year to keep it up.
FC Basil – The top esports team owned by a European football club is FC Basil, ranked 7th overall in the FIFAe rankings. The team is a four person powerhouse of talent from across the world; top ranked Brazilian Miguel “SpiderKong” De Assis Bilhar, three-time Swiss champion Luca “Lubo” Boller, Swiss Leandro “Dufty” Curty, and Argentinian Gonzalo Nicolas “Nicolas99FC” Villalba. FC Basil esports are Swiss FIFAe champions and FIFAe Club World Cup semi finalists.