2020 is turning out to be a kind of perfect storm for eSports. Coronavirus struggles have paved the way at high-speeds for competitive gamers and everyone else making their move to capitalize off of the still-thriving industry. Some sports teams have been quick to pick up on the trend, deciding to sponsor their own eSports players. Then, there are the athletes who have taken it a step further.
It’s not unusual for athletes to dabble in video gaming sponsorships; last year Secretlab invested in a partnership with Dele Alli, a player for Tottenham Hotspur known for streaming while he plays video games. Beyond these kinds of sponsorships, big-name athletes have begun to back players of their own.
A Different Kind of Game
A couple of notable names in football have headlined this year, this time not for their own athletic achievements, but because of their interest in a different sport. Founding their own eSports teams, both David Beckham and Gareth Bale are stepping into the eSports arena, although their approaches contrast clearly in an industry that lives on sponsorship.
From Footballer to eSports Founder
Captain of the Wales national team, Gareth Bale currently plays as a winger for Tottenham Hotspur on loan from Real Madrid. He’s considered an exceptional player, having been the Welsh Footballer of the Year a record six times in a row.
Though Bale is still an active player, the Premier League schedule has been delayed this year, much like most traditional sports leagues around the world. eSports has helped to fill some of the gaps delays have caused, picking up even more momentum than it already had when leaving 2019. Where sports have been unable to continue due to coronavirus, eSports and online casino websites have carried entertainment and sports betting industries.
In association with 38 Entertainment and Group, Bale is now the owner of Ellevens Esports, having signed a small group of players with plans to host an open talent search in the future. As of now, Ellevens’ FIFA team includes UK player Ethan Higgins, Brazil player Pedro Resende, and fellow Welsh player Tyler Phillips. The Rocket League team, all players from Brazil, consists of Gabriel Vieira, Enzo Toledo, and Caio Vinicius.
A Strong Start
Ellevens Esports’ FIFA team had an early tournament in February where they lost to Complexity Gaming but were able to establish themselves as a remarkable team amongst the competition. Since then, the Rocket League team has been very active, finishing the RLCS South American qualifier series unbeaten.
Beckham Buys In
David Beckham, a former English professional footballer, also has his own eSports team, based out of London, that recently rebranded under the name Guild eSports. Also currently only sporting a FIFA and a Rocket League team, Guild eSports says they plan on expanding their player contract to include other games soon. Their Rocket League team is playing in the ongoing 2020 RLCS Season X event and the overall scope of their performance is pretty short.
Guild eSports Goes Public
Beckham’s team has received a lot of attention because of the decision to list Guild eSports for public trading on the London Stock Exchange. This is the first eSports team to make a move like this and it is certainly making waves. They floated 40% in shares through a listing led by Mirabaud Securities and Zeus Capital, completing the listing at over $50 million.
Big Associations and Expectations
Critics of teams like Guild eSports and Ellevens Esports say that these celebrity-backed organizations are becoming a dime a dozen and that the names behind the teams are the driving force–not the teams themselves. After all, Guild eSports was formed just this Summer and hasn’t even shown if they can sustain sponsorships. The initial investment was poured into a name–specifically David Beckham’s–with little consideration as to whether or not Guild eSports can actually carry itself.
As far as Ellevens Esports and other footballers and celebrities capitalizing on the popularity of eSports, it’s a double-edged sword. The continued investment could certainly help eSports get recognition. However, sponsors that see it as a great way to get in on the revenue wave coming out of online competitive gaming right now aren’t doing much besides capitalizing.
On the future of Ellevens Esports, Gareth Bale has said, “There are similarities between football and esports in that it takes real dedication and sacrifice to reach the top of your game. […] Unearthing new talent is an exciting part of the process and it’s been really exciting to be involved in selecting our line-up of players so far!” Hopefully, he genuinely plans to bring this kind of enthusiasm and innovation to his eSports ownership and opts for less of a hands-off approach.