The arrival of Schalke, one of Bundesliga’s major soccer clubs, in esports has surprised many in and out of the industry.
This is not the first time that a big traditional sports name has entered esports. Behind the American esports organization Echo Fox is ex-NBA star Rick Fox, and Turkish soccer club Besiktas also owns a League of Legends team. This is, however, the first major European club to expand into one of the major leagues in esports
A big club like Schalke 04 could bring a lot of new ideas to esports and affect the landscape in different aspects. As of right now, the entrance of the club brought a lot of discussion in non-gaming media outlets.
Esports has slowly gained traction in America. ESPN and Yahoo, two of the largest sports media entities in the country, have started covering esports. ELeague, a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league, has launched on cable TV. But as esports has been accepted more positively in America and had its growth praised, it hasn’t been the same case in Germany.
Although several countries, including China, Korea, Brazil, US and France, have to at least some extent recognized esports as a sport (and thereby a viable route for foreigners to acquire visas), Germany has not. If you followed the European League of Legends Championship Series this spring, you might remember all the visa issues the European organizations had with their Russian and Korean players. In Germany, esports players don’t get an athlete visa for being a professional, but Schalke 04 joining could be the first step in the right direction to change that, which is especially vital to League of Legends because the European LCS takes place in Berlin.
Could we find acceptance?
In the past, the German media’s views about video games have been negative. It started in the early 2000s during the rise of shooting games, which many in the media blamed as the reason for shooting rampages in schools (until a few years ago). The feelings continued through a negative, cliché and seemingly biased report from a German TV sender from Gamescom 2011. It simply hasn’t been easy for gamers in Germany for the last few years.
This opinion wasn’t expected to change anytime soon to benefit esports positively. In Germany, the prevailing thought is esports are not sports, and the players do not deserve the same rights as traditional sports counterparts.
With one of the biggest traditional sports German websites entering esports last year, and now Schalke 04, a change might happen sooner than expected. The impact of the entrance of both have been surprisingly positive, from fan comments on their Facebook page to comments from other German media outlets.
Even though the opinion of the German media toward gaming has been slowly improving over the years, this is the first time esports has been taken seriously outside of gaming-related media. The outcome of Schalke’s move and the reception of the media could be huge for esports in Germany and the rest of Europe.
“I think there was definitely a good impact,” said Nico “Sola” Linke, a German streamer and LCS shoutcaster. “An established team like Schalke 04 can show esports teams how to structure a team and organization and lead them to the right direction. In the end it is a good move for the growth of esports. However with this exposure good and bad things will come to light like payments and employment, which have been handled in a grey zone so far. Although they would have come out sooner or later anyways.”
Schalke’s presence could provide esports with the well-needed respect and good press necessary to change the opinions of the right people. The interest of Schalke could be reason for people to look at esports from a different angle. In the end, every respected, well-known name and good press could help esports be legitimized, not only in Germany but also in more places in Europe.
“Schalke 04 entering esports will bring positive aspects like infrastructure, rehabilitation facilities and trained medical and psychological personal and better resources comparing to other teams and organizations, but also negative aspects like an big organization that could outbid the competition,’ said Thiemo Bräutigam, editor-in-chief of the German-based Esports Observer. “Anyway, I think Schalke 04 can influence the scene positively, and I welcome their courage and initiative to join esports. I think this could influence other football clubs to join esports sooner or later.”
More Teams could look to enter esports
One of the things fans love to associate with sports are clubs. We like to cheer for our favorite soccer team as much as we like to chant “T-S-M” or “C-L-G” while watching them play League of Legends. Something we like even more is to see something familiar to us. This could be a person wearing the jersey of favorite team or simply that club having representation in other sports. If we take a look from that side, esports and traditional sports are not much different. We share emotions with friends, family and other fans of our favorite team. We share joy and emotion when our teams win, or the sadness when they lose. We cheer, we shout, we cry and we love to see our favorite teams and players play. Having a Bundesliga organization in League of Legends could further invigorate that passion, and it could also make other big European clubs interested in joining esports.
Investment and big names coming into esports can be a positive thing for the growth and acceptance of the industry. Other European clubs have shown interest in esports, as German team Wolfsburg and English Premier League club West Ham United have signed FIFA players in recent months. Spanish club Valencia announced its acquisition of a Hearthstone team this week, and a tweet from longtime esports host and caster Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner suggests more soccer clubs might be coming.The numbers, growth and interest of bigger clubs are there, so things could change any time soon.
In the end, what is left for us is to wait and see how big the impact Schalke 04 will make in esports turns out. It’s a great initiative and the whole esports scene can benefit from it. This could only be the beginning.
All photos courtesy of Riot Games.