The AFL Commission has given the AFL the green light to begin its push into eSports, while Greater Western Sydney are making inquiries about buying a professional eSports team.
Fairfax Media can reveal the Commission recently ticked off on the AFL ramping up its efforts to run an eSports competition. The AFL believes its expertise in sporting governance, policing integrity issues and running competitions makes it well-placed to play a part in the Australian eSports industry.
AFL and eSports: The unlikely match
What is eSports and why is the AFL interested?
However, the AFL is wary of recklessly forcing its way into the already booming Australian eSports scene and so will take its time researching the best way to proceed.
ESports – or professional video gaming – is a $ 1.2 billion global industry, with an annual audience of 239 million in the highly valuable 14 to 34-year age group.
In eSports, paid professional video game players compete against each other in teams in games such as League of Legends, Call of Duty and FIFA.
In May, Fairfax Media revealed the AFL wanted to enter the eSports industry and envisioned hosting a tournament at Etihad Stadium and that the Adelaide Crows had become the first AFL team to buy a professional eSports team, Australian-based Legacy eSports.
Following on from the Crows’ eSports purchase, the Giants have begun preliminary talks with a number of eSports teams, one of them based in western Sydney, about buying their organisations.
The Giants believe, that like their netball team and AFLW team, having a Giants branded eSports team can introduce GWS to new and bigger fan markets.
Fairfax Media understands other AFL clubs have contacted various top tier Australian eSports teams, including a team called Chiefs.
Chiefs were recently the only Australian eSports team to compete in the Intel Extreme Masters eSports tournament at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena.
They are considered by some as one of, if not Australia’s best eSports team.
The AFL’s push into eSports illustrates how aware the league is of the fragility of the commercial sporting market.
While the AFL is one of Australia’s most financially successful sporting organisations it believes more needs to be done to engage with young people, whose time spent online or in digital environments has skyrocketed in the last 10 years.
For the AFL, and some clubs, eSports – with its young, massive and digitally engaged audience – is a place they believe they can increase the ubiquity and exposure of their brands.
Like any sport, eSports is susceptible to cheating, doping and match-fixing. The AFL has identified these areas as problems it can help eSports combat.
Individual eSports players from teams around the world amass huge online followings. Their more traditional social media channels like Instagram and Twitter are followed by many, however they also accumulate enormous audiences on video streaming website Twitch.
Twitch broadcasts videos made by individuals and teams to do with eSports training, tips and the everyday lives of a professional eSports player.
Twitch also broadcast tournaments to worldwide audiences of millions. Around the world sporting clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, FC Schalke 04 and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers own eSports teams.
Other teams such as Manchester City and West Ham have individual players competing under their brands.
Australia’s eSports industry is considerably smaller than the industry in the United States, Asia and Europe. However, those involved believe eSports will eventually breakthrough in Australia.