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Volume 6 No. 265
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Bundesliga Side Schalke Uses Esports Properties To Increase Int'l Fan Base

Bundesliga side Schalke is embracing esports as a way to reach new and int’l fans. Schalke was one of the first professional European football clubs to recognize the potential of virtual sports in attracting a younger audience. The club took over League of Legends team Elements in May before adding its own professional FIFA team a month later. The idea behind the club’s move into gaming is to increase its appeal beyond the pitch, Schalke Marketing Dir Alexander Jobst told SBD Global. “With close to 70 million people who play League of Legends each month, the chance that a whole lot of them are interested in football is quite high,” he said. “That is one of our main goals -- people who love to play LoL or FIFA and love football all root for the same team: Schalke 04.” The Gelsenkirchen-based club is the second Bundesliga club with its own FIFA team. VfL Wolfsburg entered the esports scene with the hire of pro gamer Benedikt Saltzer in May ’15. The club added a second player at the beginning of this year. Other teams including defending German champion Bayern Munich are evaluating the field. “We have to think about whether we do it, but I think we have to,” Bayern Munich Media, Digital & Communications Stefan Mennerich said in a recent interview.

PROVIDING A STRUCTURE: Schalke’s LoL team is currently undergoing a thorough analysis and reorganization after being relegated from the European League of Legends Championship Series (EU LCS) after its first season, Jobst said. “Our goal is an immediate comeback at the end of EU LCS Spring Split 2017,” he said. Schalke’s decision to enter LoL appears to be unique among football clubs, other teams are putting their esports focus solely on FIFA. The game, which is produced by EA Sports, is the most successful sports video game franchise in history, having sold more than 100 million copies. What is missing, however, to entice an even larger number of football clubs to join the virtual world is an organized competition. Electronic Sports League, the world’s largest video game event company, for example, is not organizing a professional FIFA league. Companies like EA Sports, which has been the presenting partner of the annual FIFA Interactive World Cup since '04, are working on a new structure that could lead to more pro sports properties joining the field. "We will have some announcements very soon," EA Sports Global Marketing Dir for FIFA Matt McKie said.

FACING IT HEAD ON: Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore recently told the BBC that “digital gaming” and “social media” were the league’s biggest competitors. The league's philosophy seems to be, if you can’t beat them, join them. Earlier this month, the EPL signed a three-year, $85M deal with EA Sports to become the league's lead partner, while clubs like Man City and West Ham launched esports divisions. An official EPL or Bundesliga eLeague, in which all of the respective league's clubs participate, could be in the pipeline. “FIFA is an up and coming topic within the esport scene,” Jobst said. “We are hoping that our engagement will help to consolidate the sport in the scene.” Football is not the only sport that wants to be a part of the virtual world, as motorsports series Formula E is hosting virtual races and competitions alongside its physical events.