February 6, 2013 Sheeraz Ahmad

European telecoms firms pin hopes on Esports video game gladiators

The 27 year old Spaniard, whose Internet nickname is “Aeroz”, is a rising star of the Esports, or video games competitions that are played online or even in sports arenas.

With championships watched by crowds of fans similar to traditional events like the NBA basketball finals or soccer World Cup, telecoms firms see Esports as a way to lure younger clients and brand themselves as digital companies rather than merely providers of phone services.

In April, Ochoa and four teammates signed a deal to become Vodafone’s official squad in Counter Strike, a game where the player can tackle terrorists trying to take hostages or carry out a bombing.

Vodafone, along with European rivals Telefonica and Orange, are investing in building up the industry by creating teams, TV channels or leagues.

With global revenues of US$500mil (RM2.1bil) in 2016, Esports remain financially tiny compared with the combined US$450bil (RM1.9tril) income of the film, television series and sports industries in which those firms already compete for the best distribution rights.

Ochoa earns in a month what a top soccer player might make in an hour, and the telecom firms still need to build a business model able to bring in significant revenue from young people accustomed to consuming online products largely for free.

But according to data compiled by JP Morgan, the number of Esports fans is forecast to grow more than 50% by 2019 to 500 million people globally, generating revenues of US$1bil (RM4.28bil). Industry experts see a potential for a wholesale broncos jerseys US$10bil (RM42.8bil) to US$20bil (RM85.6bil) market eventually.

Already numbers are expected to challenge audiences even for American Football’s premier event, consultancy Deloitte said.

“This year, an Esports event could get more audience than the Super Bowl and in a near future land more revenue for image rights,” Deloitte said in a report published last month.

Spain is a leading market in Europe, offering more of the fast fibre optic connections which video gamers and spectators demand than Britain, Germany and France combined as well as easy access to millions of players in Latin America.

Its Liga de Videojuegos Profesionales (LVP), or League of Professional Video Gamers with 60,000 daily viewers, is the world’s third biggest after the United States and South Korea.

It was bought last year by Spanish sports rights firm Mediapro, which also owns the La Liga football rights, and is sponsored by Orange.

Telefonica, meanwhile, launched in January on its premium TV platform Movistar , a 24 hour channel broadcasting the best competitions and has created its own team, Movistar Riders, which competes with Vodafone’s G2, in which Ochoa plays.

None of the three companies has disclosed how much they have spent so far in Esports but Ignacio Martinez, who oversees Vodafone’s Esports strategy in Spain, says it is the first time since he joined the industry 15 years ago that he sees telecoms companies rushing into a new market this way.

Martinez says his two squads which play Counter Strike and League of Legends, a game where players fight each other, receive support from fitness coaches, psychologists, physiotherapists, project managers and technical directors, like any professional football or basket ballteam.

“It’s a natural place to be for a telco because without a good fibre or mobile connection, you cannot play or watch. We’re targeting a rising audience of digital natives who are extremely active on social media and influence their parents on which telecoms services they should buy,” Martinez said.

The return on an investment seen in the ball park of the tens of millions of euros is potentially huge and quick.

According to the data from JP Morgan, an Esports viewer generates US$3.30 (RM14.10) in revenue compared with US$44.10 (RM188.80) on average for US professional sports leagues such as NFL or NBA.

And at the current growth rate, Esports could reach in just 10 years monetisation levels that took 50 years to achieve in traditional sports.

Yet, for many investors, Esports remains a wild west where different publishers, such as Activision, several event organisers, various platforms and dozens of different teams and leagues compete with almost no rules.

Spain’s LVP for instance showcases seven games, including hits League of Legends, warfare game Call of Duty and soccer game FIFA, but not Counter Strike, which belongs to the rival ESL league. Spain is also home to two additional leagues.

“Revenue right NFL Detroit Lions Jerseys Cheap For Sports Wear now primarily comes from sponsorship but we’re moving into a new revenue generation model based on content and micro payments,” said Ignacio Fernandez Vega Feijoo, director of strategy for Movistar .

The arrival of professional sp