The Significance Of AFL Clubs Acquiring Australian Esports Teams

Last week, the Adelaide Crows Football Club revealed that they had taken over Legacy esports, a popular organisation who have had the most success in League of Legends, but have also dabbled in a wide variety of other esports.

Whilst this was always going to be a natural progression, many people (including myself) weren’t expecting such a large takeover to happen this quickly. This came after the previous revelation that the AFL were looking to hold esports events at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium.

A lot of people both in and outside of the gaming industry are struggling to understand why an AFL team might be looking to acquire an esports organisation, and it’s still quite hard to make sense of what this means for the future of esports in Australia.

I asked some of the most influential and knowledgable people in esports/gaming about what this acquisition would mean to the AFL and also the future of the esports industry in Australia.


Agus Berry – Respawn Ninja – Esports Editor/Journalist: There’s been quite a lot of talk from AFL directly about their interest in esports and seeing this Adelaide Crows move wasn’t surprising but a massive one for our scene. In order to reach out to the broader younger audience (from a marketing stand-point) – investing on esports is a no brainer. Acquisitions like this will help turn esports fans into AFL fans as they grow older giving the club a massive reach into a demographic highly associated with video games.

Chris Smith – CORSAIR – PR & Marketing Specialist ANZ: I think AFL teams are looking to expand into esports in order to reach a new and developing demographic. It’s obvious to myself and others in this industry that esports is a growing market (the stats back this) and it is a very ‘bottom-up’ pushed industry. Take VR for example, every company is telling us (as consumers) that we HAVE to care about VR and that VR is the next big thing! Companies are releasing ‘VR Ready’ laptops, VR Ready consoles, VR ready video cards, VR Ready power supplies & cases.. Whereas look at esports, it’s often ignored by most or given low budget, but the pure drive, passion and push from the masses of fans is now starting to turn heads.

It’s also obvious to us that TV is a dwindling market in this day and age, I haven’t had a TV plugged into an Aerial for many years now and many of my gamer friends are the same. In addition, I’ve never considered Foxtel in my life, because why would I wait for shows during their scheduled times when I can just use Netflix or watch YouTube documentaries?

AFL has jumped on this growing industry while it’s on the rise and in its infancy, it’s good to see and I’m interested to see what fill follow – most sporting clubs don’t really have multiple teams, let alone expand into multiple games, so will we see RedBull F1 pick up a SMITE squad? Who knows!

Daniel Ringland – RIOT Games – Head of Esports: The AFL as many traditional sports suffer from an ageing fan base, which in turn is impacting revenue. A key demographic for brands is millennials, which traditional sports are struggling to attract in the volumes they once did. Esports teams will bring in millennials who will both boost revenue through sponsorship and also engage with their existing sport product.

Jonny Roses – IGEA – Legal and Policy Lawyer: We know that global eSports viewership and attendance numbers rival traditional sporting events, but eSports is also quickly growing in popularity in the Australian market. Australian teams are competing in more and more global competitions, and we are also starting to see major eSports events come to the country. But Australian eSports still lags behind the rest of the world – whether it be player salaries, viewership, attendance numbers, events or sponsorships. But we’re definitely getting there, so it only makes sense for AFL teams to get involved early and be a part of it all. After all, we have already seen European football (Valencia CF, FC Schalke 04) and NBA (Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers) teams do the exact same – our Aussie sports teams are just following suit.

Nick Bobir – Tainted Minds – CEO and Founder: Millennials have for some time being a hard audience for traditional sporting clubs to engage with and convert into members. Esports directly captures this demographic and through brand association with established esports teams, traditional clubs can again directly target and engage with that age group. The strong digital focus of esports works to fill what is somewhat of a still developing focus is many traditional clubs and allows them to communicate with an existing and developed digital community and hopefully integrate them into their community as well. Bringing on this whole new age group means a lot more value to their current endemic partnership deals and also then allows them to flow into non endemic areas of their own to foster further relationships there. Many within that industry have already identified esports as the ‘entertainment of the future’ so the eagerness on their behalf to be involved is expected’

Peter Du – Bit Games – Managing Director: The demographic of the esports market is prime real estate for AFL teams. Our audience is roughly between the ages of 18 to 35, with quite a high percentage of female viewership – similar to the trends we see in AFL. Investing in esports teams brings new exposure not only to their club branding, but also to their subsequent sponsors as well.

The move into esports was just a matter of time. Esports has taken cues from traditional sports for the longest time and at a high level, the two ecosystems are very similar. Purely comparing the fan experience – we all have a team we cheer for and we wear their colours with pride. Teams monetise off this by producing merchandise and apparel that we purchase to show our support. We follow the stories of our favourite players and become invested in their performance, especially when it comes time to draft a fantasy team. The main difference is, esports has grown and matured around social media, so the entire audience is able to share this passion with the rest of the world, in real time. While there are some that use social media for traditional sports, it’s a small percentage and for everyone, they are limited to their physical surroundings.

RustyTheCaster – Esports Commentator: For me there’s two things, the first is that Esports could well be the future. We’re in the age of social media, which innately refers to the technological age, and Esports is a perfect bridge between Sport and  Technology. Eventually teams may have to invest in Esports if they want to keep pace or even if they want to try something new. Esports is constantly (and very quickly) developing so acquiring a team now means early entry into a very young but rapidly growing industry, perhaps even being able to let it grow in the right way with their support.

The second thing, I see Esports as a way to target a market significantly younger and harder to hit than the AFL can find through any traditional marketing. Whilst AFL does have an enourmous amount of young followers, to be able to properly and meaningfully reach these demographics and cross promote, there’s an untapped reservoir of potential supports at their fingertips.ESPORTS2

Agus Berry – Respawn Ninja – Esports Editor/Journalist: – With a lot of other things, Australia is always behind and esports is one of them. There’s been massive developments in the esports world overseas with big name clubs like Philadelphia 76ers picking up Team Dignitas. High-profile brands such as VISA and Audi are sponsoring esports teams and having a club like Adelaide Crows picking up Legacy will open the doors for investment to further develop and grow our local industry.

Chris Smith – CORSAIR – PR & Marketing Specialist ANZ: Chatting to some of my US Colleagues and friends, the sporting club investments in the US hasn’t changed the whole ballgame (pun) too much, but with AFL being such an Aussie-centric sport and promoted so well, earning so much money and gathering so much sport for a relatively small country to uphold, maybe this will mean something amazing for us. Also keeping in mind that that amount of money these US teams had before investment were much much larger than us., so maybe the gap was much smaller for them and the traditional investors only really bumped them up a few percentage points – but I’m just speculating at this stage.

We’re all interested in who will invest next. There’s always that niggling though about teams ‘buying out’ esports squads and then ‘ruining’ the way that they operate – In the case of Legacy I’m led to believe it is 100% ownership by the Crows, but with an existing General Manager in place to call the shots.

Daniel Ringland – RIOT Games – Head of Esports: – Partnering with traditional sports speeds up the evolution and growth of esports as an industry. Although there are many parallel’s between the esport and sporting industry, they are currently separate. By merging the two, both benefit in the short and long term as esports will be able to access the structures, partnerships and knowledge traditonal sports like the AFL have been building over the hundred years and traditional sports will gain access to the millennials they need to keep their sport viable in the long term.

Jonny Roses – IGEA – Legal and Policy Lawyer: Of course, acquisitions of Australian eSports teams will help eSports grow faster in the country. The more money being pumped into teams means better player salaries, better equipment and perhaps more team houses. But importantly, these acquisitions add further legitimacy to eSports as a concept in Australia. When traditional sports teams start to see value in eSports and treat it seriously, not only do potential sponsors start to take notice, but mainstream audiences also become more aware of what eSports actually is. This will be fundamentally important to help local viewership and attendance numbers grow.

Nick Bobir – Tainted Minds – CEO and Founder: It may be too early to say as it’s the first of its kind in the APAC region, however I see the move as a positive, if done correctly. The resourcing capabilities, marketing, corporate business practices, merchandising and the ability to integrate fanbases will provide unrivalled growth and opportunities on multiple levels. I truly believe though that any clubs getting involved will need to respect the fact that teams, managers and owners are the experts in this industry and to work closely to reach the aligning goals of the partnership. Currently the space is underdeveloped in terms of non-endemic brands and exposure and aligning with clubs will mean bigger opportunities across the board for partner opportunities and future competitions and leagues.

Peter Du – Bit Games – Managing Director: Personally, I think that these kinds of acquisitions is a step in the right direction, but it also raises a lot of questions. First and foremost, it provides esports with the legitimacy it needs to attract mainstream sponsorship and investment on a larger scale. Traditional sporting clubs have a wealth of knowledge and experience we can draw from. We’ll hopefully see a more regulated set of industry standards put in place, especially regarding the quality of player contracts and oversight on how teams are managed. Teams and players will have access to better public relations training and more mainstream media outreach. With talks of international esports leagues moving to a franchise model (eg Overwatch League, LCS), we’re on par with global trends for once, rather than playing catch up.

That being said, it needs to be executed correctly. If these early acquisitions were to fail, it could set us back numerous years as mainstream investors would see esports as too risky. If those with esports expertise were left out of planning process, it may fall out of favour with the current audience. Thankfully though, the early signs are looking good and I’m looking forward to this new milestone in Australian esports history.

RustyTheCaster – Esports Commentator: I see these acquisitions as the means to a far more established future for Esports in Australia and all of Oceania. With the support of these major organisations and backing members within, they provide years of experience growing and developing something that for us is a new venture. It provides legitimacy and hope that all of these years we’ve dedicated to a dream can actually stay true on its course and find longevity.