eSports News UK editor Dominic Sacco shares his opinion on Manchester City signing their first FIFA eSports player.
Something is not sitting quite right with me regarding today’s announcement that Manchester City are getting involved with eSports.
While it’s great that huge organisations like football clubs are embracing competitive gaming – and helping to spread the message to non-gamers – I’m worried that eSports is being watered down along the way.
In City’s announcement article and videos, the club talks several times about their new player ‘engaging’ with their audience worldwide, having ‘more content’ through their digital channels and how he will ‘engage and interact’ with City’s fans.
Worse than that, the club actually describe their first FIFA player – British 18-year-old Kieran “Kez” Brown – as a ‘vehicle’ to speak to their fans.
That’s right, a vehicle. A marketing machine designed to give the club a PR boost and reach a new audience, which, ultimately, will give the club new fans. More fans equals more merchandise and ticket sales, and bingo, more money.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a fantastic move for Kez – I’m delighted for him, as I am other players signed to football clubs. These are paid eSports jobs that weren’t around a few years ago, and help grow the eSports scene as a whole.
But there’s something about this announcement that, in my opinion, stinks.
It seems like they see Kez more of a content producer than an actual professional gamer. Maybe he is (I don’t know him well enough), but hear me out.
Not once do they refer to Kez as a pro gamer, nor do they mention any of his specific past tournaments or achievements. When a football player signs to a club as big as City, you can bet they are going to mention how he was the top-scorer in Italy or a two-times German Bundesliga champion. Or at least how he has played football since the age of 8 years old at a youth team.
They do say how he’s going to make them lots of new video content on YouTube and Twitch, however, to grow their audience. And I might be nitpicking here (they do say he’s an ‘eSports player’), but the feeling I get from City’s announcement is that they’re missing the point with eSports.
To me, eSports is all about that competitive spirit. The excitement of an action-packed match, two sides doing their damnedest to beat one another no matter what, the spontaneity of an amazing play that comes from nowhere, an epic turnaround, an underdog defeating a giant, a nearly-team that finally wins a championship.
“We live in a time where the term ‘eSports’ is being bandied about a hell of a lot by companies that know nothing about it, and it seems some people are confusing competitive gaming with a ‘vehicle’ for marketing, brand awareness and just another source of revenue.”
I don’t care how many new fans a non-gaming brand (with an owner worth £17 billion) reaches. I don’t care how much money an already ridiculously wealthy company makes, and I don’t care about their f*cking content.
We live in a time where the term ‘eSports’ is being bandied about a hell of a lot by companies that know nothing about it, and it seems some people are confusing competitive gaming with a ‘vehicle’ for marketing, brand awareness and just another source of revenue.
Thankfully, Kez does say he’ll be participating in FIFA tournaments like Play Like A Legend and the FIFA Interactive World Cup. But I question how much City really cares about tournaments like that which don’t have large prize pools or viewers.
Compare the $20,000 or so up for grabs in those tournaments to the millions on the line in the Dota 2 Internationals or League of Legends World Championships. Let’s be honest, FIFA is not on the same level.
If Manchester City really cared about eSports, they would sign Kez to play FIFA and make content, but they would also sign off more activity in this space.
To me, it sounds like City would’ve been better off sponsoring a well-known eSports league or team.
I applaud Schalke 04 FC, who signed the established pro League of Legends team Elements, and if rumours are to be believed, Manchester United for their hunt for an EU Overwatch team. That’s a new, fast-growing and exciting game which would be a brave and interesting move from a club like United.
It won’t be long until most of the established football clubs in the UK have their own eSports players (even West Ham have one). But is this just a new marketing gimmick for them, or a genuine interest in eSports for the long-term?
Call me cynical, but I can’t help feel it’s the former.
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.