In May 2017, Fairfax reported that the AFL was keen to move into an eSports market worth 1.2 billion annually. The league is keen on running an eSports tournament at Etihad Stadium, which it assumed ownership of last October, and wants AFL clubs to sponsor or create their own eSports teams, as some have with AFL Women’s and Super Netball.
“eSports events sell out,” Darren Birch, the AFL’s growth, digital and audiences general manager told Fairfax Media. “They are amazing live events. There are more screens, more activities going on, more lights, more LED displays. Some of the tournaments I have seen show that eSports is more concert-like than sport-like, but that’s what appeals to that younger audience. All of these things make the experience bigger and bolder than your average sport.”
On May 17th, the Adelaide Crows announced they had signed pro-team Legacy, one of eight top-tier League of Legends professional teams competing in the Oceanic Pro League (OPL). The team will remain based in Sydney, although the Crows have reportedly upgraded their living arrangements.
The Crows have used their expertise in running a traditional sports team — particularly in the area of work-life balance — to improve Legacy, which competes in major games including SMITE, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. There are now plans for a high performance centre at West Lakes to bring more resources to the gamers, such as access to fitness coaches, training facilities, nutritionists and other services used regularly by the footballers.
On June 30th, Fairfax reported that the AFL 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. 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.
In October 2017, it was reported by News Ltd, that Carlton, Essendon, Collingwood, West Coast, Port Adelaide and GWS were interested in becoming involved with eSports.
In December, 2017, Essendon announced it had bought League of Legends team, Abyss. Abyss players will don the sash as the esports team undergoes rebranding to become fully integrated into Essendon. They will also be relocated to Melbourne where the players will make use of the club’s facilities.
Chief Marketing Officer Justin Rodski said the new team will use all facilities and resources available at the club.
“We certainly looked at how best to integrate the team into our football club,” Rodski said.”They’ll be able to access our facilities, our dietician and our high-performance program to enable them to be like any other athlete competing in any other sports club or sports tournament in the world. They need to be able to go out and do exercise in the morning, they need to do mental preparation and whatever else they can do to ensure that they’re able to perform at their peak when they’re competing on the weekend. They want to be the best they can be and we want to provide them with that opportunity.”
On December 22nd, Fairfax reported that Collingwood had received a presentation from Avant Gaming – presently owned by the Bastion Group. – while Geelong are reported to have begun making enquiries.
The AFL intends to hold its own events at Etihad Stadium, which it owns, but doesnt presently consider the market mature enough to hold more events than it currently does, most major events are held in Sydney.
Etihad HAS held major LAN Party events before, notably Shafted LANs 1000 person event in 2003. Melbourne remains home to one of the largest computer gaming groups in the country, Respawn. Although that said, professional gaming events today are a massive production in and of themself, and the AFL acknowledges that some infrastucture is required.
On May 2nd, 2018, the AFL announced that it had partnered with Riot Games to stage a tournament in Melbourne. The all-star match will see League of Legends: League of Origin played. Professional competitors will be drawn from the Oceanic Pro League and represent their home states.
As part of the deal, the AFL and Riot Games will launch a stadium tournament in Melbourne in November, potentially held at the AFL’s privately-owned Etihad Stadium, that will see the best players from the eight-team Oceanic League of Legends compete for their home states in a new short and intense competition.
“Esports is one of the most exciting emerging industries to come in and disrupt the traditional sports landscape. Riot are a respected and credible leader in this space and this event will be a great opportunity to continue on that path,” AFL growth, digital and audience manager Darren Birch said.
“I think you can’t just be looking at a traditional football offering if you want to keep expanding your audience. We’ve done research that shows 22 per cent of AFL fans are also interested in e-sports, so there is a connection there. And I can see a time when our clubs having e-sports teams is just as common as having an AFLW team, a men’s side or a netball team as some already do. The barriers to entry to having an e-sports team are low in comparison to doing other things.”
Riot Games head of Oceanic esports Daniel Ringland expressed optimism about the partnership.
“The AFL is a world-class league and leads Australian sport in many key areas. From fan engagement through to player welfare and development, they’re the gold standard,” Ringland said.
The FFA announced on Deecember 2nd that i will create an E-league to connect the A-league teams to the FIFA console player base in 2018.