This article was produced in association with LaLiga esports
How the league which is home to some of the biggest clubs in world football is looking to eSports to grow its brand at home and abroad. Rubido Fano may not score goals for Barcelona, boss the Real Madrid midfield or make goal-saving tackles for Valencia, but right now he – and others like him – are an important part of LaLiga’s brand development and fan engagement plans.
Fano – better known as LosYorugas92 – is a professional who plays for Cadiz football club’s esports team and who, in May, became the Mixed Platform Champion at the McDonalds Virtual LaLiga eSports FIFA 18 tournament.
He won the final – a two-legged contest with one played on X-Box and the other on PlayStation 4 – to earn the honorary title of Spain’s top FIFA 18 player and the right to a place in the EA Sports FIFA 18 Global series play-offs in Amsterdam.
The final of the McDonald’s Virtual LaLiga eSports competition marked the climax of two months of often frenetic action and the conclusion of the first phase of LaLiga’s debut as an esports competition promoter.
Its impact can be gauged by the level of engagement across the gaming community in Spain and the 800 million minutes of action viewed across the tournament on Twitch. The final alone attracted 5,000 viewers at peak with a total of 700,000 minutes viewed while the Facebook page generated over 25,000 engagements.
And it is that level of digital engagement which has driven the project, run with Spain’s professional Videogame League, LVP, itself a partner of Mediapro.
Launched under the ‘It’s not football, it’s LaLiga banner,’ LaLiga eSports was born out of the league’s desire to broaden its international appeal, particularly among Millennials for whom esports and digital connectivity are a central part of life.
McDonalds Virtual LaLiga eSports was the first of two competitions to be launched this year. The second, the Santander Adrenalyn Challenge is a game of strategy based on Panini card trading, started with qualifying rounds in March.
Both competitions have tapped into the growing desire of brands to access Millennials on what is, effectively, their
home turf – the digital environment. And while the upper echelons of some sports governing bodies continue to agonise over the relationship between esports and traditional sports, LaLiga has been quick to make the connection and use its own brand to give credibility and momentum to new esports events while creating new platforms which add value for established and new sponsors.
A Financial Times report in late 2017 provided a perspective which tends to validate LaLiga’s rationale. Of the $100 billion generated by the video games industry (in 2017) $693 was from esports while 11.1 billion video streams of esports competitions were watched in China alone and another 2.7 billion in North America.
In terms of scale it’s a party which nobody seems to want to miss and that’s reflected in the migration of mainstream sports sponsor brands, including Red Bull and Coca Cola, into the esports environment.
It’s often been said that while previous generations learned their football by kicking a ball against a wall and playing park games, kids today have a wider range of inputs and influences which are likely to shape their loves and their spending habits for a lifetime.
That helps explain the current gold rush and with MacDonald’s, Hyundai, Orange, El Corte Inglés and even insurers Allianz on the sponsorship roster for the Virtual LaLiga competition and Santander, Danone and Panini backing the Adrenalyn Challenge, it appears that LaLiga’s new venture puts them in the right place at exactly the right time.
According to Alfredo Bermejo who leads digital strategy at LaLiga, the move into esports is entirely logical and natural.
“Today digital is the key resource for building a broader audience and to take us beyond Spanish speaking markets,” he says.
“It is effectively giving us engagement with different groups including those that may not be consuming our core product which is 90 minutes of football. Digital content helps us to engage with potential fans in many different countries and people of different ages. It is really all about creating the right experience for them.”
And of course, FIFA 18 provided the ideal launch platform. “It is the most played sports game in the world and has a huge footprint,” says Bermejo.
“The point is that while we are esports we always want to relate back to football, so this
A number of LaLiga clubs have already established professional esports teams. These include Valencia, which was first off the blocks, and Barcelona where defender Gerard Pique has been instrumental in the esport development.
But, says Alfredo Bermejo, LaLiga is not trying to replicate what the clubs are doing.
“We wanted to learn about the sector and how things are done and what works rather than automatically get involved in a league for pro club teams. This is about a pyramid with a broad base which gives every fan a chance to play in competitions. That said, a lot of our teams are interested in exploring the possibilities further, so we will take the right, solid steps and look to get the teams involved in the best way.
The commercial impact of the move into esports has the potential to be massive. “When we think about measuring success we have to think in terms of looking for the biggest audience possible and really engaging with them.
“Commercially there are advertising opportunities across the various platforms and the opportunity to increase the value of sponsorship deals for all parties through the reach and level of engagement. There is also data from registrations which provides valuable leads for us,” he said.
While the first LaLiga eSports competitions have been aimed at the Spanish market, that won’t always be the case.
“We started here but the focus will be international,” says Alfredo Bermejo. We have representatives in different part of the world and know that we have to engage in different ways in different markets, but esports are popular everywhere. We want to go beyond the Spanish speaking markets and into regions such as south east Asia where gaming is huge and fans will come and watch.”
Bermejo is well aware of the need to get initial engagement right to ensure the snowball effect which can be the difference between success and a real triumph.
“Players want to share their experiences of playing and will create micro-communities built around the competitions,” he said.
“That’s where you find the most relevant and important opinion formers and it’s through these areas that the stories around the competitions are brought to life.”
While there may still be those in the sport sector who remain somewhat cynical about the links between physical sport and esports, it will come as no surprise that the launch of LaLiga eSport was not something carried out on a whim or fancy. Nor was it developed simply to take from the gaming community but to contribute to it through the league’s experience of the international sports industry, its commitment to technical innovations and its sheer enthusiasm for the new project.
It was devised to address a series of specific needs and based on an in-depth market situation and landscape analysis and a clear, phased roll-out plan – starting in Spain before targeting overseas markets.
LaLiga described the project as ‘ambitious without being invasive’ and its decision to partner with the LVP is a clear indication of their desire to work with and learn from experts in the field. LVP organised its first rebroadcast tournament back in 2011 and is now the biggest esports organisation in Spain and runs the Orange Superliga at Gamergy as well as two platforms for online competitions between fans; ArenaGG and Playstation League. Speaking to the national daily newspaper El Pais, co-founder Sergi Mesonero summed up the boom in gaming in Spain in recent years. In the past five years, the popularity of the sport has soared. “There were 400 people coming to watch the first national finals in 2011. At the last one there were more than 40,000,” he says.
Aitor Álvarez, who manages LaLiga project for LVP, sees Spain as fertile territory for esports. “According to some studies, it is estimated that there are 5 million video game consumers in Spain, including all platforms and mobile devices, he explains.
“At LVP we’ve been working for years along with the clubs so that professionalisation can be a reality. Nowadays, in our four professional competitions (League of Legends, Clash Royale, CS:GO and Call of Duty) we have 17 clubs and about 300 professional players with a contract and guaranteed minimum wage in agreement with Spanish labour regulations. This includes salaries that can go from €800 per month up to the €8,000 per month that the most prominent players can earn. In Spain, esports are currently turning-over about 20 million euros.”
“At the McDonald’s Virtual LaLiga eSports, LaLiga and LVP were partners. LVP’s function was designing, planning and executing the competition, both in the online and the on-stage phases, which were played live by Spain’s 32 top players. Besides that, LVP took care of the live broadcast and part of the communication strategy,”he says.
And he concludes that the debut competition was a great success.
“The online stage participation was spectacular, exceeding our most optimistic predictions. Over 15,000 players took part in it. The finals, broadcast on LaLiga’s Facebook Live and Twitch, had a reach of over 2 million viewers, and more than 600,000 views. In total, the last show gathered more than 700,000 watched minutes and a peak of 5,000 viewers.”
“The experience has been great. It was very easy working together and that allows us to be optimistic as we look for new formulas which allow us to keep developing this eSports FIFA project in Spain and even on an international level.