Rooting teams in specific geographic areas should not be seen as “the holy grail” of esports, Ralph Reichert, co-chief executive of ESL/Turtle Entertainment.
Speaking at the Sports Decision Makers Summit at London’s Rosewood Hotel, Reichert cautioned against esports cleaving too closely to a traditional sports model simply because it has worked in the past. Geolocation has become an increasingly hot topic in esports, as the industry continues to look for ways to engage new fans.
“The geolocation idea is extremely unintuitive in today’s sports market,” Reichert said. “You look at someone like Manchester City who want to be a global club, all football clubs now want to be bigger than their cities and not bound by location, and then you have people saying that geolocation is the holy grail of esports.
“The simple logic is if you want to have fandom you need to have localisation. I think that’s not true, it’s just one aspect to the story. There’s nothing bad with geolocation, but it’s not the solution to everything, it’s not a rule that sport has local teams. It’s just a historical thing, because you couldn’t play online! You had to build a venue for fans to come to and watch the sport.”
Instead, geolocation was simply “one concept among many” that esports should be testing, he said, adding that esports has the benefit of being able to test multiple models because it is a young medium with no settled structure.
Reichert’s fellow panellist Alban Dechelotte, head of sponsorship and business development at Riot Games, countered that geolocation is becoming “essential” to esports as it looks to expand from its traditional fan base and into a wider audience.
“Although we have a European league,we ask each team to build an affiliation with a particular country,” said Dechelotte. “It is about building storylines and narratives for fans to attach to.”
He also added that there was a strong commercial case for geolocation, noting that “to build long-standing value with local partners, teams need stability. Experiential is the best form of marketing, when you have a physical experience that you’re engaged with.”
Nicolas Besombes, esports advisor to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), concurred that geolocation can help to engage casual fans, citing the example of the recent Fifa Women’s World Cup. “In France and in England, people got involved, were cheering the nations, even though they didn’t necessarily know the athletes involved,” he said.
“But it highlights the questions of sustainability. When you implement a team in a city, it can help in the mid-term to the local community to invest more and more money into the team, so it can be a good idea. But when you are a team and you have to have your own facilities, own arena, no one is sure yet that you can fill an esports arena every two weeks, so the question is about whether the investment is worth it.”