eFootball.Pro League sets no hearts racing

The latest in a long line of attempts by sports clubs to exploit the young esports audience is beginning to take shape across Europe in the form of the eFootball.Pro League, a competition with the worst name since the MLS teams decided on their monikers (looking at you, Dallas Burn).

While the competition promises plenty to be excited about, most of the signs point to this event being another chance for sports teams to dip their toe into the world of esports without really leaving their comfort zone, which is the wrong way to go about things.

Not to be confused with the equally terribly-named ePremier League, which will be played on EA'S FIFA19, the eFootball.Pro League will be contested on Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer.

So far, Schalke 04 of Germany, Monaco and FC Barcelona have been announced as founding members of the league, which is run by Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique. They will be joined by Glasgow Celtic, one of the oldest and most famous clubs in Britain, taking the total number of teams confirmed so far to four.

Gordon Kaye, Celtic's head of business development, said: "Following our partnership with KONAMI, creating a PES team to challenge for the inaugural eFootball.Pro title is an exciting first step into the evolving world of esports and we look forward to competing against top international teams."

The club will be looking to recruit two professional video game players to represent them in the eFootball.Pro league.


Struggling NBA esports

Efforts similar to this already exist in the US, where big sports teams have sought to grab a slice of the market by running NBA leagues and the like, which unsurprisingly are struggling to produce any significant return. This is contrary to the approach adopted by, for example, Paris Saint-Germain, who have invested in esports by getting involved with the LGD brand in China. PSG.LGD have enjoyed a decent amount of success with their Dota 2 project, making it to the final of TI8, the biggest tournament in esports history.

On the other hand, there are persistent doubts about the ability of vehicles such as the esports NBA to attract a significant audience and the same goes for other such efforts like the Madden tournaments and the token tennis and F1 events run around their real-life counterparts. In terms of European football, which is arguably the most successful sport in the world, the odds of getting a fan to turn off the Champions League and watch a game of virtual football are long enough to be worth ignoring entirely.

Imagine the excitement that would be generated by a Celtic CSGO operation

The sad part is that the likes of Barcelona and Celtic would massively enrich the esports scene if they were to jump in fully. Spain and Britain are lacking top teams in CSGO, but talent exists, while Monaco are equally positioned to pick up "real" esports stars from France or Spain. Imagine the excitement that would be generated by a Celtic CSGO operation, which brought the most talented UK players together and taught them true competitive professionalism.

There is still a chance this league is the one that breaks through and introduces the traditional fan to esports, but even that comes with a risk. If Celtic are able to convert some of their support into esports support, there is a chance that will be at the cost of their traditional fan base at a time when esports fans are notorious for their thrifty spending habits, meaning success could even end up hurting the club.

This is the issue, though, and the solution is not clear. It's fantastic to see big teams invest in our space, but at present it seems as though they will only do so on their own terms, and that means we are given more esports competitions without an audience. When they start following PSG's lead, and entering esports to be a part of esports, then we can expect real progress.