There’s a rumour going around that Manchester United, a name even our dear American readers will recognise, are interested in signing an Overwatch esports team. Do not let this news surprise you.
Esports News UK report that United are among the bidders (along with Fnatic and another third party, rumoured to be German football club Schalke) to sign an unnamed Overwatch team.
United, still the third-biggest football club in the world, may seem an odd fit for a band of gamers trying to make a living in a world full of fictional science ninjas and talking apes. But in reality they’re just the latest in a growing line of European clubs seeing the potential in owning a piece of the esports pie.
Context: many of England’s biggest teams owe their heritage to other sports and pursuits. My beloved Aston Villa (spare me your pity), for example, only came about because some players from a Birmingham cricket team were looking for something to do during the winter. On the continent, clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain have got into everything from basketball to volleyball, while German juggernauts Bayern Munich even have a handball team.
More recently, as more and more kids (and eyeballs, and Euros) have been drawn to esports and video games, these football clubs have followed. A number of teams now have dedicated esports ventures, from Wolfsburg and Schalke in Germany to West Ham in England to Besiktas in Turkey to Valencia in Spain.
Unlike other clubs already testing the esports waters, United are the first of the really big ones to do so. They’ve got a lot more money and resources at their disposal than an outfit like Besiktas, so it’ll be fascinating to see what United can do here (if indeed they get hold of the team), and what happens next in terms of esports involvement at other big clubs like Chelsea, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
For me, it’ll also be fascinating seeing how these teams—with their millions of fans—are able to leverage their supporter base and turn them towards competitive gaming. One of esports biggest hurdles in attracting a wider audience has always been, I’ve felt, the very corporate and nondescript nature of their teams.
That all changes when football gets involved. A more casual fan may find it hard to root for a team called PureGamerz, whose only defining characteristic is their sponsorship by a PC hardware company, but if they were already a Liverpool fan and the reds suddenly rolled out an esports side? That makes picking a team to get behind a lot easier.