Are Manchester United set to enter esports?

It is being reported that Manchester United are in a bidding war with esports organisation Fnatic to acquire a European Overwatch team. manchesterutd

Reports have claimed that Fnatic countered an offer made by the Red Devils only for the club to then make a counter offer of its own, which is a clear sign of intent and dedication if this is true.

Whilst Mourinho’s side wouldn’t be the first professional sports club to enter esports, it would be the first ‘major’ club to do so and it would be a significant milestone in the overall development of esports.

Clubs such as Valencia and Schalke have formed, or in Schalke’s case acquired, teams in recent times though Turkish side Besiktas was the first pro sports club to do so back in 2015. In January 2016 though Besiktas parted ways with Aces High Esports Club only to sign a new deal with Oyun Hizmetleri, which saw the team rebranded to Besiktas Oyun Hizmetleri.

There have been more direct tie ins between esports and football clubs in the past year too with West Ham signing Sean ‘Dragonn’ Allen as an official FIFA representative of the London side. Another Brit, David ‘DaveBTW’ Bytheway signed for VFL Wolfsburg joined the club’s esports roster earlier this year too.

FIFA offers a more accessible route into esports for many traditional sports fans, and especially the millions of football fans worldwide. This point was discussed at the E3 convention (June 12-16) by EA’s Peter Moore, the head of the company’s relatively new esports division.

Peter Moore, EA
Peter Moore, EA

Laying out a detailed strategy based around getting players of all abilities involved in competitive gaming, Moore stated that the company will be investing heavily in events and tournaments to facilitate achieving this goal.

He noted that in addition to FIFA, the company would initially be focussing on Madden and the forthcoming Battlefield 1 to begin with. In an interview with VentureBeat Moore noted how whilst the most popular esports titles of League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 can be off-putting and confusing for many mainstream viewers, FIFA is different: “There’s an accessibility we have as an advantage, and we intend plumb the depths of where we can go with that.”

It’ll certainly be interesting to see how EA’s strategy plays out over the coming year, and indeed to see if more sports clubs look to cross the threshold into esports.

The assumption is that should Manchester United succeed in acquiring an Overwatch team it will be merely the beginning of a long term plan to run teams across various esports to enhance engagement with the younger generations.

What’s for sure is that the likes of Man Utd entering esports, with its enviable financial backing and global adoration, can only be positive for competitive gaming as it looks to place itself well and truly in the mainstream.

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