Schalke 04 eSports and what it means for the future of eSports

The German football (soccer for us Americans) club Schalke 04 recently made headlines when they purchased Elements’ LCS spot in the EU LCS before the summer split.  This marks the first professional sports franchise venturing into eSports to have a team actually competing in a professional league.

Since they’ve made their entrance into eSports, several other teams have also made investments into the scene.  Manchester City and West Ham United have both signed eSport FIFA players, although we have yet to see professional play from their players.  Schalke 04 has also signed FIFA players and is really leading the charge into competitive gaming.

Although Schalke 04 is new to eSports, the franchise they have acquired has been around the LCS for quite some time. Elements was previously known as Alliance, Echo Fox’s current mid laner Henrik “Froggen” Hansen’s old team.  As Schalke 04 acquired the spot from Elements eSports, their roster is basically the Elements eSports lineup with Hampus “Fox” Myhre replacing Jérémy “Eika” Valdenaire in the mid lane.

Schalke 04’s starting roster features:

  • Top – Etienne “Steve” Michels
  • Jungle – Berk “Gilius” Demir
  • Mid Lane – Hampus “Fox” Myhre
  • ADC – Rasmus “MrRalleZ” Skinneholm
  • Support – Hampus “sprattel” Abrahamsson

Schalke 04 retains Elements’ Patrick “Nyph” Funke as coach.  Nyph has been involved in the eSports scene since February 2011 and has experience both as a player and as a coach.

I am personally a big fan of some of these players as well as their coach and have followed the team before they even were acquired by Schalke.  In particular I have been following MrRalleZ for quite some time and think he’s a great player.  He is a huge asset for the teams for which he has played; he helped bring Roccat back from the brink of being out of the LCS.

I like what Schalke 04 did with acquiring a team so they didn’t have to build up the infrastructure.  For a new team entering the league or working their way up from challenger, the infrastructure can be difficult to establish. Another benefit of acquiring the team: they can compete in the LCS for initial season.

How is the current squad and how it should fare this season?  Despite a 3-5-4 record, the team has had some standout individual performances by players like Fox and Steve.  With improvements in team synergy and shot calling, the team could be a strong contender in the future.

Schalke 04 does already have a fan base from traditional soccer, as they’re quite a popular team in Germany where the EU LCS is played.  It will be interesting to see how that fan base transitions into the EU LCS.   I imagine that within eSports, it is more likely that people follow Schalke 04 because they followed Elements rather than the soccer team.  These players have been around for quite some time, several of the players are well known in the eSports community.

Schalke’s entrance into the EU LCS opens up even more possibilities for larger sponsors, including apparel manufacturers, to transition into eSports.  One thing I noticed while watching the EU LCS games was Schalke’s jerseys. I may be nitpicking here but they got some sweet Adidas swag.  Hopefully Adidas sees the bigger opportunity here and makes unique jerseys for the squad.  The jerseys used in eSports are evolving to show more sponsors like in traditional sports.  I have even heard of companies launching just to provide apparel for teams.  Alongside the traditional electronics and computer accessory sponsors we have seen in the past, we have seen things like nutritional supplement sponsors making their way into eSports as well.

Lastly, it is interesting to see more and more people from mainstream sports getting involved in eSports.  Some former athletes that have gotten into the scene are Rick Fox, who purchased Gravity (later rebranded to Echo Fox) for a reported $1 million USD, as well as Shaq and A-Rod who are both investors in NRG eSports.  These big names are traditional sports athletes getting into the scene, but reportedly some professional teams in the US have shown some interest in getting involved in eSports.  This interest includes my hometown football team, the Miami Dolphins. Only time will tell how the fusion of mainstream sports with eSports will play out, but it is certainly exciting seeing it get attention from the mainstream sports community and even getting coverage on ESPN.  ESPN even has a dedicated section on their site for covering eSports.

The future is coming, and soon we will see how mainstream sports and eSports coexist.  It certainly looks promising, especially if more traditional sports teams get involved.  I’m excited to see what the next team from traditional sports to transition over will be, and what game they will be playing.  There are huge possibilities not only in League of Legends but a variety of other games as well.

You can follow Schalke 04 eSports on Twitter as they compete this season in the EU LCS:

https://twitter.com/s04eSports

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eSports enthusiast following the scene since the days of Halo 3 on MLG and won't shut up about LCS. Average gamer.