Manchester City Football Club is one of the most prestigious and storied soccer teams currently competing in England’s world-famous Premier League. So it’s been a surprise to some that the historic organization has moved aggressively into the esports space. Recently, Manchester City announced a partnership with FaZe Clan, one of the top esports organizations in the world. Via a press release on September 26th, Man City announced the collaboration, while touting the deal’s potential.
Chief marketing officer Nuria Tarre of the City Football Group raved that “esports is the world’s fastest growing spectator sport and this collaboration with FaZe Clan marks the start of an exciting new chapter in Manchester City’s esports journey.” The new deal will bolster the football club’s already existing esports endeavor, which consists of employing a player to represent the club at EA’s FIFA competitions around the world. Currently that player is Shaun ‘Shellzz’ Springette, while a separate roster is set for games held exclusively in China.
While FaZe Clan began back in 2010 as a group of young Call of Duty players who decided to organize into a “clan,” it has since matured into a esports powerhouse boasting it’s own merchandise and branded athletes. The group later decided to compete in the cutthroat world of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, as well as battle royale favorites Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds as well as the now ubiquitous Fortnite. FaZe Clan is reportedly the most followed gaming organization in the world according to the release, with over 214 million global fans and over 500 million monthly content views.
Man City is far from the first traditional professional sports team to branch out into esports. The NBA started NBA 2K League back in 2018. According to Forbes, said league consists of 17 teams which are owned and operated by many of the same big-name franchises which populate the hardwood. The NFL has also delved into the gaming space, and teamed up with Electronic Arts to host a series for their Madden game series.
While those collaborations make sense, as the existing organizations are essentially publicizing their own sport, teams have also decided to invest in games unrelated to their fields of expertise. 888Sport reports that Spanish football club Valencia has invested in teams for both soccer-themed car game Rocket League and the online, free-to-play collectible card game Hearthstone. In America, the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors have invested in online fantasy battle game League of Legends. Of course, as of 2016 League boasted a monthly user base of over 100 million players. With such an audience, it’s little wonder why established sports teams, which are already big business, are delving into this relatively new world of virtual sports.
Even traditional sports athletes themselves are getting in on the action, as many enjoy playing games during their down time. Many are making their own investments into esports ventures, such as former Seattle Seahawk and current Denver Broncos NFL offensive tackle Russell Okung. He told the Seattle Times that he had an interest in esports for quite some time before investing in crowd-funded gaming startup Matcherino, telling the outlet "It's just like people coming to watch us."