While classic sport is paused in the Corona crisis, esports is booming. Ralf Reichert, head of the global ESL league ESL, sees this as just the beginning of a major development.
When Ralf Reichert founded an eSports league two decades ago, many dismissed it as a spinning mill. In the meantime, its Electronic Sports League (ESL) is the world leader and employs around 500 people from Cologne to L.A. With transmissions of counter-strike or Dota-2 encounters, the company reaches tens of thousands of people online and fills the largest halls in the country with its tournaments.
t-online.de: Mr. Reichert: How does the corona crisis affect eSports?
Ralf Reichert: Just like the overall economy – so negative for now. Events are an important driver of eSports and they are now failing. In addition, the financing of our sport is based very heavily on sponsorship and media rights. Of course, this also makes it more difficult in the current time. As a result, eSport is fundamentally hit by the Corona crisis. We (the ESL, editor’s note) in particular, for example, organized an event without spectators and postponed one.
Which are they?
The ESL Intel Extreme Masters (renowned tournament series, editor’s note) at the end of February in Katowice had to take place without spectators and the ESL One in Rio de Janeiro (similar to a grand slam tournament in tennis, amn. Editor’s note) has been postponed. Therefore, it has both a content and a commercial impact. Nevertheless, compared to other sports, we naturally have a fantastic position. The ESL Pro League, our Champions League, is currently running online and we will be relocating a great deal to the Internet. Of course, we have an invaluable advantage over other sports.
Events like ESL One draw 15,000 fans to Cologne’s Lanxess Arena over several days. (Source: imago images)
How does the crisis affect you financially?
Nobody can put that exactly. But of course it has a significant impact. It has to be said that we have very long-term and good partnerships and sponsors. In addition, our viewership has skyrocketed again in the past few weeks and has even quadrupled. With the cancellations, we lack the physical component, but the media and sponsorship value is higher than before the crisis. The core message is: The show continues and it is even very successful.
The Bundesliga is to be played again from May. There are scenarios where some clubs would go bankrupt if they were to take a long break. What is the situation in esports?
Football would be deprived of its livelihood in the long run because it simply cannot take place. We are in a different role because our sport continues. This is an invaluable advantage in maintaining stability in the eSports ecosystem better than in other sports. Nevertheless, a lot of money has flowed into the market in the recent past and teams have been founded that are just beginning. There will be a consolidation. You won’t see that at SK Gaming or Mousesports (two renowned eSports teams, editors’ note), because they are solidly managed organizations. But there are a lot of new teams and tournament organizers and you will surely see one or the other who does not make it through the crisis.
Ralf Reicherts brothers Tim (picture) and Benjamin were both football professionals at Rot-Weiß Oberhausen. (Source: imago images)
Her brother Tim Reichert, who is responsible for the eSport activities at Schalke 04, said: “eSport is the perfect tool. The population is likely to have to spend some time at home and look for entertainment that eSport offers.” So will esports become the big winner of the corona crisis?
In a crisis, one shouldn’t talk about winners. It’s about health and much more important issues than sports or business. However, I am firmly convinced that eSports will gain new target groups and more fans during the Corona period. It will take a bit longer than the time of the crisis to have an impact financially. But as I said: compared to all other sports, we are in an outstanding position and will gain many new fans.
Would it be time for a traditional sports program like the sports show to show eSport live?
In recent years we have seen that eSports are generally recognized more and take up a larger part of the coverage in the classic media. This trend is of course much too slow for me personally, but it is there. Whether La Liga, Formula 1 or the Bundesliga: Everyone is now doing eSport competitions. And various other sports will follow, with which we are also in exchange. There will be a huge trend from classic sports to focus even more strongly on eSports during the crisis, in this bridging period. And the transmission media will also follow suit.
In Denmark, for example, Counter-Strike (a first-person shooter video game, editor’s note) is the largest spectator sport in classic linear television. In comparison, we are a tick behind in Germany. But why shouldn’t that also happen to us in the next months or six months? So I am a little surprised that there is not a much more aggressive swing to celebrate the existing eSport content even more in classic media.
So should the sports show eSports broadcast live now?
Sure, the answer is: yes! Because the eSport content continues to exist. It takes place. Dear classic media, if you need entertainment, get in touch!