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Can a Pro eSports League Help the Move toward the Olympics – or is it a False Start?

19 Sep, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

No aliens. No shooting, No magic. Those were the ground rules the IOC has laid for the possible inclusion of eSports in the Olympics. In fact, IOC president Thomas Bach has long held that any games must take the form of a recognizable sport – the ultimate goal being that it might foster an interest in gamers taking up that sport on a physical level.

And let’s face it, there were some pundits who asserted that that was just a roadblock the IOC was throwing up. So the launch of the League of Professional Esports (LPE), which will only feature teams attached to traditional sports clubs across the world, might have initially seemed to be the answer.

LPE, the brainchild of Japanese entertainment company Akatsuki Inc. announced that it aims to be a premier esports league, with professional sports clubs fielding teams of esports players. Participating clubs can be from any sport. Presently, the only ones currently involved are soccer clubs: Ajax, Galatasaray, Tokyo Verdy, Santos F.C, Real Sociedad, Villarreal SD Huesca, SD Eibar, and Real Betis.

According to information disseminated by LPE, clubs will be encouraged to interact with their local communities with youth programs and fan bases surrounding their traditional sports club and eSports teams. 

Xavier Cortés, Chief Executive Officer of the LPE, noted the intent is to ”bring light and transparency to a sector that moves millions of young people all over the world, and who see in this new way of competition an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and talent.”

Already, though, questions are popping up. LPE’s website is only one page, which allows visitors to sign up for a newsletter. It has a LinkedIn account and it is listed as having headquarters in Barcelona.

It’s unclear exactly what games will be played in the LPE or what the format will be but since it rules out shooting and FPS games, we know we won’t see Fortnite, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch and Call of Duty. Instead, the Daily Mail hypothesizes, we can expect to see options such as FIFA 19, PES 2019 and Rocket League. However, names like League of Legends, Hearthstone and Clash Royale are also being thrown around. (By the way, those last three games will be showcased – as part of an eSports demonstration – at this year's Asia Games.)

And, Forbes notes, this lack of detail is probably, “the most glaring omission. It’s difficult for anyone to care about any kind of eSports league if they have no idea what games will be played; after all, a lot of eSports fans will only be interested in one or two titles. If you sold people tickets to a sporting event without telling them which sport is being played you would end up with a lot of disappointed fans, and the same is mostly true in eSports. A Dota 2 fan would probably not be impressed if they showed up to an event and found that it was League of Legends being played.” Forbes goes on to state,

The LPE does have some solid ideas. Each season will be six months long, which aims to give more stability to players who know they will be in a job for at least half a year. They also charge no entry fee for clubs to enter the league, meaning any sports club with an interest in esports has a low barrier to entry and having no realistic violence will make the league much more appealing to those clubs. They also mention plans to create junior scouting programs and have local talent rules to ensure clubs find players from their regions.

However, right now it certainly feels like a company that can talk the talk, but has no proof they can actually pull this off. Had they announced with full details of the first season, a list of games that will be played, details of the format, a guaranteed prize pool then I would be less skeptical. But right now all we can really say is that they plan to create a non-violent esports league for sports clubs that might have a substantial prize pool. If they can make it work then it certainly it sounds promising, but time and time again we see announcements like this in the esports industry and few have actually been successful.

The idea of coordinating eSports teams with traditional sports clubs has been gaining in popularity, with franchises like the NBA 2K League attaching teams to NBA teams, the 76ers buying Team Dignitas, and multiple traditional sports investments into the LCS. It remains to be seen whether LPE is working toward uniting many sports under one banner – or simply rushing headlong into what looks like a hot market without a clear-cut idea of what to offer.

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