Ever heard of something called “Virtuelle Bundesliga”? If not, then it is about time to change this! Revenue in global eSports business has skyrocketed over the last few years and large eSports events nowadays draw audiences in the thousands. Many of the best players, or e-athletes, have turned into full-fledged stars. Along with its rise in popularity comes a significant increase in the number of fans, players professionalising, available prize money and vast new opportunities for sponsors and partners. The “TAG Heuer Virtuelle Bundesliga” (VBL), the eSports competition officially licensed by the DFL is a prime example.
Launched in 2012-13, the VBL was the first eSports competition created by a professional football league. Until this day it remains the only eSports competition worldwide by a professional football league with direct integration into the officially licensed FIFA franchise by Electronic Arts. After five successful seasons, the competition has made a name for itself in the German-speaking markets of Austria, Switzerland and Germany, with over 150,000 participating players per season, a cash prize of 45,000 EUR along with live airtime on the popular free-TV channel of DFL’s broadcasting partner SPORT1, as well as live streams on the corresponding website, www.sport1.de and social media channels like Facebook.
More importantly, the 2017-18 season marked the first time that a total of 15 clubs from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 actively participated in the competition – either by hosting their own qualification tournaments or by sending their best professional FIFA players to the qualifying Playoff Tournament in Düsseldorf, which took place in mid-March 2018. Also, quite fittingly, the grand final event from 31 March till 2 April with the 24 best players was held in a very prestigious location: the German Football Museum in Dortmund. The museum, which opened in October 2015, offered the perfect stage for a historic show-down of the most skilled EA Sports FIFA e-athletes, battling each other on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4, right next to the match-worn jerseys of some of Germany’s greatest players or memorabilia such as the famous cheat sheet national team goalie Jens Lehmann had hidden in his socks during the penalty shoot-out vs. Argentina at the 2006 World Cup.
Together with their partners FOX Sports Asia and FOX Sports Latin America, the VBL found an additional way to extend the popularity of the German Bundesliga to non-German-speaking markets and held local qualifying tournaments in Chile and Malaysia. Two winners per market were invited to Germany to take part in the championship games at the German Football Museum. Both were given the opportunity to participate under the flag of their favourite Bundesliga team, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04, respectively, and they also received invitations to their beloved clubs, their arenas and club houses.
The TAG Heuer Virtuelle Bundesliga Championship 2018 was heavily contested, featuring all previous champions for the first time in VBL history, along with the wild card holders from Asia and Latin America, and the best players from the Playoff tournament in Düsseldorf. Düsseldorf already saw some intense games, featuring 30 representatives from the Bundesliga clubs as well as the best console players who had qualified through the online qualification mode in EA Sports FIFA 18 over the previous months. In Dortmund, Tim Katnawatos, one of the best-known faces in the German eSports scene, was able to capture this year’s crown, also taking home the cash prize of 25,000 EUR.
Looking back, VBL not only excited the players participating in and qualifying for the final event, but also offered a variety of opportunities to create win-win situations for partners like TAG Heuer, EA and the broadcast partners SPORT1 and FOX Sports – and all that in a very authentic way, to provide fans with various ways to engage with the Bundesliga, while never losing track of what it should all be about: the love for the game of football.