LCS Episode Schalke 04: A New Hope

What does Schalke's step into esports mean for players and the scene in general.

It is a period of instability. Players and teams concluded contracts with dubious organisations and have to fight year after year for their future.

In times of not being able to secure a living as a non-European pro gamer without worry, a not entirely unknown brand, Football Club FC Schalke 04, enters the scene and promises comprehensive and strong commitment in esports.

In the coming months, it will be clear if the occurrence of this organisation will change the area and solve its problems in the long term.

Long-established Stability

FC Schalke 04 has, like its name suggests, over one hundred years of existence, and is extremely rich in tradition and always continues to develop itself. One of these developments is now the acquisition and integration of the LCS team Elements – further intensified progress in other esports disciplines, besides industry leader League of Legends, is planned.

Comparing structures and possibilities of a club like Schalke and pure esports organisations, an obvious imbalance emerges. Positions in teams of digital sports are being replaced and whole organisations disband every day – long-term success of teams like Fnatic are absolutely exceptional.

A disbanding of the current FC Schalke 04 team is more than unlikely. In fact, it will be interesting to observe in the coming months, how serious the club’s commitment in the esports area will be. But even after poor results and unsuccessful splits, if Schalke will stick with the players and their plan, the true potential of an organisation of their size will be reached.

With their enormous financial resources, Schalke is able to afford their players with ideal living and training conditions. Furthermore, immense competences in social media and marketing are available, which will promote the team in this regard.

Job Hazard Pro Gamer

Also, for single players, it will be interesting to see which changes Schalke 04 and other clubs entering the scene in the future can bring with regard to contractual situations.

Right now, a player in the LCS already earns good money, primarily because of publisher and organiser Riot Games. As prize money and income of sponsors are unevenly distributed depending on the respective organisation, and in case of doubt, players just receive a fraction of the total amount. Although, Schalke 04 will not be giving out charity, there is an improved earning potential for single players based on the club’s high income. Momentarily, European salaries significantly lag behind those of other regions, though this might change quickly due to new organisations in the world of esports and result in bidding wars between them.

As the average duration of a pro player’s career is relatively short, especially in League of Legends, nothing is as fatal as being stuck in contact with a shady organisation.

One can repeatedly observe players not being paid or kicked out of their team. This should not happen with teams like Schalke, because on one hand, they bring a certain standard of professionalism into esports, and on the other hand, they cannot afford to risk negative public relations at all. Thus, even substitutes, who were relatively poorly paid up to this point, can hope for improved contracts and pro players do not have to fear taking a seat on the bench from time to time.

Unknown Radiance

In Germany and the European football world, FC Schalke 04 is really well-known. In the media, they always are a popular subject and also their acquisition of an LCS team has been reported. Apart from improvements for their own players, the engagement of such a big sports organisation can do a great deal for the whole esports industry, too.

The interest of the broader public and especially the social acceptance of video games and their competitive aspect are some of the most important goals to achieve. Schalke, which is considered as a “normal” club, provides the opportunity to increase the reputation of esports permanently. Even if this will not change with the team’s takeover by Schalke all of a sudden, it supports the whole process nevertheless. Not for nothing, but FC Valencia did just recently sign several Hearthstone players and a League of Legends squad. Also, other clubs will recognize the possibilities of esports and we will maybe see other well-known sports organisations on the LCS stage quite soon.

Obviously, new clubs will not be the only change, in fact, their commitment will introduce new sponsors to the world of esports, which only were in contact with classic forms of sports before. Even if, for example, Gazprom, the current main sponsor of Schalke, did not make it on the jerseys of the LCS team, the energy giant will at least have heard from the employment of the players. They and other big brands will soon identify the reach, which can be achieved by sponsoring esports teams, especially in the young target group.

It is therefore not unlikely that instead of classic electronic and hardware manufactures, which names normally are on the players’ shirts, more well-known and financially strong companies will take their place. However, this does not mean that the long-established sponsors will be completely replaced. Rather, they can acquire new customers through partnerships with sports organisations, which enter the scene. All in all, the engagement of clubs like Schalke 04 generates a new reach and financial resources for esports, whereby in particular, the future players will obtain an improved earning potential and esports will get more attention and acceptance.

The Vexatious Problem of Visa

Time and time again, single players or even whole teams could not seize their opportunity to attend tournaments due to missing residence permits. Especially in Germany, maybe the European centre of esports with the EULCS, ESL and various other organisations and events, competitive gaming is not a recognized sport. Even though I cannot solve the fundamental question if esports should be identified as a real form of sport in this article, many other states, also in Europe, already did it.

The advantages for teams and players are obvious; with sports visa, there would hardly be any problems if athletes have to stay in one country over a longer period of time, as is the case in the EULCS. This problem might soon become just a memory thanks to the commitment of major sports organisations, who work with players from all over the world on a daily basis. Of course, FC Schalke 04 will not single-handedly ensure esports becoming a recognized sport, however they and other well-known clubs can absolutely having more influence on the decisive committees, as smaller, pure esports organisations could have.

Urgent doctor’s appointment

Another aspect I really want to enlarge upon is medical advancement, which is hardly ever covered in other articles dealing with Schalke’s step into the esports area. Over the last few months, it became more and more clear that being an electronic athlete implies certain mental and bodily disadvantages. Wrist injuries are especially more than common for gamers, who play about ten hours a day with mouse and keyboard. Up to this point, YouTube videos, which showed exercises for mobilising your wrists, were the only alternative in order to avoid those injuries. Now, the medical department of a professional sports club can bring new opportunities due to well-established expert knowledge to the table.

But also, other injuries and physical complaints can be treated and prevented professionally by the team doctors. In the last few seasons, more and more teams developed an interest in the physical conditions of their players to also gain advantages in the digital game and getting their players closer to their individual performance limit.

Instead of doing an unbalanced sports program, the medical department of a football club is able to create personalised training or also nutrition programmes. Accomplishing those goals will obviously depend to a large extent on the coach of an esports team. As the LCS will momentarily stay in Berlin for the near future and players will scarcely visit the hometown of their teams, (as in the case of FC Schalke 04, Gelsenkirchen), it will be up to the coach to motivate them to be active in physical sports and eat healthy.

Also, the mental condition of the athletes will play a much greater role in the future. However, since a sports psychologist is not even common in football teams yet, it remains to be seen if the League of Legends department will be advised of someone like this just in Schalke, or even in Berlin at some point.

Final Thoughts

When an established brand, or more recently a prestigious club, enters the esports area, it is always highly pleasing for everyone involved and can be assessed overall as positive. Thus, there are also some critical voices against this involvement, as a sell-out of the LCS spot and esports in general is evidently feared. For my part, however, I can only see positive aspects in the activities of Schalke 04 and other sports clubs in the future.

The crucial factor becomes how serious and sustainable the efforts of the clubs will be. For me, Schalke created the impression that they are fully behind the whole project and remain faithful to the team and esports in general, even in times of failure. If this comes true, there will be a good chance for esports profiting from the entry of those clubs in the long turn.