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September 27, 2017

The Crows: Leading on and off the field

The Crows history-making Grand Final appearance this weekend is backed by a smart Club administration that is making Australian first moves not just on the field, but also into some surprising off-field sectors.

  • Words: Tom Phillips
  • Pictures: Josh Geelen

Last year more people tuned in to watch people play a video game than watched the NBA Finals series.


The Crows will play in the Grand Final for the first time in 19 years this Saturday, with the game kicking off at 2pm Adelaide time against Richmond. C’arn the Crows.

Riot Games, publisher of League of Legends (LoL), reported that 34 million viewers watched the 2016 LoL World Championship Finals. It’s a headline that woke up most of the world to the fact that eSports is here, and it’s a big deal.

In May 2017, the Adelaide Crows announced that they had acquired Legacy eSports, a professional Australian eSports organisation. Nigel Smart, Chief Operating Officer for the Adelaide Football Club (AFC) led the charge into this distinctly not-football-related field. In doing so, he made the Crows the first traditional Australian sporting organisation to buy into the rapidly expanding world of eSports.

“There are over 1.5 million gamers in Australia, predominantly under 30 years old,” says Nigel.

“Legacy and eSports gives the club an opportunity to engage with that audience. They play in tournaments, in studios and packed out arenas. It’s competitive, passionate, authentic, driven, and they wish to win: The same attributes we can apply to our other teams. It’s exciting.”

The AFC might be the first in Australia, but internationally sports powerhouses like the Philadelphia 76ers, the Dallas Mavericks, and even Shaquille O’Neal have acquired eSports organisations.

The Crows: Now featuring professional gamers of another kind

For Nigel, moving into eSports is good business.

“We’ve been blessed with a wonderful stadium and wonderful supporter base,” he says.

“But while we’re in a fairly good position in that area, let’s have the discussion around what does growth look like? And from that discussion, eSports was highlighted as an area of interest.”

With eSports on the radar, Nigel and his team began a year-long process – navigating the unfamiliar world to find an organisation that would be the right fit for the club. He spoke to players and teams about what drove them, what motivated them to be a pioneer of eSports in Australia, and, most importantly, what success would look like.

A discussion with Tim Wendel from team Legacy made things clear. Legacy is all about “performance”.

“They’re well respected – super competitive in all formats.”

“They’re well respected – super competitive in all formats, and as a footy club we feel we can slowly add value to other parts of their business,” says Nigel.

In considering the Legacy model, Nigel saw reflections of the Crows’ existing business. 

Legacy has multiple game rosters under their banner. League of Legends (LoL), Counterstrike (CS:GO), Smite, Rocket League, and Smash Brothers Melee were all represented at the time of acquisition. This structure is a parallel to the Crows competing in the AFL, SANFL, and AFLW – where different teams play in front of different audiences.

To work out how the Crows can grow Legacy’s operation, Nigel has spent time at the organisation’s team house in Sydney – seeing how the players prepare and train. For him, there’s plenty of ways a traditional club can bring value to this new sport – whether it’s from scheduling, to measurement, or with specific tools to help players, coaches and staff.

“Can we take those learnings, work with Legacy and apply them?” Nigel asks. “That’s the exciting part. Not just making assumptions. Getting the right people and right partners in place and really working with Legacy to drive those outcomes.”

Unlike in traditional sporting leagues, eSports teams are not limited by or tied to a place. Opportunities to play on the world stage are always there, you just have to earn them. In July, Legacy’s LoL team travelled to Vietnam to play in an international tournament against some of the best teams from South East Asia.

International exposure is a new horizon for the AFC.

“That was new… to be involved in something like that,” says Nigel. “I can’t remember the last time the Crows played a tournament for points overseas.”

And while the Crows might have been the first to wade into this space in Australia, there are sure to be plenty following their lead.

“We’re not the only sporting organisation looking at this space, others will join in,” says Nigel. “I’m proud as a football club that we’ve taken the first step, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

It’s a pioneering decision with plenty of potential. If Legacy get through to the next stage of the Oceanic Pro League, they have a chance of making the 2017 World Championship; something that would put Legacy and the AFC in front of an international audience of 34 million.

It might be a big move, but it certainly has big potential. 

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