Competitive PES has always been a thing, but in recent years it has struggled to keep up with the expansion that many other titles have seen. This year however Konami is pushing eSports hard, and the new version of the PES League is an obvious indicator. The competition has already seen an event held at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou, with another event heading to Liverpool’s Anfield in a few months. The final of the competition takes place at the Champions League final and features a $200,000 top prize.
It’s fair to say that Konami seems to be going big on eSports this year, and these events seem to be going well. Big multi game broadcast talent have been booked to keep the show flowing while the production and competition has been excellent. It really looks like Konami has set themselves up to succeed, so to get the lowdown on everything related to PES eSports, we spoke to Jonas Lygaard senior director of brand and business development at Konami.
eSports Pro: First off could you give us a brief overview of the PES League. How the competition is structured, who is competing and what the ultimate prize is?
Jonas Lygaard: PES League is an eSports competition that allows gamers to play competitively against each other through a special game mode, which is available in the free to play version of PES 2017. This year, we are running our Road to Cardiff competition alongside the UEFA Champions League which will see the winners of regional finals compete at the world final in Cardiff on the day of the UEFA Champions League final. The winner in Cardiff will take away a $200k prize.
eSports Pro: What makes this year’s competition different to that of previous years?
Jonas Lygaard: First of all we created a PES League game mode - a dedicated area in PES 2017 where you can play PES League and you can play in a competitive eSports competition. The second thing is we made it free to play. Everyone in the world with a console can download and enter to compete. You don’t have to pay, you don’t have to subscribe, you just have to download, register at www.pesleague.com and all your results will be monitored and tallied against other PES League players. Third, we have increased the prize pool significantly this year. Last year the winner walked away with $25,000. This year the winner will walk away with $200k. So those are the things that are different this year. We tried to create a new eSports area where people can enter and compete and win great prizes. Season two will start on February 23rd which gives people a whole new chance to compete.
eSports Pro: How are you trying to grow the PES eSports scene. Is it just a case of throwing more money at it each year?
Jonas Lygaard: I don’t really like the word throwing, we are not throwing, we are investing money. When we do things like this we know nothing comes for free. If you want to change things you need to invest, and those investment will have a return at some point. When you make an investment that return may not be in the first six months, or in the first year, but it is a longer term investment to grow the brand and get more people playing the game. We know we are investing a lot of money but we are doing that to engage more people and make a better investment for our fans, and for new fans that are interested in playing our games.
eSports Pro: You are holding events at places such as the Camp Nou, does that create any challenges for you guys, as is isn’t exactly a traditional eSports event location?
Jonas Lygaard: The beauty of eSports is that it’s new, and what ‘normal’ means can be defined in many ways. Having an eSports competition at Camp Nou is a fantastic venue to have a competition like this. We might not be able to fill the stadiums right now with 90,000 people but we might be able to in the near future. Across all channels, we had around 2 million people tune into the first European Regional Final at the Nou Camp and we hope to attract an even bigger audience when we host the European Season 2 qualifiers in April at Anfield in Liverpool. This is the start of where we want to move to, getting closer and closer to the pitch. It’s a perfect environment, this is about football, here you can smell the grass, you’re close to the changing rooms, the pitch, the dugout, this is much more football than having a similar tournament in a cinema or a venue that is disconnected from football. PES is a football game and it should be connected to football. There’s no better way of doing that than at a stadium.
eSports Pro: Does PES being an annual release help or hinder its pro scene?
Jonas Lygaard: Historically PES has been an annual release and that means it’s been evolving each year to bring in new features and improved game modes, changing features in the game by listening to the community. That’s what we’re doing in eSports as well. It doesn’t disadvantage us, we can improve our game with annual releases. This year we changed a lot of things in the game, making PES League available free to download. With PES League, we launched it a couple of months into the year so I don’t see the annual release as a challenge for PES League. It benefits us as we can optimise, listen and improve year after year.
eSports Pro: This week we saw FC Schalke 04 sign a PES player. Do you think that kind of thing will happen more often and is it something you want to see?
Jonas Lygaard: The board of Schalke sent me an email on the day of the announcement letting me know that they had signed a PES player and of course I responded straight away. I’m delighted to see football clubs signing PES players and not just our competitors. Clubs see that we take our partnerships very seriously, and Schalke’s announcement is a great recognition that what we are doing is right. I doubt they will be the last club to announce a PES player in the future. I think there will be much more to come in the following period.
eSports Pro: Are you guys making a profit from your eSports ventures or is it more of a loss leader?
Jonas Lygaard: There are some classic revenue streams for eSports competitions: sponsorship, merchandise, ticketing. We’ve not engaged with any of those areas right now, but we are exploring them. But to get eSports started in sports games investment is required. Clearly we need a positive return on investment in the future. More copies of the game being sold, in game purchases, sponsorship, this is a fantastic opportunity to bring in more partners involved in future. There will be streaming and broadcasting revenue streams and that combined with sponsorship should bring a return on investment in the future.
eSports Pro: Where do you want PES eSports to be in say five years time. Do you think it has the potential to be the biggest sports based eSport in the world?
Jonas Lygaard: I don’t think we will, I know we will be one of the biggest in five years. We know our competitors very well. We have a lot of knowledge on them and how they are operating. We have a lot of initiatives going on and we believe that in five years time, the market situation will be very different.