Turner Sports esports division, ELEAGUE, has extended its partnership with Electronic Arts to host three major live tournaments for the developer’s popular FIFA video game series.
As part of the traditional year-long event, EA offers six FIFA Ultimate Team Champions Cups, all part of its FIFA Global Series. ELEAGUE will now host half of those events, which are known to attract the world’s best players for knockout-style tournaments spanning three days.
ELEAGUE hosted its first FUT Champions Cup event in February, welcoming 64 players to Turner’s Atlanta studios. The success of the live event and the level of engagement on both social and digital channels prompted the subsidiary to secure the rights to produce more competitions, according to Jennifer Dill, vice president of esports at Turner Sports.
“Coming out of the February event, we recognized there was so much more we could do from a partnership perspective,” said Dill. “We felt like there was something special there in terms of storytelling and production we could offer, and began to think about what a larger partnership would look like.”
Each FUT Champions Cup tournament offers more points to winners than other events on the calendar. Points are later used to qualify for the playoffs and FIFA eWorld Cup at the end of the season. ELEAGUE will host its first of three FUT Champions Cup tournaments in 2020 next month, with dates for remaining events taking place in Europe to be announced at a later time.
Turner Sports also holds the television rights to distribute EA and FIFA content in the U.S. That includes highlight shows from all six of the FUT Champions Cup tournaments, the proceeding playoffs, and the FIFA eWorld Cup in July, which will also be broadcast on Turner’s networks.
“Previously, there have been various destinations to find content for the FIFA Global Series, but not one single partner that held all the content on TV,” Dill said. “Think about how much of a challenge it can be to find what you want to watch. Content was so splintered on different channels and platforms available.”
Dill says that ELEAGUE plans to take what it has done so well in operating events in the U.S., and also become the go-to destination for FIFA content across the Atlantic. FUT Champions Cups hosted in Europe next year will be the first for ELEAGUE in its history.
Founded in 2016, ELEAGUE has already produced live events and original content for many popular gaming titles. These include Capcom’s Street Fighter V, Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and 2K Interactive’s NBA 2K Playgrounds 2. Since its launch, the company has garnered more than 67 million video views on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Its content also averages 28 minutes per video play on Twitch.
“We always ensure that we are giving our hardcore audience gameplay in its purest form,” said Dill. “We view linear content as a way for us to do more storytelling with behind the scenes content, while digital offers a deeper analysis of competition and strategy. The assumption [with digital viewers] is that you have some knowledge of the game.”
For EA, the broadening of its established ELEAGUE deal is a complete content play, according to Brent Koning, EA SPORTS FIFA competitive gaming commissioner. While EA regularly hosts events on its own, the game developer wanted to bring in a partner with more of an expertise in storytelling and live production.
“Turner Sports is one of the best in the business at creating content, as seen with shows like ‘Inside The NBA,’” said Koning. “What we’re trying to do is steal some of the magic, and layer that into the FIFA Global Series and the FIFA eWorld Cup.”
The remaining FUT Champions Cup events, referred to by EA as “majors,” will either be hosted by EA or co-branded with another presenting sponsor, Koning said. Partners should also help EA further penetrate key markets around the world. As an example, Turner checks off both North American and European audiences for the brand.
“Turner’s reach is not just in North America; it’s also in the EU,” he said. “It has evolved as a brand with the UEFA Champions League rights.”
EA reported in October that FIFA 20 had surpassed 10 million players, with a combined 450 million matches played since the game’s release on September 27. There are many game modes available in this year’s iteration of the series, including a new Volta Football mode, which allows fans to play soccer in popular street pitches around the world.
But over the past decade, FUT has undoubtedly become the most popular mode for fans. Gamers create all-star teams comprised of current players and retired legends by playing in online matches and later qualify to compete in international tournaments.
“FUT changed the FIFA game,” Koning said. “People want to play as the greatest superstars In the world. FUT allows you to fulfill that fantasy.”