Esports Observer first reported the news on Sunday.
Team to debut at Gamergy
The team’s first competition will reportedly be at Gamergy, a Spanish esports tournament that runs from June 24-26. The team will feature two of Spain’s most popular Hearthstone streamers on Twitch.
Valencia said in the release that its goal is to reach 10 million spectators in 2016, with that goal approaching 20 million by 2019.
A club official said on the team’s website that this move represents both a “project” and a “challenge,” noting that it put the team in the vanguard of the esports sector.
According to multiple reports, the six-time La Liga champion is keen to market its presence elsewhere in competitive gaming, including FIFA and Rocket League, the latter a vehicle-based soccer game developed by Psyonix.
Hearthstone betting on the rise
Hearthstone was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and is an extension of the wildly popular Warcraft series. In the collectible card game, two players do battle by playing cards from a hand.
According to industry sources, Hearthstone is not among the most bet-on titles for either traditional esports wagering or skins wagering (a distinction that falls to the triad of League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Defense of the Ancients 2) but still holds significant and growing appeal.
A spokesman for Pinnacle told ESBR last month that Hearthstone was its fifth-most bet-on title. According to Blizzard, the game has more than 50 million active players.
Soccer clubs betting big on esports
Valencia is by no means the first soccer club to enter the potentially lucrative esports sponsorship space. In Germany last month, Bundesliga team FC Schalke 04 acquired the LCS spot occupied by the League of Legends team Elements.
FC Schalke’s Bundesliga counterparts VfL Wolfsburg sponsor two individual FIFA players, and signed a partnership deal with the STARK eSports teams, owned by the eponymous gaming consultancy, which compete in FIFA and DotA2.
On May 6, English Premier League team West Ham sponsored FIFA esports player Dragonn, the 2016 FIFA Interactive World Cup runner-up, who will now play as the team in future events.
Esports sponsorship has grown at a feverish pace throughout other industries in recent weeks, as well, both in Europe and the United States.
Canal+, Gillette, Comcast join space
On Monday, French television giant Canal+ became the first major television channel to sponsor an esports franchise. It is sponsoring Team Vitality, which has teams competing across titles including LoL, Call of Duty and FIFA.
Another major media company, Comcast, announced on June 2 that it would sponsor Evil Geniuses, an esports organization competing across titles including LoL, Dota2 and Halo. As part of the deal, Comcast also said it would sponsor the Cologne-based esports giant, the Electronic Sports League.
Another American corporation, Santa Clara, California-based Intel, has sponsored the ESL’s Extreme Masters series of tournaments since 2006.
Also on Monday, Boston-based razor maker Gillette teamed up with Gfinity to become the title sponsor a Pro Evolution Soccer championship this July in London.
Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox, who rebranded Gravity Gaming in 2015 after purchasing its LCS spot, has expanded his new Echo Fox esports company to include teams over five titles, including LoL, Call of Duty and CS: GO. Fox’s CS: GO team will make its ELEAGUE debut on June 21.
Reports earlier this year from Fox Sports indicated that Dallas Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban was considering starting his own LoL team.
Image credit: Dmitry Shkurin / Shutterstock.com