ESports the new frontier for Premier League clubs: Gullit

London (AFP) – Dutch football great Ruud Gullit has urged Chelsea and other Premier League clubs to embrace the “new era” by establishing eSports teams to boost their profile and widen their global fanbases.

The former AC Milan star has set up Team Gullit, the first independent FIFA eSports academy, with three players and is set to add more from an original 3,200 applicants as he switches his focus from the pitch to the screen.

Gullit, 55, says West Ham and Manchester City have blazed a trail for their Premier League rivals by launching eSports teams.     

“You can reach people, the whole world through this game (FIFA) and that is important for teams like Chelsea,” the former Chelsea player-manager told AFP at a Betting on Football conference at Stamford Bridge.

“In Holland all the Eredivisie teams have an eteam player, there is a competition and it is watched by more people on TV than the Dutch second division. The exposure is unbelievable.”

Gullit, who also has young Dutch Formula One sensation Max Verstappen playing unofficially on his team, said he was bowled over by the seven million players who took part in last year’s FIFA Interactive World Cup.

“Before, they were just playing alone in their bedrooms but now they can do something with it and if they are good enough, get out of their rooms and go to events,” he said.

English player Spencer Ealing, nicknamed “Gorilla”, won last year’s Grand Final in London, pocketing prize money of $200,000.

“I think for these players things will get better, better, better because so many people want to play it,” said Gullit.

“There will be sponsorship for the players, which is great, but they can only get better if they play for the big teams.

“Then you will have somebody to take care of you, you will have to travel and go to tournaments. There is a lot more going on but there is a team around you.”

– ‘Not just a game’ –

In a promotional video on the Team Gullit website, the Dutchman says of FIFA: “It’s not a game in itself any more, it’s a professional thing. Football also started all as a game — now it’s become almost life.”

But the Euro 1988-winning captain said he understood those who complain that eSports is not really a sport.

“We think that sports is about you doing something physical,” he said. “Therefore some people think that eSport is not a sport.

“That was the argument about darts but it has become so huge they recognise it as people playing sport.”

Gullit, who confesses he is not as handy with controls as he was on the football pitch, is happy that he lives on in the game, alongside other players from a previous era.

“One of the greatest players to ever play the game goes digital,” trumpets the video on the Team Gullit website.

“When you see kids these days they don’t recognise you from your playing days, they know you from PlayStation,” said Gullit, who won the Ballon D’Or in 1987.

“They say to me ‘we want you but you are very expensive, but nevertheless how do we get you’ and I say ask my girlfriend,” he added, chuckling.   

He said education is prioritised for his young players, who can play dozens of games at weekends.

“This is a new era, you have to adapt to it,” said Gullit, whose 16-year-old son Maxim is an avid FIFA player.

“Sometimes you fight it too much. You give an iPad to little kids and they know what to do, we didn’t have that. You adapt to the new generation and what they have.”

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