VfB Stuttgart is planning a comeback in e-sports after shutting down its successful project two years ago for economic reasons. Now the U-turn is taking place – with the goal of a virtual Bundesliga.
VfB Stuttgart had never really parted with the e-sports project. The official Twitter account of the Stuttgart esports team still exists, even if it has been inactive for almost two years. “VfB cannot continue its activities in e-sports for the new season until further notice due to the economic effects of Corona,” says the last post. Previously, three years had been invested in the topic and a multi-headed team built up, thereby tying popular gamers like “Marlut96”, “DrErhano” and “Burak_May” to themselves.
The Virtual Bundesliga as the DFL’s third major brand
Now the comeback is on. The people of Stuttgart are planning to return – also because they have to. As early as December, the DFL made it clear to its members that the topic of the Virtual Bundesliga (VBL) should play an even greater role in the future. The Bundesliga introduced this back in 2012 – making it an international pioneer. The so-called “VBL Club Championship” has existed since the 2018/19 season, in which a total of 26 clubs from the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 are taking part in the current 2021/22 season.
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The Virtual Bundesliga is now to be established as the DFL’s third major brand alongside the 1st and 2nd Bundesliga. According to information from our editorial team, the DFL management under the new managing director Donata Hopfen even goes so far as to firmly anchor this in the licensing criteria. From the 2023/24 season, each of the 36 professional clubs in Germany must therefore maintain an e-sports team that competes in the Virtual Bundesliga. A corresponding adjustment of the criteria is to take place officially soon.
Wehrle already saw e-sports as a lighthouse project at 1. FC Köln
At VfB Stuttgart they are open to these considerations – which in turn has a lot to do with Alexander Wehrle. “We don’t just want to meet the requirements, we want to use the topic strategically,” says the new VfB CEO. “E-sport offers the opportunity to reach young fans and to discover a business area for VfB that can also strengthen our core business of professional football in the long term.” The fact that the topic is not new at VfB is also beneficial. “We are not starting from scratch because we have already gained experience with e-sports. But we are still starting anew in this area and will take the necessary time to make the topic successful and to be able to start 2023 with a competitive team.”
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Wehrle already saw the topic of e-sports as a lighthouse project at 1. FC Köln and was the driving force behind the efforts. Among other things, managed to win Mercedes Benz as a sponsor and co-investor after the company withdrew from e-sports sponsorship at VfB. Together they took over “SK Gaming” and integrated the popular team into the club. On the one hand, to boost a certain image transfer, to bind new, young target groups to the club. On the other hand as a strategic investment with which one can generate significant income.
“Regardless of the specific structure, it is clear to me that important strategic issues must always be considered and secured independently of short-term sporting or economic events,” says the 47-year-old, referring to VfB Stuttgart. “It’s definitely more complicated for a Bundesliga club than in other sectors. But we lose far too much substance and sustainability if we don’t continuously occupy and develop strategic fields. E-sports is just one example of this.”