Sports

What do gamers and AFL players have in common? A lot at the Bombers

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They train for six hours a day, work out in the gym and travel interstate for games. They even get special dietary advice.

But while these players are part of AFL club Essendon, they are not chasing after footballs.

This is the Bombers' team of professional e-Sports gamers.

"It's very strange," admitted Andrew Rose, a 24-year-old suburban footballer who now spends about nine hours a day at the club's headquarters, The Hangar.

"I grew up as a big Essendon fan, so to be part of the Essendon Football Club, it was a surreal feeling."

He is one of five e-Sports players at the Bombers recruited to play League of Legends, the popular American game said to be played by around 100 million people each month.

"The goal of the game is actually to destroy the enemy base by implementing or setting some strategies in order to do it," said Alan Roger, a 22-year-old who moved from France to Australia after being recruited by Essendon.

"I had offers from America and I definitely chose to come here."

League of Legends broadcast around the globe

The team competes against others in the Oceanic Pro League, and just like their football-playing colleagues, their matches involve flying interstate.

The virtual action is captured in a studio in Sydney and broadcast to a huge online audience.

Essendon Esports player Alan Roger sits next to a computer on which he plays League of Legends, in background is his teammate

Scott Farmer is their coach. He is only 21, but considering the relative youth of many League of Legends players, feels like an e-Sports veteran.

Working for Essendon was initially a daunting prospect for him.

"I was a little bit nervous when I first came here — we wouldn't fit in," he said.

"But honestly, everybody has been so welcoming. It's so cool [having] a footy player coming up to you asking how your day is."

He said many AFL players shared an interest in gaming.

"Whether or not they're playing our game or a different game, there's something for us to relate to them on."

Why are AFL clubs interested in e-Sports?

Essendon got into e-Sports late last year, buying an existing team called Abyss and re-branding it with the club's name and distinctive black and red logo.

It is, after the Adelaide Crows, the second AFL side to buy into an e-Sports team, while A-League club Melbourne City has also signed gamers.

Essendon's head of e-Sports, Nathan Mathews, believes other Australian teams will follow.

An e-Sports player sits in front of a screen playing League of Legends.

"There's a few other clubs currently looking at and researching into the scene," he said.

"I expect over the next 12 to 24 months we could see another one or two clubs enter."

But why are AFL clubs even interested in e-Sports? The financial incentive.

"One of the attractions to the esports scene is the age bracket from about 16 to 24-year-old male," Mathews said.

"This is primarily why the Essendon Football Club got involved so we could actually start advertising the club to that younger generation."

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