Wolves Esports wins a QQ Speed tournament in China. Photo credit: Wolves Esports
Given the popularity of the industry among younger generations, it’s no surprise to see the number of football clubs that have entered the esports scene over the years.
PSG, Schalke, FC Barcelona and many others have created eSports divisions for different reasons ranging from competitive success to community empowerment. However, one club in particular stands out: Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Premier League football club entered the esports industry in 2018 and has competed in Rainbow SIx Siege, FIFA and Rocket League. However, what makes Wolves Esports unique is its distinct focus on operations in China, esports’ largest market.
Wolves Esports competes in a number of popular Asian mobile titles including Honor of Kings, PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile – most of which have won countless tournaments.
Why did Wolves choose to invest in China’s ecosystem? “We have made great efforts to develop esports in China because it is in line with the development of the times,” said Clarie Teng, general manager of Wolves Esports China.
Keep Reading Wolves Esports Partners with University of Wolverhampton China Esports Blast: November 2022
“In the past, eSports was a way of operating games, but now eSports has not only evolved into sports, but has also become the mainstream cultural lifestyle of young people.”
Despite China pausing new video game certifications and imposing strict laws on under-18 gaming, it’s still the largest market for esports. Teng claimed that the market size is expected to grow to 309.6 billion yuan in 2026, which will mainly consist of Gen Z users. “Everything shows that China’s eSports is a huge and young market, rich in potential.”
Another reason for Wolves’ foray into Asia is fan acquisition, both for the esports division and for the brand as a whole. As football clubs have slowly begun to evolve into global brands, most tend to build fan bases outside of their home countries. Given that Wolves is owned by Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company Fosun Group, the option to focus on China makes sense and the sport was chosen as a means to bolster its reputation.
“When we promote Wolves Esports in China, we always start from Wolves’ own intellectual property and culture. For example, “One Pack” or “Wolves ay we” are concepts that we often inculcate in our advertising for fans, so they will agree that they are not only fans of Wolves Esports, but also fans of the Wolves family,” said Teng .
“Esports fans tend to be young, and young people are always interested in all sorts of content and have a spirit of discovery. They will learn about Wolves Football because they like Wolves Esports.
“Wolves Esports helps the football club to expand its popularity in China, which gives our business partners more opportunities and channels to understand the value of this team, which is helpful to promote business cooperation afterwards.”
Esports Insider has partnered with the University of Warwick for ESI Next Gen. To learn more, click here.
Chinese Sports: Mobile or PC
The Eastern World, particularly South Korea and China, has traditionally been considered the most developed region in the industry when it comes to the sports industry. However, given that viewership figures in China are difficult to gauge accurately, the extent of its popularity is unclear. This means that while people in the western world know that sport is big in China, their understanding of the ecosystem is limited.
League of Legends is undoubtedly the most popular game in China and arguably worldwide, but the regional scene also features prominent mobile titles like Peacekeeper Elite (China’s port of PUBG Mobile) and Honor of Kings.
“As there are a large number of female mobile game users, these users are occupying mainstream Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douban,” Teng commented. “They follow star players and bring a lot of attention to mobile esports. So, among the top three esports projects in China, two are mobile games.”
Tencent’s Honor of Kings mobile MOBA features a prominent franchise league, similar to the LEC or LCS, called the King Pro League. In September 2021, Wolves acquired notable HoK club Chongqing QGhappy to bolster its competitive ambitions, with the investment helping Wolves further develop the Chinese esports fan base.
According to the GM of Wolves Esports, the organization’s WeChat reached 100,000 users in six months. Teng stressed that his core fan base was accumulated through his Honor of Kings project. In September 2022, the organization opened a store in Chongqing, where fans can watch Wolves Esports competitions, buy products, and even drink Wolfs coffee.
Despite the advances mobile gaming is making in China, Teng notes that PC esports still have the edge in terms of competitiveness, global popularity and commercial maturity.
Wolves Esports store in Chongqing, China. Photo credit: Wolves Esports
The Wolves’ competitive approach
One thing that is very clear from Wolves Esports’ accolades across all of its titles is that the organization has developed a competitive approach. That might sound like an obvious goal for a team, but different football clubs – and indeed esports organizations – use esports for different purposes. Manchester City, for example, are using esports as a tool for community engagement rather than primarily focusing on competitive success.
Meanwhile, PSG Esports mostly works through joint ventures with other well-known organizations such as LGD (for Dota 2) and Talon Esports (for League of Legends). Finally, following the sale of the LEC franchise to BDS, Schalke O4 Esports is now more active on a regional level. Esports FC Barcelona, competing in the Spanish League of Legends, also shows a similar regional focus.
For football clubs, the goal is not necessarily to build a business, but to strengthen existing brands and attract new fans. As such, strategies differ from club to club, with Wolves taking a more competitive path.
In China alone, Wolves has seven departments, each with a specific team running its projects. Some of the organization’s recent accolades include winning the 2022 S-League Championship from QQ Speed, being crowned EACC 2022 Summer Trial Champion (FIFA Online 4) and winning the 2022 KIng Pro League Summer Split. Wolves also recently participated in the Call of Duty Mobile Championship 2022 and the PUBG Mobile Global Championship.
Teng commented, “Interestingly, Wolves Esports fans are notoriously harsh on us. So [whenever] Anything that conflicts with our education, like market presence or commercial sponsorship, I tend to choose education without hesitation.
Photo credit: Wolves Esports
Wolves Esports is looking at ways to strengthen its Esports division internationally through the use of its China division. Teng explained that this is one of the reasons why Wolves chose COD Mobile. “Identity V is also a very popular mobile game in Asia, but we wanted to continue with an influential mobile game not only in Asia but also in the world. Expanding our international esports territory with COD Mobile is undoubtedly the best choice.”
When it came to the organization’s goals and ambitions for 2023, Teng responded with a candid response: “For every club, survival must be the top priority.” For Wolves Esports, this includes stabilizing training and performances for all divisions, sustaining it of competitive strength, exploring additional business models and consolidating existing fans while attracting new fans.
According to the GM of Wolves Esports China, the organization also plans to pay attention to more projects with “global impact” to strengthen Wolves’ intellectual property and attract more young people.
As more traditional sports teams and athletes enter the sport — and move to China — each will take different paths. However, the goal will always remain the same: to create global brands and build new fan bases. It’s easy to forget that Wolves is still a Premier League football club from the West Midlands, a testament to how well they’ve built their brand internationally.
Tom has been part of the Esports Insider team since October 2020 and is currently the platform’s editor. When he’s not playing Football Manager, he enjoys covering the mobile esports scene and the betting industry.