It’s easy for League of Legends fans to lose themselves by their unbridled passion for their favourite teams while they compete. They cheer for the players to succeed which can propel them to prominence and, if possible, and legendary status.
Championship glory is an obvious example of the sort recognition players earn in professional League, but there are other moments that foster similar and/or greater recognition which is esteemed to a great degree due to the incredible difficulty that was overcome to accomplish it.
An onerous albeit victorious five-game series that finally exonerated players of their losing-laden demons; a base race that puzzled the audience’s minds in wondering who the winner will be until the literal finish; a miracle run that sent a last-place team to the playoffs against all the odds.
Scenarios that are so unbelievable and improbable, if pulled off, are immediately etched into the consciousness of the League fanfare and revered henceforth as one of the greatest tales in the game’s history. Fortunately, those aforementioned plotlines did happen much to the joy of the community.
Its content doesn’t match the stereotypical adornment that befalls the specific main cast but it does hold the factor of enthralling the audience like a flash in the pan. But of these stories, nothing can best paint a greater ascension into near-mythical status like Schalke 04’s Miracle Run during the 2020 LEC Summer Split. With a dismal 1-10 record and a sliver chance for playoff qualification, Schalke rode a seven-game winning streak in the second half of the split’s regular season to overtake four teams and clinch a spot in the postseason.
Schalke didn’t have business hijacking the league with their rampant shift in form and yet they did it anyway, all to the glee of everyone bearing witness. Regardless, in the grand scheme of things, Schalke’s story was a footnote within the LEC for 2020. Their playoff run was stopped in the second round of the lower bracket by MAD Lions. That meant they failed to qualify for the World Championship event for the third straight time in its history.
But did the bitter ending Schalke suffered entirely supplant the streak that pushed them to the brink of international qualification? Ask anyone in Europe that question and they’ll give the same answer: that no, it didn’t. Fans were unashamedly stupefied by the mystique relayed from a confounding winning streak and supported that hot band of players as a result. At its core, that is the quintessential nature of sports: relishing in the pure abnormalities of a pastime without regard to partisanship.
The miracle run will stick in the minds of League and surely Schalke fans forever. They will pleasantly reminisce and fittingly champion the team and its players for orchestrating a magisterial comeback. But in light of issues currently plighting the organization from behind the scenes, there’s a real possibility that the fans’ fond recollection would soon be done on a sombre note in the tune of a eulogy.
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Creating Shalke 04
A report by French sports news outlet L’Equipe revealed executives in the Schalke 04 Esports organization were contemplating selling the team’s spot in the LEC to garner money for the football club (FC Schalke 04) to recuperate from a dire financial situation. Presently, the club has been riddled with issues including holding a €200 million debt, facing a relegation battle in the Bundesliga, and dealing with a feeble influx of cash which was aggravated by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Schalke was formerly the envy of German football, flourishing for the past two decades with consistent Top 3 finishes in the Bundesliga and making deep runs in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Schalke’s plentiful reign was spurred by their sponsor partnership with the Russian energy corporation Gazprom which began in 2007 that critically aided the club’s pressing debt concern at the time. With Gazprom’s investment, Schalke’s value skyrocketed to, according to the club’s estimates, approximately €814 million as of May 2020.
Riding off their success in the football pitch, Schalke expanded to other ventures by forming an esports branch in the summer of 2016 through their entry into the EU LCS. Since then, they formed teams in the Prime League (German regional league set within the European competitive League apparatus), the FIFA video game series, and Pro Evolution Soccer.
“By completely integrating a team of professional Esports contestants into our club structures we are aiming to set new standards for the scene.“
Tim Reichert, Head of Esports in Schalke when his branch was launched.
So long as Schalke’s football team continue to generate positive results in congruence with amassing a consistent and substantial stream matchday revenue, their esports outfit can operate seamlessly, to which it had transpired without fail. It seemed that only an array of calamities would have the capability of bringing the soaring club back down to earth.
Fall to Instability
Like the rest of world football, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the Bundesliga most harshly on the financial front as the absence of fans left a massive gap in revenue for clubs reliant on in matchday games, what with advertising and ticket sales supplementing the income.
But without a constant influx of money salvaging the club—Schalke is one of five Bundesliga teams that doesn’t outsource their football operations to a separate company; meaning they rely heavily on matchday revenue—and a poor spending track record, it moved to cost-cutting measures to save them from insolvency amidst the suspension of league play. Such moves included the enactment of a €2.5 million salary cap for each players, the waiving of their and the supporting staff’s salaries, and not giving refunds to season ticket holders whose seats were essentially useless by the pandemic.
Another problem they face is their position in the Bundesliga. As of Week 22 in the 2020-21 season, Schalke is last in the table with nine points to their name. Their sole win of the year came on January 9 thanks to a 4-0 result over 1899 Hoffenheim which snapped a 30-game league winless streak.
“We need to take a step back so that we can grow again in the future. We can’t dream [for a return to the Champions/Europa League] anymore.”
Jochen Schneider, Schalke 04’s Director of Sport
What’s Next for Shalke 04 Esports?
Where does the football club’s chaos leave its esports department? According to L’Equipe, in lieu of the cost-cutting measures, the esports team is considering selling its LEC spot for around €20 million, a number that is more than two times (~€9M) the price they reached to enter the LEC in 2019. An interesting prospect for the future of one of the LEC’s pioneer organizations, but a rumour nonetheless—or is it?
Shortly after the L’Equipe report was published, a statement was made from Tim Reichert, who holds the title of Managing Director for Schalke 04 Esports, regarding the rumours the article purported.
“We’re currently in the process of evaluating different options that the club can take depending on the circumstances it’ll find itself in by the end of this Bundesliga season. This includes, but is not limited to, selling the LEC slot to an interested buyer. However, no decision has been made as of right now, and the club getting relegated doesn’t necessarily force us to sell the slot.”
Tim Reichert, current Managing Director of Schalke 04 Esports
Though Schalke stressed there were no current plans for them to leave the LEC, they were simultaneously cognizant of it still on the table due to the dire situation hovering around its parent football club.
“It’s important to note that the club does not want or have to sell the LEC slot, as everyone has seen the incredible growth and long-term benefits of being able to compete in this incredible league. But there are possible future scenarios in which this move would be necessary to strengthen the core business football and we have to be prepared for that.”
What is next for Schalke 04, the esports team? Will the organization continue to exist albeit noticeably receding through its progenitor flirting with relegation to the second division of German football, an occurrence nearly 30 years in the making? Or will the plug finally be pulled and its existence as we knew it will cease? No one is sure what the future will bring to Schalke esports.
Not even the Managing Director can pinpoint where the LEC squad will be. But at the end of the day, the direction of the outfit hinges on the footballing team. Unless FC Schalke 04’s sporting and subsequent economic slump persist, then it’s fair to say Schalke 04 Esports’ days of existence are all but numbered.
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