After seven months of construction, Norwich City rose to the occasion and won FIFA’s e-Premier League for the first time in football club history. However, Norwich’s real story begins 18 months ago with the founding of 1J Esports, as it attempts to tap into the elusive 14+ market.
Image credit: 1J Esports / Norwich City
In a close encounter, Norwich City’s Damien ‘Demi’ Augustiniak and Jack ‘Golpocher_’ Vignol won 5–1 on aggregate against Brentford in the ePremierLeague Grand Final, the first major honor for a football-esports club.
Norwich’s win marked the biggest success for its esports team – 1J Esports – since it was founded in September 2021. 1J Esports was designed to create a new brand identity for Norwich’s esports team, as well as pay tribute to the football club’s legacy by using its location. and postcode (NR1 1JE).
“We saw that 14+ was a difficult group to connect with, so we assigned students from Bidstack and Badoo Sports the task of researching that age group and what that demographic would be associated with,” said Jake Gent, Jr. Development and Membership Manager at Norwich City Football ClubExplaining the story behind the formation of 1J.
“The students came to Carrow Road and one of the main presentations was around gaming. With some independent research, esports and gaming was the route we decided to go down – and it took us almost a year to get things started.
Advertising company Bidstack is Norwich’s first commercial export partner. Additionally, both institutions are working in partnership with sports education community group Badoo Sports to provide work experience placements and esports qualifications to their students.
Image credit: Norwich City
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1J is certainly not the first traditional football club to heed the valuable opportunity esports offers , To reach a younger, increasingly elusive demographic of potential fans. A long line of other big names from the world’s most popular sport have also ventured into the esports industry, including Wolves Esports, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Manchester City, Schalke 04 and FC Barcelona.
Perhaps even more fascinating is how each club has used a different strategy to try and engage with this community. PSG has gone the path of partnership with other organizations to develop separate, join-venture rosters, while Wolves have gone solo with their own roster in a range of esports competitive titles.
Norwich’s use of an esports team as a marketing tool to generate engagement among the 14+ marketers seems to be working. Thanks to its ePremier League (ePL) performance, 1J reported a 500 percent increase in social impressions and a 400 percent increase in followers during the ePL weekend, the team told Esports Insider.
The EPL win marked a peak for 1J, but its journey to the upper echelons of FIFA was not an easy one. In October last year, 1J announced that it had signed Kylem ‘Lyricz’ Edwards, a respected pro FIFA player who was expected to represent the ePremier League and beyond.
Things didn’t quite go according to plan when Edwards was out-qualified, and could not represent the team in its biggest matches of the year so far. However, keeping Edwards on the books allowed the organization to grow with the player, and not with wobble since. According to the organization, it simultaneously provided opportunities to other young talents as well.
However, perhaps the biggest problem facing 1J is the success of its parent, Norwich City Football Club. Due to Norwich’s relegation from the Premier League – England’s top-flight football league – Norwich and 1J will not be allowed to try and retain their ePremier League titles next year.
Image credit: 1J Esports
However, Gent was confident that this would not actually be a setback. In fact, Norwich’s recent performance in the Premier League was actually a reason to brand themselves as 1J Esports as opposed to calling themselves ‘Norwich City Esports’.
“We didn’t want to go as Norwich City Esports because we felt it would limit our following and we wanted to go beyond Norwich fans, especially with the age demographic at the club,” Gent explained.
Thanks to the success of other clubs that have entered the world of esports over the years, it is no surprise that Norwich are looking to follow suit. Gent made it clear that 1J and Norwich want to make the team as successful as possible, and sees this as a long-term project following the success of ePremier League.
Converting 1J fans to Norwich fans would be an added bonus, but it is not a priority – 1J wants to be a self-sustaining business entity, the team said.
“The original plan was a three-year plan,” Gent shared, adding that expanding to a new title was always a two-year plan. Indeed, 1J is set to maintain that schedule: “After this year’s success, we would like to enter a new title soon,” he said.
Alternatives to that second title include Call of Duty, Halo, League of Legends, and Rocket League. All of these titles give 1J a chance to distance themselves from Norwich and develop their own brand, bringing in more fans, the organization said. Still, it’s important to decide which title to enter, with each scene having its own distinct community, fantasy, and point of view.
By venturing into the esports space, many of these club-to-esports-organizations are heading into uncharted territory, uncertain – as we all are – how this project will play out over the long term.
Bidstack and Badoo Sport are nonetheless throwing their weight behind 1J, and are confident it can continue its success after a year in partnership together. “For all of us here at Badoo, we aim to provide opportunities to the youth we work for that empower and uplift them”, Jan Habik, Digital Marketing Specialist at Badootold Esports Insider.
“Our partnership with Norwich FC and Bidstack has allowed young people to be part of something amazing. We are extremely proud to see their concept grow into a successful 1J esports team, known as the ePremier League champions. has been crowned.”
With more sports teams entering the esports market each year – all largely seeking the attention of the same important demographic – competition will continue to grow. As innovation begins to wear off, this new breed of teams will have to work harder to stand out.
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