AYMERIC LABASTE: WHY ROLAND-GARROS INVESTS IN ESPORTS

16 May 2022

By: Sport Industry Group

The Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas is the biggest and most inclusive eTennis competition in the world and the only eTennis competition to be organised by one of the four Tennis Grand Slams. The event, organised by Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT), will see eight finalists compete in a Grand Final at Roland-Garros on Saturday 21st May to be crowned the eTennis world champion. 

To mark the fifth anniversary of the tournament, we spoke to Aymeric Labaste, Head of Roland-Garros International Development at Fédération Française de Tennis, to find out why they have decided to invest in esports...


Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your role at FFT.

My name is Aymeric Labaste and I joined Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) in 2019. In 2020, I assumed the role of Head of Roland-Garros International Development at the organisation, which involves growing the reach of our Grand Slam in key markets across the globe. My goal is to bring Roland-Garros to life all year round through various esports, sport, hospitality and brand ambassador projects and activations. 

What is the Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas?

Since the inaugural Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas tournament four years ago, the competition has grown to become the biggest and most inclusive eTennis tournament in the world. The event is organised by FFT and to this day, is the only eTennis competition to feature at one of the four tennis Grand Slams

In 2022, the tournament consists of four qualifying events with eight finalists progressing to the Grand Final at Roland-Garros itself. The Grand Final will take place later this week, on Saturday, May 21 and the winner of the tournament will be crowned the eTennis world champion. 

How is this year’s event different to previous events?

In 2022, we decided to introduce some significant changes to the competition to showcase our ongoing commitment to growing the tournament and eTennis gamers. 

Our overarching goal this year was to make the event more inclusive. One way we decided to do this was by switching to a mobile format, partnering with the world's most popular mobile tennis game, Tennis Clash, from Wildlife Studios. This enabled us to significantly grow our reach by attracting any participants from around the world that had access to a mobile device and internet connectivity. The switch has been incredibly successful, with 238K+ people from 207 territories signing up for the two open qualifiers.

As well as this, we formed a strategic partnership with Women in Games France, to encourage more women to enter the competition. The partnership saw us host a female only qualifying event, offering women a safe space to compete and guaranteeing two female qualifiers the opportunity to take part in the Grand Final. 

Winners from two qualifying events - the Women in Games France and XP School qualifiers -  also received the opportunity to attend a two-day bootcamp hosted by Team MCES, one of the French leading esports teams, at its Gaming Centre in Marseille.

Why is Roland-Garros investing in esports? How does this affect the wider business strategy? 

One of the main reasons for launching Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas was to connect with a younger audience that doesn't have an affinity to the Roland-Garros brand. Sports fans are traditionally older than esports’ fans and this is no different for our tennis competition. By hosting an eTennis esports competition, we can promote and introduce Roland-Garros to an entirely new audience weeks before the event begins, while simultaneously modernising the tournament’s DNA. 

Hosting an esports event allows us to take advantage of one of the most exciting and emerging social media platforms over the past few years; Twitch. Twitch is a hugely popular platform for gaming and esports fans that is now attracting communities from more mainstream industries such as sports and music. We’ve been hosting our competition exclusively on Twitch since 2021, using streamers’ channels such as Gaël Monfils (2021) and Rivenzi (2022), who this year was joined by fellow French streamers LittleBigWhale and Ponce, to reach and connect with their audiences in meaningful ways. As well as airing the eTennis competition, the streams include entertaining content centred around tennis and eTennis, with the aim of engaging both tennis and esports’ fans.

Finally, unlike physical sports events, there are fewer barriers to participation in gaming and esports due to geographical location. This year's switch to a mobile esports competition means significantly more people from all over the world can compete in the tournament, provided they have a mobile device and connectivity, which in turn can help us increase interest and participation in eTennis globally.

It’s also an opportunity to provide our partners - our long-standing title partner BNP Paribas and our new official partner, Renault - with a unique activation platform.

Why has the event switched to a mobile esports format?

Mobile gaming is extremely popular, with one third of the world’s population playing video games on mobile. Mobile esports is also growing in popularity, because of how easy and accessible it is to compete in a mobile esports competition. Anyone with access to a smartphone that has 4G connectivity is able to participate in an event. By switching to a mobile esports format, we can achieve our goal of becoming a more inclusive tournament, so that anyone interested in competing is able to do so. 

Roland-Garros has partnered with Women in Games France ahead of the event. How will this help improve female participation? 

Esports has an industry wide gender equality issue and it can be a challenge for those organising esports events to increase the number of female competitors. To address this, we partnered with Women in Games France, an integral organisation promoting gender equality within the gaming industry. FFT and Women in Games France hosted the female only qualifying event, giving women the opportunity to compete in a safe environment. It also gave the two successful female qualifiers the opportunity to grow their own profile and further their esports career. 

What have been the biggest challenges in growing an esports event?

This year, we wanted to further enhance our credibility as the world's biggest eTennis tournament and grow our presence. By switching to a mobile esports competition with Tennis Clash, we were able to connect with significantly more gamers that have an interest in eTennis than we have ever done before. 

We also wanted to support and enhance the number of female pro gamers competing in the tournament, which is why we partnered with Women in Games France. By hosting a female only qualifying event, we hoped to inspire more women to compete in the tournament and also provided the two female qualifiers with a platform to accelerate their own esports careers. 

What is the vision for the future? Do you see the event developing further?

eTennis is a growing discipline that is going from strength to strength and, in 2023, we want to take our competition to the next level and continue positively growing the tournament. We’re already exploring a number of areas we can improve the experience of Roland-Garros eSeries by BNP Paribas for eTennis enthusiasts for next year and will share this with them ahead of next year's event.