How Malmö became a serious force in online sports

Esports are becoming increasingly mainstream and Malmö is leading the way with the appointment of Sweden’s first ever esports project manager and a health-based approach to gaming. The Local finds out more.

How Malmö became a serious force in online sports
Photo: Malmö FF esports team

Online gaming has long relinquished the image of being the domain of teenagers playing video games in their bedrooms. Games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and FIFA are being played at an ultra-competitive level, with teams battling it out for big prizes worth large sums of money. 

It has led to esports teams becoming more professional in their approach. Spotting the trend, the City of Malmö recently hired Sweden’s first esports project manager Paul Petersson-Rebelo. 

Malmö, which is home to Swedish video game developer Massive, has long enjoyed a reputation for gaming. It is estimated that games made in Malmö are played by as many as 500 million people around the world. As such, the appointment of Petersson-Rebelo to boost the city’s appeal as an esports hub was a natural evolution. 

“Malmö has a strong image as a developer city with a lot of gaming studios here. It is a city with a young demographic,” Petersson-Rebelo tells The Local. 

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Since taking up the position last year, Petersson-Rebelo has been a busy man. In addition to his new role, he is also the project manager for Malmö Game Week, which returns to the southern city this autumn.

“We are trying to attract more big gaming events to the city and really put Malmö on the international map as an esports focus area,” he says. “Malmö Game Week is an initiative to showcase the gaming community to the general public. It’s an event for the public first and foremost and it will generate a lot of revenue for the city.”

The city's efforts have already started to bear fruit with Malmö being chosen to host the Dreamhack Masters esports tournament in October. Malmö hosted the inaugural event back in 2016 and is home to some of the country’s top esports teams. 

“The event will attract around 24 000 fans during the weekend and many thousands more will follow the tounament online,” says Petersson-Rebelo.

Photo: Paul Petersson-Rebelo

Malmö also hosts the annual Nordic Game conference, which attracts more than 2000 professionals from the gaming industry. 

A relatively recent addition to Malmö's gaming ecosystem is the city's esports football team, which competes in the e-Allsvenskan playing FIFA and wearing the famous sky blue colours of Malmö FF. Last year’s qualifiers to find the trio of players for the newly-formed team attracted gamers from all across Sweden all with one goal: emulate the professionals at Malmö FF, which is Sweden’s most successful football team. 

The Malmö FF esports team practices between four and six hours a day and is drawing inspiration from their athletic colleagues at Malmö FF, with the club applying their professional methods to the new team. 

“Our team is made up of three guys aged 17, 18 and 21 and we have a health team, which includes a physiotherapist and psychologist, in place to help them perform at their best,”  Filip Ahlström, project leader e-sports Malmö FF, tells The Local.





Lots of cool games to try! Nordic Game Conferance. #ng19 #nordicgame

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He adds, “It is important that they take care of their health by eating the right foods, avoiding sugar and sitting correctly. Our esports team spends time in the gym; we are giving them that basis as there is a link between how you train and how you perform.” 

Malmö FF has made a good start in the e-Allsvenskan with the southern side winning seven of their first 11 matches. The club has attracted its own shirt sponsor while the games are broadcast on streaming platform Dplay with certain matches shown on Sweden’s Kanal 9.  

The e-Allsvenskan is also proving to be a spectator sport with an estimated 1500 gaming fans packing into an arena in Stockholm to watch clubs duking it out on screen. 

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Having the backing of the local football club and the general public is another boost for esports in Malmö. It wasn’t something that the club took for granted, says Filip Ahlström. 

“Initially the club thought that forming an esports team would get a negative response but, in fact, the reaction has been very positive. Malmö FF is very enthusiastic about the team; we want to create role models in our players.”

Competing in games such as League of Legends, Malmö-based esports team The Final Tribe has broken into the top 16 esports teams in the world and is an esports talent management agency as well as an emerging lifestyle brand. 

CEO Ludwig Sandgren says The Final Tribe intends to be the world’s best and that Malmö is an ideal location for a company with lofty ambitions. 

“There is already a good infrastructure in Malmö and we are looking to build that up further and grow the scene here. We are running a professional esports club competing at the highest level in the gaming world.” 

The message is clear. Esports have a growing presence in Malmö and are here to stay. 

“Malmö is beginning a new trend for esports. We are very close to the continent and it is easy to get support here. Gaming companies and gamers like the atmosphere here,” concludes Paul Petersson-Rebelo. 

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Malmö stad.

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Malmö fans vow to ‘blow Scots off the pitch’

Malmö are looking ahead to their chance to gain revenge against Celtic in their second clash with the Glaswegians in the Champions League play-off on Tuesday.

Malmö fans vow to 'blow Scots off the pitch'
Malmö FF lost by 3-2 to Celtic in the Champions League play-off on Wednesday. Photo: AP Photo/Scott Heppell

The Swedish champions lost 3-2 in the first leg of their play-off round match against Celtic last week after dealing a blow to the Scottish side with an incredible late comeback.

But the pressure from the almost 50,000 Celtic fans loudly cheering their home team from the stands at Parkhead proved to be too much for Malmö who did not make it all the way.

On Monday, the southern Swedish team was warming up for the second leg of the play-off round, this time facing Celtic on home turf. And its fans promised to exert their revenge.

“Forget everything we've done so far. We now set the bar for what can be achieved at a football stadium and together we create an atmosphere that will blow the Scots off the pitch,” read a message on Malmö FF's website from the club's supporters.

“We are the storm. And when the storm blows in we have to give everything,” it added.

Their words echo those of Malmö's coach Åge Hareide after the defeat in Glasgow.

“We will attack them at home and play our normal game and hopefully it will be enough. (…) Our fans have the habit of backing us fantastically at home. We will attack and we are up for it,” the Norwegian told a press conference on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Malmö keep Champions League hopes alive

Malmö, who are looking to make the group stages for the second successive season after becoming the first Swedish club in the tournament for more than a decade last year, will not be phased by the challenge of overturning the deficit.

They came back from a 2-0 first-leg defeat to advance 3-2 against Red Bull Salzburg in the previous qualifying round.

But Celtic's coach Ronny Deila promised not to give the Swedish team an easy ride, saying that his side has learned its lessons from the previous match.

“We are very irritated with the last thing that happened in the game,” he told reporters on Monday, referring to Malmö's second away goal by Jo Inge Berget at Celtic Park last week. “But we have to move on and know that we are ahead and we are going to do this in Malmö.”

“We are one goal ahead and they have to beat us in Malmö. It was an okay result, but it could have been a better result.”

Celtic suffered heartache at this stage last season when they were eliminated 2-1 on aggregate by Slovenian side NK Maribor.

But the 1967 winners – the first British club to win the European Cup – believe they have a better chance of progress this time.

“Of course we can beat Malmö away. But they have to beat us, and that is a positive thing. They have to attack us and that can suit us,” added Deila.