Understanding eSports: Britain’s battle to join the eSports big leagues

Understanding eSports: Britain’s battle to join the eSports big leagues
Matthew Jarvis

Fish and chips. Red postboxes. Cups of tea. eSports?

While a stadium full of gamers, eyes glued to an intense Dota 2 match, may not currently recall images of Wembley Arena or The NEC, that could soon be set to change, as Britain’s pro-gaming sector increasingly vies for a spot on the global field.

“UK eSports is stable and poised for continued growth over the next five years,” says Matt Macdonald, senior eSports manager at games event firm Multiplay.

“Both on a casual and professional level we’re seeing an increase in viewership and participation.”

It’s a promising sign for the country’s competitive scene, which has long chased the success and increasing public support of its booming sibling sectors in America and South Korea.

Paul Kent, eSports director at eSports event organisation Gfinity, comments: “The current state of UK eSports is one of optimism.

“It undoubtedly lags behind the rest of Europe and the rest of the world at present. However, we are now seeing some serious sparks at every level of ability across the UK eSports scene.”

Macdonald similarly addresses the UK sector’s former struggle with its growing momentum.

“To be frank, we are lagging behind other countries in terms of investment and infrastructure,” he states. “Korea, Sweden, Germany, and the USA have all embraced eSports more openly than the UK.

“But, given a changing cultural attitude and increased investment, there is no reason whatsoever
that the UK cannot take its place in the global market over the next five years.”

“There is no reason whatsoever that the UK cannot take its place in the global eSports market over the next five years.”

Matt Macdonald, Multiplay

TEAM SPIRIT

As the prizes and sponsorship on offer grow, so does the number of British gamer groups able to make it big on the global stage; Choke Gaming, Team Dignitas and Team CoolerMaster are all eSports squads based in the UK that have seen success over the last five years.

But Team Dignitas manager Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell says not enough is being done by the British games industry to provide a fertile landscape for a greater number of up-and-coming pro-gaming players and teams.

“I feel we are lagging behind the rest of the world quite badly right now, which is extremely annoying,” he laments. “We have so much in the UK to offer global eSports, and I wish I knew why we as a whole have been slow to catch up to many other scenes around the world.

“We do not have enough professional teams, and that is simply because it is hard for teams that are just starting out to access initial funding from sponsors.

“Also, many new teams come into the scene trying to make it big quick - that doesn’t work. Time, experience and building up relationships is the best way to succeed.

“Having said this, the event and tournament side of UK eSports is getting better, with more choice. 2015 looks to be very interesting.”

BRIT PICKS

Cricket, rugby, tennis and football stand as just a handful of the sports Britain is known for around the world - so what virtual titles will become the UK eSports sector’s raison d’etre?

Kent highlights Britain’s console pro-gamers as particularly noteworthy in a European market dominated by the MOBA and shooter PC genres.

“In recent times the UK has developed a strong foothold in console eSports with both the Call of Duty and FIFA communities of the UK producing world-class players,” he explains.

“This seems at odds with the traditional gaming market seen across Europe, which is predominately PC gamers.

“That said, we do still have small but passionate communities in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and, of course, League of Legends.”

O’Dell echoes Kent’s point that the console editions of Call of Duty see a high amount of interest among budding UK players - but reiterates that they are often left without the support to take their skill to a wider audience.

“Call of Duty is a massive game in the UK,” he states. “But the problem - especially for console titles - is the lack of sponsorship to support the scene.

“The console scene relies on Xbox and Sony, and the developers if they want to, to support the tournaments and events. I feel developers should better support their games and the scene that they have created in the UK.”

Like Kent, O’Dell says that while console gaming is highly popular, a certain free-to-play PC title rules the roost.

“In the UK, as with most other places on Earth, League of Legends is the biggest game by far,” he explains.

“The Western eSports scene is, popularity-wise, pretty much the same between countries, with China and Korea being a bit different in terms of which games are popular.”

Macdonald indicates that the PC segment of the market is set for particular prosperity, as UK eSports events back the platform.

“League of Legends has received a great amount of community support over the past year, with StarCraft 2 reigning as king before that,” he explains. “Our CS:GO division is strong because we have a long Counter-Strike heritage, where tournament organisers and other people working behind the scenes discovered the sector via older versions of the game - and want to see it grow massively in the UK.”

“If the companies who have eSports close to their hearts start to pull in the same direction, we could see UK eSports make giant leaps in a short period of time.”

Paul Kent, Gfinity

With an increasingly prominent line-up of teams, and strong player interest in pro-gaming staples, it seems the UK is set for an eSports empire to be reckoned with.

In fact, this year will see the first purpose-built arena dedicated to eSports, built by Gfinity. The 500-seater stadium in London is proposed by the firm as the UK’s ‘home of eSports’, with Kent saying it’s one of the many steps being taken in 2015 to “catapult eSports to the level of mainstream sports”.

It comes on the back of multiple UK eSports event organisations and tournaments, such as Gfinity’s G-series, Multiplay’s Insomnia Gaming Festival and ESL UK’s League of Legends competitions at MCM Comic Con.

Macdonald predicts a greater number of firms set to host their own pro-gaming celebrations, with teams and players set to profit.

“More and more eSports organisations are popping up all the time, running more and more regular competitions and prize money tournaments, with prizes anywhere from £50 to £50,000,” he observes.

Kent adds that UK retail is among those that can contribute most to the growing segment.

“Retailers and other games firms enjoy strong relationships with their customers and often have large engaged online communities,” he comments. “As such, they are in a good position to support the UK eSports market by promoting online and LAN tournaments, reporting results and winners, profiling current and emerging talent, and sharing content generated from tournaments with their followers.”

He concludes that the games firms of the United Kingdom must become just that - united - if British pro-gaming is to flourish on the worldwide stage.

“The UK has traditionally suffered from a small number of companies providing eSports events, both online and offline,” he states. “Those few have perhaps not always seen eye-to-eye, and this ultimately has seen eSports players and teams lose out.

“If the companies who all have eSports close to their hearts start to work together and pull in the same direction, we could see UK eSports make giant leaps in a short period of time.”

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