We’ve been speaking about esports for some time in PCR now. The UK scene may have taken a little longer than its Asian and US counterparts to get going, but over the years we have seen an explosion in competitive gaming this side of the pond.
Recently we’ve seen the ESL One Dota 2 Major finals being held in the Birmingham Arena earlier this year, with BBC Three streaming the showdown live online – something that both ASUS senior gaming marketing specialist Thomas Jenner and British Esports Association content director Dom Sacco cite as one of the big highlights of this year.
“What a great time to be an esports fan in the UK, especially if you are a fan of Dota 2. Let’s hope for more exciting news like this in 2019,” enthuses Jenner.
Sacco says the first CSGO London Major taking place in September, courtesy of FaceIT, is another big piece of industry news, along with numerous developments in the education and school space.
“UK games industry trade body Ukie held its second annual Digital Schoolhouse esports tournament, the British Esports Association held its pilot Championships for schools and colleges (ahead of the full inaugural Championships this October), and several universities are now offering esports courses, including Staffordshire, York, Roehampton and others. Qualification provider AIM Awards is also looking at offering a Level 3 esports course for colleges too,” he reveals.
“Importantly, we’ve seen the level of professionalism step up, with more opportunities for amateur/pro players and other talent, with more tournaments here like Forge of Champions, and things like gaming houses slowly becoming more of a regular occurrence. There are more people earning money and choosing esports as a career, and that’s extremely encouraging. It’s miles ahead from where we were three or four years ago, but there’s still lots of work to be done.
“Oh and recently, London Spitfire won the inaugural Overwatch League!”
Another important area of the esports industry that has seen positive signs over the past year is the visibility of women.
“I don’t know of any data that proves whether or not there are more females participating in esports as of late, but I do feel like I’m now seeing more female casters at major global tournaments these days, which is a good sign,” says Jenner.
Sacco notes that it’s important to not just look at the players “like some mainstream publications do”. “We have some world-class female talent in esports, from casters to hosts, content creators, photographers and more, and I think that should be highlighted and celebrated more.”
In terms of what can be done to increase diversity in esports, Jenner believes that game developers and esports organisations can do more to help encourage more females to get into video games, including creating well-designed and inspirational female in-game characters, building robust anti-toxicity chat filters, and having talented and knowledgeable female casters on the stage during tournaments.
Sacco seconds this, saying things have “progressed somewhat” at the semi-pro/amateur level in recent years. “There are more female-only tournaments, the likes of ESL, AnyKey, Female Legends and others have done some good work in this area and I hope we will see more girls and women playing esports in the future.”
He adds: “It’s also important to remember that esports is inclusive. It’s open to everyone regardless of gender, age, race, background, physical ability and tournaments are mixed. We need to create more role models for female players in my opinion and promote this so that we encourage more to participate in the future.”
While all this is great news for esports, how does the scene benefit the tech sector?
“In the same way that Formula 1 encourages car manufacturers to invent new and exciting technologies that will eventually trickle down to standard consumer vehicles, I believe that esports will inspire a new generation of high-end products designed for competitive play,” says Jenner.
“In 2018 alone, ROG helped to co-engineer an incredible 240Hz desktop monitor and also introduced the world’s first 144Hz 3ms gaming laptop display on the Strix SCAR II and Hero II, both aimed at gamers that play esports titles. These kinds of technologies currently sell for a premium, as you might expect, but give it a few years and you will see these features become standard in the mainstream space.”
But it’s not just the gear used for gaming that esports is helping to advance. As Michael Milligan, senior director of product and solution marketing at Limelight Networks explains, the impact of this growing sector runs into other area of technology as well.
“While esports was originally the preserve of hard-core gamers, popularity has quickly grown beyond only the most ardent fans of video gaming. Esports has now gone mainstream, with fans of all ages tuning in online and on television to watch major events,” he says.
“Much like in the world of traditional sports, esports fans are incredibly engaged and want to be able to comment on the action as it happens, either on a second screen such as a mobile, on online forums, or directly to the live stream itself. As such, we expect esports to increase demand for advanced live-streaming capabilities that will allow fans to enjoy the action in real time, opening up a number of opportunities.”
Sponsorship is a great way for brands to get in on the esports action, whether that’s being part of a tournament or sponsoring a particular team. It also helps contribute to the whole esports ecosystem.
As Sacco explains, it can offer exposure to key demographics, and on a large scale. “Brands could sponsor a team or tournament, player or streamer, run their own tournament or weekly stream, run a gaming competition. The possibilities are incredibly varied.
“Brands could even set up their own esports organisation. Fierce PC did this recently with their new Fierce Esports brand, they signed a CSGO roster and will be entering tournaments themselves.”
Jenner agrees that sponsoring an esports activity such as a tournament is a great way of getting your brand out there, pointing out that with having your company logo on a stream that can potentially be viewed by millions of gamers around the world, “you can definitely expect to improve brand familiarity with this particular audience”.
However, he does warn of the complexities involved in sponsoring a team. “Sponsoring an esports team is a considerably more complex activation. For example, ROG sponsor the world famous Ninjas in Pyjamas CSGO team so that we can create large amounts of engaging social media content that helps to explain why professional gamers choose to use our hardware over our competitors. Strategies like this are a great way of increasing product trust and preference over time.”
The next chapter
Esports has been on a meteoric rise over the past few years, but what’s in store for the future of the industry?
‘There is no denying the fact that the rise of online gaming and esports is taking place very quickly,” says Milligan. “As evidenced by Limelight Networks’ State of Online Gaming report, we are beginning to see younger consumers spending almost as much time watching online gaming channels and esports competitions as they do watching traditional sports on TV.
“How long it will be until esports stars command the back pages of newspapers is anyone’s guess, but if the growth in popularity continues at anything like its current trajectory then we can certainly expect the esports market to begin having a profound impact on everything, from the media landscape to the adoption of cutting edge products such as virtual reality headsets, as the growing fan base look to watch and emulate their favourite esports stars, and maybe even take their place alongside them on the podium.”
On the tournament side of things, Jenner says he expects competing teams, audience size, prize pool funds and “pretty much every other measurable metric” to grow.
“Esports is here to stay and what we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg!” he enthuses.
Sacco says he expects to see consolidation, with the big getting bigger, but warns “we shouldn’t be too surprised if the bubble bursts in the next few years, or at least starts to peak”.
“Esports has been in growth mode for several years now, and it will plateau eventually”, he says. “We need to be aware of this when it happens and make sure as an industry we are educating brands and everyone properly, not overhyping esports and making the bubble bigger than it actually is.
“Many sports brands have been throwing money at esports the past few years and we need to be careful they don’t get bored of this new direction and quit, leaving many with jobs in esports redundant.”
Sacco believes there will be more interest at an investor level in the UK, a bigger focus on diversity and franchising in the future, and more growth in grassroots.
“Expect the unexpected. Fortnite – the biggest game on the planet right now – barely existed a year ago. This industry moves at lightning pace and we all need to be on our toes to keep up with it,” he says. “I look forward to seeing what the next big hit is and to see how esports grows and evolves in the future.
“If you have a B2C brand in the PC industry, you absolutely need to be involved with esports, because it’s here to stay.”