UK eSports: How does the local scene compare to the global stage?

eSports is big business globally, but what about the fledgling UK scene?
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The eSports scene within the UK is an extremely exciting emerging sector, boasting a mix of promising young talent and ambition on one side, with a somewhat clique nature and a drop of British cynicism on the other.

The biggest tournaments across the US, Europe and Korea boast multi-million dollar prize pools, while hordes of fans view the events live online – 36 million people viewed the League of Legends World Championship finals.

Comparatively, the UK eSports sector is a small fish in a very big pond. But that doesn’t mean it can’t grow to challenge some of the larger regions. UK prize pools are currently on a different level – the Spring 2016 ESL UK Premiership League of Legends tournament has £10,500 in prizes up for grabs.

However, some of these events qualify teams for bigger tournaments in different countries. For example, Aware Gaming’s Xbox SMITE team won the ESL European finals in Leicester, progressing them to the SMITE World Championships (main image).

While there are sponsors that back UK eSports teams and tournaments (from vendors such as SanDisk, AOC and Intel to retailers like Scan Computers), organisers can’t promise the amount of coverage that global tournaments can. Put simply, there is less money in the scene – and that is arguably preventing it from reaching its potential.

'UK is one of the fastest-growing eSports markets'

Players aren’t usually paid regular wages, they instead will take home any winnings from tournaments, with their team organisation taking a cut of around ten per cent. The organisation will usually pay for travel, expenses and accommodation, and also provide their players with jerseys and computer gear.

On the global stage, players can command salaries of around £40,000 and above, with the very best earning over £100,000. Six-figure sponsorship deals are the norm, while in the UK four or five figures are more likely. Because of this, it’s a great opportunity for other retailers and resellers – even independent traders – to sponsor local teams and increase their coverage within the UK gaming community.

With smaller revenues going into UK eSports, players have less incentive to commit full-time or remain loyal to one team. Team rosters change frequently, players are poached and there are no contracts (though some teams such as Choke Gaming and Terra Cotta Army have started to introduce contracts).

It’s no surprise, then, that two of the biggest UK-based eSports organisations – Team Dignitas and Fnatic – prefer to focus on larger international tournaments rather than local events. Because of this, they earn more and are able to attract better talent from around the world. However, local teams like Choke Gaming, Team Infused, FM- eSports and ManaLight are growing fast.

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The UK is also producing its fair share of promising players. British 16-year-old Barney “Alphari” Morris is one of the best young League of Legends players to emerge from England, while British fighting game players Benjamin “Problem X” Simon and Denom “A F0xy Grampa” Jones are making waves across the globe, plus Spencer “A Huge Gorilla” Ealing is a hot prospect on the FIFA scene. Raymond “KaSing” Tsang is a good example of a League of Legends player who started off in the UK scene and went on to play in some of the big global teams.

In terms of other notable tournaments and organisers in the UK, Gfinity opened its own London eSports arena last year and runs regular competitions, while the aforementioned ESL runs tournaments for a variety of games. DreamHack held its first LAN in London last year, while Multiplay hosts several i-series gaming festivals. League of Legends developer Riot Games held the World Championship quarter finals at Wembley’s SSE Arena last October which picked up national coverage from the BBC. Onwards and upwards.

‘UK CAN ATTRACT THE BIG TEAMS’

Razer’s UK PR specialist Nick Haywood says: “I think 2016 is going to see the UK eSports events attract the big teams as the size of the events, and more importantly for professional eSports teams, the size of the prize pools increase. For example, Multiplay, with their move to the NEC, can now continue growing the Insomnia LAN events which will attract more amateur players for their open tournaments. The increased prize pools for the tournaments will attract more professional teams from around the globe, so we’ll see a great mix of amateur and pro- players at each event, all playing against each other.

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“Open tournaments like these are key to UK eSports growth – amateur players want to compete with the pro players, if only just for the kick of playing them – but even walking away with a small share of the prize pool is a great incentive to play.”

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