eSports, where live play is watched on TV and by audiences in an arena, has been a serious business in the Far East for over a decade and is now soaring in popularity in the UK.
eSports has a potential global audience of up to 1.4 billion and there is a massive opportunity for start-ups and established brands to exploit this new territory. The UK, already the world’s 6th largest gaming market, is one of the countries where live gaming competitions are booming, especially for League of Legends. In October 2015, Wembley’s SSE Arena hosted the LOL World Championship quarterfinals. Tickets sold out rapidly and the action was also covered by BBC3 for the first time, giving eSports mainstream exposure and increasing audience recognition of teams and players.
Leading system vendors and PC retailers including Intel, Hyper X, Scan Computers and Roccat provide sponsorship for eSports teams, with the aim of raising their brand and product awareness amongst the video gaming community. The rewards for successful teams, such as Dignitas, are lucrative: star players can earn prize money of up to $1m per tournament and the team also benefits from merchandising and sponsorship deals. All the action is streamed live on interactive Twitch TV, recently acquired by Amazon, where fans can watch and chat to their favourite players as they practise.
Jason Yeh, head of Riot Games EU eSports section, sees eSports as a natural fit for the UK, where sports have always played such a leading role in the national identity. The company is now seeking more ways to increase competitive gaming at a local level, diffusing eSports from the professional level of world championships down through smaller tournaments, thus allowing many more players to engage in competitions.
Sponsors Intel and other big names were at DreamHack, at the Copper Box Arena in London, when the streamed action of the tournament was watched by over 8 million people. Anna Cheng, Intel’s UK Enterprise and Technological Development Manager, is pushing eSports growth in the UK, seeing it as a very valuable industry for the company. Confidence in the sector is also signalled by the opening of Gfinity in Fulham, London; this 600-seat venue is the country’s first purpose-built eSports arena.
Spectators can also back their judgement and place bets on their favourite players and teams. Both specialised companies such as EGB.com and familiar high street names, such as William Hill, offer odds on many different competitive games, including Counter-Strike, LOL and Dota2.
With superfast fibre broadband now widely available, an extensive take-up of mobile devices and eSports events creating more publicity, the potential for future growth is huge. eSports in the UK look set to thrive in the coming years.
Related: Gfinity founder Neville Upton talks to Growth Business about eSports – one of the great untapped global markets.