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Esports: An introduction to a global phenomenon

Esports: An introduction to a global phenomenon

Picture your son or daughter coming to speak with you at sixteen years old (an age to start making some sensible life decisions, right?), and sharing with you their serious (and well-thought-out) aspiration of a career playing video games professionally. You would be excused for taking a typically judgemental and cynical stance on your loved one’s whims – because the idea of earning a living playing computer games is crazy, right?

Well no. Welcome to Esports, a global phenomenon you’ve probably never heard of. Esports is big business, with millions of fans and competitors around the world. And some large multinational businesses, broadcasters, and institutions are starting to take notice. 2018 even sees the launch of the UK’s first Esports honours degree courtesy of Staffordshire University, a course dedicated to the culture and business side of the Esports industry.

But just what is Esports, and why the clamour from global businesses to get involved? To find out more, we spoke to Rachel Gowers, Associate Dean for Recruitment at Staffordshire University, home of a unique new degree dedicated to the business of Esports.

CUK: What exactly is Esports?

RG: Esports is the practice of playing video games competitively over the internet or via networked computers in organised tournament venues and stadiums. It has existed as a subculture since the early 1990s, but the industry has really begun to explode in these last few years, and shows no sign of slowing down. Competitive videogaming, or Esports, is an industry projected to be worth a billion dollars by 2019.

CUK: So how big is the Esports industry right now, and why should UK businesses be paying attention to it?

RG: In November 2016, the UK Interactive Entertainment trade body (UKIE) published a white paper that called for Britain to become a global Esports hub – citing the huge growth in opportunities for the UK economy to leverage the business of Esports. Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of UKIE, said “The UK hosts all the right kind of businesses. We have an ‘early adopter’ culture and the right regulatory framework to allow Esports to grow.”

To understand the scale of the global Esport industry, consider the following facts: 

  • There are currently 148m Esports enthusiasts in the world, and 144m occasional viewers. (NewZoo)
  • The world’s largest Esports tournament prize pool is the Dota 2 International. This year its total prize pool stood at $20.7m. Total Prize money has risen from $5.5 million in 2010 to $45.5 million in 2015.  (Esports Earnings)
  • Esports currently generates $500m. That $500m in revenues doesn’t include actual in-game sales. For example, League of Legends generated revenues of $1.6bn in 2015. It currently has around 100m players. (Riot Games)
  • The most-watched Esports tournament final was that of the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, which was viewed by 36 million people. (Riot Games)
  • Esports fans are expected to spend $231m on tickets, merchandise and prize pool contributions in 2017. (SuperData)
  • Esports revenues are expected to reach $1.1bn in 2019, with 215m Esports enthusiasts and 212m occasional viewers set to emerge by that time. (NewZoo)

CUK: As the Esports scene grows, what products and services do you expect to become increasingly in demand? Where do the opportunities lie for UK businesses?

RG: The Esports ecosystem relies on a broad spectrum of products and services to run effectively. Let’s start with the venues themselves, which require all manner of services, from connectivity to catering, and security to event management, staging, ticketing, and merchandising. Esports events are engaging live spectacles which bring together fans from all over the world, so there is an inherent need for travel, leisure, and hospitality – not to mention the additional services which supply them.

The Esports industry relies on production facilities and physical hardware, and then there’s broadcast. Look at the BBC – it’s just started to broadcast Esports. They recognise this is an entirely new audience, creating opportunities in commentating, journalism, and technical specialisms.

And then there’s the advertising potential – an opportunity to put your brand in front of 200 million highly engaged millennials. The top Esports players are becoming celebrities, which naturally opens opportunities for collaboration and partnership.

The potential demand for products and services exists both at home and abroad. Esports is already hugely popular in Asia, and has rapidly growing audiences in the United States, Europe, and South America.

So yes, we’re talking computer games, but the opportunities for UK businesses to get involved are fantastic.

CUK: Why has Staffordshire University chosen to offer an Esports degree? How did it come about?

RG: Staffordshire University is the first higher-education institution in the UK to have recognised the potential of Esports by creating a three-year degree course devoted solely to the phenomenon, and applications to study are already flooding in. It focuses on the event management and business of Esports and is very hands-on with opportunities to develop teams, build communities and host Esports events.

What convinced me that we should offer this degree is also what should convince anyone of its merit, and that’s the statistics. This will be a billion-pound industry in three years, and we have an opportunity to ensure UK graduates are ready to embrace UKIE’s challenge of making this country a global Esports hub.

CUK: Sounds great, but what transferable skills can Esports graduates expect to take outside of the industry if they choose to?

RG: Our graduates will leave with an arsenal of highly sought-after skills, from leadership, critical thinking, teamworking, and problem solving. These are fantastic transferrable skills which also positions our graduates to work anywhere in the world. The Esports industry is driving the creation of new jobs and companies are looking for people who are both entrepreneurial and tech savvy.

CUK: Finally, where should we go to abreast of what’s happening in the Esports industry?

RG: There’s a wealth of useful sources that you and your readers should keep an eye on, such as the UK Interactive Entertainment trade body, the British Esports Association, and the Esports News UK. Students interested in studying our new degree in 2018 should visit our course page here.


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