The esports business is on track to be a billion dollar industry, with millions of participants and viewers, but industry leaders have called for more partnerships and government investment. 

The UK’s centre piece for business and entertainment growth is esports according to Riot Games UK Head of esports Mo Fadl, who believes broadcasters are the key to helping the esports movement grow.

Esports World Championship Final 2018

Esports World Championship Final 2018

“How can we project our sport into the real world?” Fadl asked delegates at the recent Ukie parliamentary event in London.

Fadl called for partnerships and collaboration, pointing to the annual growth in the UK alone as a reason why it should be taken seriously. 

In 2017, the global esports market was valued at $493 million, with Statista estimating the global esports market revenue to reach $1.65 billion by 2020 based on 40% year-on-year pace of growth.

“It is critical to build trust with the community by learning what matters to them and how they want to consume content” - Mo Fadl 

Fadl told IBC365: “esports and traditional broadcasters come from different worlds built on different systems, so there’s an inevitable culture clash when they try to work together, but ultimately these issues should be surmountable.

“It is critical to build trust with the community by learning what matters to them and how they want to consume content, rather than trying to change the way they do things in order to fit current models.”

The esports industry continues to grow with competitive gaming championships attracting billions of viewers and new job opportunities from game developers to professional players.

Last month the trade body for the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry (Ukie) hosted an event at the Palace of Westminster, with members of Parliament invited to attend to learn the scale of the esports business.

Labour MP and Chair of Video Games and esports Alex Sobel described esports as ”a crucial part of the UK economy.” He pledged his commitment to the industry during the event and spoke about raising the UK’s status as the fifth largest gaming market globally.

There are 33 million gamers in the UK and 12 million of those using a PC, the market continues to grow in double digits. According to Sobel, the next step is focussing on investment for growth and partnerships with broadcasters.

Last month, the British Film Institute (BFI) published its Screen Business report analysis of the economic impact of the screen sector tax reliefs in the UK. Based on data from 2016, it demonstrated the growing scale of the UK games industry which contributed £1.52 billion gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy in 2016 with numbers rising to support 47,620 jobs and contributing a total of £2.87 billion in GVA for 2018.

According to the report, “esports is a new, rapidly-growing element of the games sector, which involves the broadcast of games being played competitively with large prizes and audiences. It has expanded rapidly in recent years and is becoming an emerging but significant new component of the industry.”

Building a bridge
Partnerships and collaborations are already blossoming; Riot Games has partnered with Marvel Entertainment in a new venture for a series of graphic novels based on the League of Legends game set for release in May 2019. While Sky and ITV are among the traditional broadcasters that have targeted eSport collaborations along with new native esports platforms such as Twitch and Ginx. And UK mobile operator EE has launched a mobile gaming tournament. The EE Mobile Series winner will gain a position in the Fnatic esports team, the largest in the UK with the tournament played in three stages the final will be live from the BT Sport London studio on 20th January 2019.

The first competition of its kind, the tournament is set to be broadcast on all major streaming platforms with the winner receiving a full-time competitive salary, training and their own gaming kit.

EE Director of Brand Marketing Pete Jeavons said: “A strong and reliable mobile connection is critical for mobile gamers, and with superfast 4G in more places than any other operator, EE is committed to providing an awesome gaming experience wherever our customers go.

“We’ve partnered with OnePlus and esports pioneer, Fnatic, to create the ultimate mobile gaming competition.”

2018 World Championship Finals at the Incheon Munhak Stadium in Incheon, South Korea, on 3 November 2018.

2018 World Championship Finals: Incheon Munhak Stadium, South Korea

Fnatic are a competitive gaming team with a mission to bring esports into every household. This partnership is certainly a step in the right direction to where the industry sees collaboration heading.

Professional esports gamer Michael O’Dell, Founder and General Manager of Dignitas, one of the biggest eSport teams to emerge from the UK said: “We need bigger tournaments in the UK but this requires parliamentary uptake with government and local authorities.”

He said the future of esports is being able to watch a competition on TV as part of his Sky package.

O’Dell told IBC365: “esports has been around for 20 years or so; you are now going to see some fast developments across all levels from top gamers to school level, it is very exciting.”

He noted that collaborating with broadcasters wouldn’t impact the authenticity of the eSporting community, however, attracting greater interest and championing younger audiences to pursue careers within the community.

Esports broadcaster Znipe.TV has expanded its portfolio announcing last month it will begin a major broadcasting deal with PGL esports tournament organiser, offering audiences player POVs, match highlights and team features.

It began broadcasting Dota 2 from Kuala Lumpur earlier this month with multi-perspective broadcasting. The pay-per-view model saw great success with users willing to pay for a better experience, according to Znipe Chief Executive and Co-Founder Erik Åkerfeldt.

He said: “PGL plays an important role in opening doors to a wider audience of multiple game titles and together we can make sure that we deliver fantastic eSport tailored to a global audience.”

“We need to embrace long term thinking in how we do business; it will make everyone more successful” - Mo Fadl 

Fadl was clear stating partnerships are key for all to learn and grow together rather than “rinsing one another” for one or two events.

He said: “There is not always a lot of long-term planning in esports, with a tendency to work from one event to another, or at a maximum from year to year.

“As we start to build towards a more long-term horizon, we need to embrace long term thinking in how we do business. It will make everyone more successful.”