Esports is a massive business in many parts of the world. That’s particularly true in South Korea, China, Southeast Asia, and it’s picking up steam all the time in North America. But in Great Britain, esports gaming is still very much a fringe activity.
Whereas in South Korea a top esports star can enjoy widespread fame and not inconsiderable fortune, in Britain, esports is still viewed as the domain of teenagers, sitting alone in their rooms with their consoles.
That perception could change with the formation of the British Esports Championships. The new series is not a professional tournament per se. Rather, the not-for-profit British Esports Association (BEA) organizes these contests. They’ll run through a number of different educational establishments, including secondary schools, further education colleges, library hubs, and even pupil referral units.
Interested schools are currently registering for February’s pilot tournament. If the pilot proves to be a success, the program will go nationwide in September. The first national event will then follow the full academic year through July 2019. After this initial stage, a Grand Finals event will take place at the biggest gaming festival in the UK: Insomnia, which is held at the Birmingham NEC.
The pilot caters to players between the ages of 12 and 19. The schools competing play weekly matches at Maida Vale Library in London. Schools also have time before their fixtures to hold internal trials between their students. This allows them to pick their most competitive esports teams across the three games that constitute the pilot structure.
After a successful collaboration last year with London-based DinoPC, which helped the BEA run some successful after-school clubs last year, the company provides computers for some of the competing schools, especially in cases where the school’s in-house IT equipment is too old.
What is the aim of the British Esports Championships?
First and foremost, the BEA seeks to engage with young people through esports. By working with teachers, school leaders, esports academics, and representatives from the Department for Education, the BEA can closely monitor the pilot, demonstrate its positive impact, and highlight best practices.
On a grander scale, the BEA aims to foster a positive national attitude toward esports. Its mission cites three main goals: “Promote, Inspire and Improve.”
The association strongly feels it must educate parents, teachers, children, the media, and the government that esports is a positive activity. They argue this form of gaming offers plenty of intrinsic benefits when enjoyed in moderation. They highlight the many positives esports can gift children, such as:
- Developing teamwork skills
- Improving communication skills
- Allowing children to adopt leadership roles and responsibilities
- Improving confidence and self-esteem
- Improving reaction time and decision-making skills
- Increasing dexterity and concentration
- Improving IT skills
- There is even evidence that esports can help improve reading and comprehension skills in some children
What is particularly exciting about this project is that it takes a broad view of esports. By starting with youth and also reaching out to adults, the industry as a whole — as far as coaching, management, marketing, and journalism — could come into focus for an entire nation.
To highlight the industry’s larger professional landscape, a resource pack is currently in production. Teachers, parents, and gamers should receive it in the near future.
Why do esports languish in the UK?
The main reason the BEA undertakes this charm offensive is that computer gaming in general does not garner much favorable press in the UK. Most of the national coverage regarding gaming is negative.
This constant drip-feed of negativity convinces many Brits that gaming is bad for young children. In truth, it can provide many different benefits within a controlled and mediated framework. It is these benefits the BEA is keen to promote.
Will this initiative address the lack of top esports players from Great Britain?
One roadblock is readily apparent for British esports. It reckons with a definitive dearth of players good enough to reach globally prestigious events.
Of course, coming from a culture where people are generally wary of computer games does not provide an easy environment in which to nurture developing talent. While this initiative won’t have any immediate impact on improving participation for British players in big esports events, it could improve the conditions in which burgeoning players hone their gaming skills and smarts.