There’s no doubt that around the globe, particularly in the Far East, North America, mainland Europe and several other parts of the world, the esports industry is in full swing and has now become a part of the cultural landscape. With esports stars lauded like top film and sporting superstars in Korea, to the staggering emergence of Chinese esports superstars and the growing number of universities in North America and South Korea in particular offering esports scholarships, the industry has caught the imagination in these parts of the globe like nowhere else.
Yet while there are many places where esports enjoys massive popularity, there are a few where even despite being popular, it is yet to make the major breakthrough into mainstream culture. Perhaps one of the oddest places where this is the case is the United Kingdom.
Certainly, the UK has the infrastructure to be one of the most popular centres for esports gaming in the world. The gaming and technological infrastructure of the UK is generally sound, there’s a massive number of gamers enjoying PC and console gaming on a regular basis and yet on a global stage, the UK definitely remains a second or even third-tier country when it comes to top level esports.
It is strange to think that a country which has hosted the League of Legends World Championships in recent times, which also hosted the FACEIT London Major last year and which will also see the ESL Premiership return to the country in 2019 as not a major player in esports, but in terms of seeing players and teams represented at the highest level in the top esports, the UK remains well off the pace being set by other countries around the world.
However, could 2019 be the year that is set to change as there have been a number of significant developments in recent times which hint that this year could be the one where esports goes mainstream in the UK and where the country starts to make waves at the upper echelons of professional esports gaming.
Dispelling the myth of a lack of popularity
One of the reasons why esports has not yet grabbed the imagination of the UK population, according to some, is that it isn’t as popular in the UK as other countries. However, the fact that the world’s biggest tournaments want to come to the UK is a fine example of how this is not the case. These big events, FACEIT Major’s, ESL Premiership, Gfinity Elite Series and League of Legends World Championships, play to packed arenas with tickets at a premium. Add to that a strong UK fanbase accessing these events on streaming services and it is clear that in terms of viewers and customers, the UK clearly does love its esports gaming.
That is also corroborated by the continued success of gaming in the sales of which now outstrip sales of music CD’s and film DVD’s across the country combined. There’s also a growing number of UK educational establishments offering esports scholarships for students, while the British Esports Association is amongst a number of organisations which is raising the profile of esports within the UK and the opportunities that lie within the industry within a variety of different disciplines, not just that of a professional gamer.
It is clear therefore that the UK does love esports and gaming, but that as yet this has not been replicated at the highest level and there is a compelling argument that states that until this changes, the UK may always be viewed as a second or third tier esports country.
The good news for esports in the UK, is that this could well be set to change.
Excel Esports and the LEC
One of the crucial factors in raising the profile of esports still further in the UK could be the success (or lack of it) or the first UK-based team franchise to compete in the League of Legends Spring Split. Now rebranded as the LEC (formerly the EU LCS), excel Esports are the first British-based franchise to compete at this high level of League of Legends gaming for a place in the World Championships later this year.
Admittedly, the team has endured a somewhat tough start, winning just two of their first ten games to sit second-from-bottom of the table. However, the fact that they are competing is a huge deal, not just for the UK League of Legends scene (which exceL esports have been star performers on over the last few years) but in global terms too.
Furthermore, the imminent start of the LVP UK League will also see exceL enter a team along with another big name from esports gaming, Fnatic. These may be academy teams, but they are evidence that the UK is now attracting the star names to compete on these shores on a regular basis, all of which will help raise the profile of the game.
There’s no doubt that one of the key things that will drive the UK towards becoming more esports aware is the exposure given to it through the mainstream media. Again, there are positive things to report here as not only are there esports dedicated channels now available on digital satellite TV services, but some of the most popular channels, such as BBC TV and Sky, have started to show esports highlights as a matter of course.
Indeed, Sky have shown live action from recent FIFA tournaments live on Sky Sports, their premier sports channel, at popular viewing times, such as Saturday and Sunday afternoons, which have increased the exposure of esports a great deal.
With the FIFA ePremier League set to start in 2019, not to mention the FIFA eWorld Cup to look forward to, there is every chance that esports will become part of TV schedules on a more regular basis and when that happens, the industry in the UK could well catch fire,
After all, you only have to look at how the popularity of the Premier League has increased since Sky TV first got involved in the early 1990s to see how exposure on these channels can massively influence how a sport is perceived and enjoyed.
The Next Step
In order for the UK to really fall in love with esports, the country needs its own esports superstar or esports super team. Denmark has Astralis in CS:GO, while South Korean League of Legends ace Faker is one of the most famous faces in South Korea, or across the global League of Legends community.
The UK has had esports champions in the past, including a FIFA esports tournament winners Gorilla and Tekkz, but as yet, nobody has taken that beyond that isolated success into a sustained period of dominance that elevates them into a household name.
It is perhaps this final step that the UK esports community need to take to make esports truly accepted as mainstream throughout the country. 2019 may be a little early for that to happen, but if and when it does, the UK esports industry is primed ready to explode.
Photo credit: flickr / Michael D Beckwith