Esports is growing fast, especially in the UK where demand is expanding extremely rapidly.
The UK has not always been at the forefront of the nascent Esports industry, but that could be all set to change over the coming weeks and months.
Indeed, the champion of one of the biggest Esports on the planet – the FIFA football game – comes from the UK and his success will certainly act as an inspiration to many others.
Spencer Ealing, who hails from Birmingham in England and competes under the name ‘Gorilla’, has set a path that other UK Esports hopefuls will be aiming to follow.
But what is the current state of Esports in the UK – and how are things changing?
A brief history of UK Esports
Competitive gaming has not just been invented of course, but Esports is still a relatively new phenomenon that is now starting to capture the imagination of the public in a big way.
Pretty much for as long as video games have existed, people have competed to be the best.
But it is only really in the last few years that Esports has developed into a recognisable industry of its own, to the extent that players gaming for big prizes is now even shown on television.
Stanford University hosted what is thought to be the first competitive gaming contest all the way back in 1972, with the game Spacewar chosen.
A magazine subscription was up for grabs in that event, so things have moved on a lot to the multi-million-pound prizes we see these days.
At the turn of the century, the launch of the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup was a big moment for Esports, with Major League Gaming following not long after.
Now, Esports in the UK is managed by the British Esports Association, a not-for-profit organisation that was founded a couple of years ago.
The British Esports Championship is now being set up and this is expected to be one of the most important moves in the rise of UK Esports in the next few years.
Betting on Esports
Just like basically any other sport you could think of, you can have a bet on Esports.
Right now, the markets are so small that not a lot of bookmakers offer them, but as the popularity of Esports continues to rise there will be more demand for odds.
It does not seem at all far-fetched to think that soon enough, betting on Esports could be as big as some of the other sports bookies from the UK cover on a daily basis.
But for that to happen, the profile of Esports is going to have to keep on rising – and fast.
How quickly is Esports growing right now?
Last year, a report predicted that the potential audience for Esports could grow to nearly 600 million people by 2020.
For context, this is almost twice as many people who live in the United States, so the potential audience the Esports industry is hoping to reach in the very near future is absolutely vast.
The report – which was put together by analysts Newzoo – suggested that by the year 2020 the Esports industry will also be generating revenues in the region of £1 billion.
Commenting on the release of the figures, Peter Warman from Newzoo said: “It has the potential to become one of the top five sports in the world.”
Premier League clubs including West Ham United and the current champions of the division, Manchester City, have signed up UK Esports players as professionals to represent them. Meanwhile in France, the Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain have a whole Esports team.
While it is clear that Esports will not be for everyone, there is no doubt it is here to stay. It is thought that around 160 million people are currently tuning in to the biggest Esports events.
Why the UK has lagged behind the rest of the world
Despite the progress being made thanks to the launch of the British Esports Association, it feels as though Esports in the UK is not as developed as in many other nations.
In parts of Asia such as South Korea, for example, the best Esports players are effectively celebrities and at major tournaments they can be treated just like rock stars.
In the UK, Esports still has a reputation as a fairly geeky pastime and a lot of people do not understand how it can be possible to make a professional living out of playing games.
This stigma will surely start to dissipate as a result of the success earned by the likes of Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing, who has shown there is a route to the top of the Esports world for those who hail from a UK background.
The younger generation has a solid grasp of Esports and, for many, watching Esports is more entertaining than watching a full game of a ‘real’ sport like football.
Esports are fast, furious and very easy to pick up, which means mass appeal is inevitable.
What does the future hold for Esports?
According to Peter Warman of Newzoo, it is likely that a ‘World Cup’ of Esports will be launched at some point in the next couple of years.
This could be a major turning point for Esports, bringing fans of games such as FIFA, Overwatch, League of Legends and Counter-Strike together under one banner competition.
A World Cup of Esports could be tough to organise, but it would be a massive event that would draw attention from all corners of the globe, increasingly audience levels and growing revenues.
“I think we will see events of a similar size to the World Cup of football,” says Warman. “It will take a year or two to structure that. We will need to have qualifying rounds by country and by region for that. But this will ultimately make up a World Cup event watched by a billion people.”
Whether or not that bold prediction proves to be accurate remains to be seen, but it is guaranteed that Esports have a massive future, both in the UK and around the world.