Ukie whitepaper analysis: The UK can be an esports powerhouse

On November 28th a packed Gfinity Arena in Fulham, London witnessed the launch of the Ukie’s esports whitepaper. The venue was filled with people from across the gaming industry, from those currently involved with esports to those with no tenuous involvement whatsoever. A short recap of the main points is available here, but this is an in-depth recap of the presentation and the whitepaper itself.

The event

The presentation was kicked off with David Yarnton, Director of Gfinity and Co-Chair of the Ukie esports sub-group. This was a short talk from David, as he introduced everyone in the room to the Gfinity Arena, explaining how it’s the only dedicated esports arena in the UK and the first in Europe. Whilst some might argue the specifics on those, it is the most easily accessible place for esports in the UK.

After the introduction, David handed the rest of the presentation off to Dr Jo Twist, the CEO of Ukie. Jo then proceeded to give an impassioned speech about esports and the gaming sector as a whole. Part of the talk was focused on what the recommendations in the report were, outlining the eight main suggestions. Another was an announcement that Ukie was supporting school-based tournaments, as part of PlayStation’s Digital Playhouse programme. This was then followed by a video message from Matt Hancock MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture policy, who was unable to attend the event.

His message was probably most notable for a brief pause before an outburst of “…Joy!”. There was then explanation of the government’s policies in terms of infrastructure spending for broadband and trials of 5G technologies.

After this, Spike Laurie, MD of ESL UK and Co-Chair of the Ukie esports sub-group appeared on stage to introduce the show-match aspect of the event. This was a 3v3 game of Rocket League, where the two teams facing off against each other were players from the top levels of the competitive landscape. The main part of this was to introduce the audience to competitors as well as an esports-specific job – casting. This was portrayed by two of ESL UK’s full-time casting talent, Daniel Gaskin and Ryan “Ketchup” Neal.

Ukie, Jo Twist
Dr Jo Twist OBE, CEO of Ukie during her talk at the whitepaper release on the 28th.

After “Team Free Food” took the show-match, we returned to the discussion. It was at this point that Jas Purewal, founder and partner of Purewal and Partners, and co-chair of the esports sub-group, introduced a panel discussing esports. It featured three people from all sides of the esports ecosystem. It started with Michael “ODEE” O’Dell, President and founder of Team Dignitas, Veronique Lallier, Vice President European Publishing at Hi-Rez Studios and Josh Williams, founder of the National University Esports League.

The panel raised topics ranging from the growth and change of esports from over the past decades, the levels of esports from running grassroots tournaments to large, international competitions to where they expect the industry to move to in the next 12 months.

This more or less finished the event, with a final word from Dr Jo Twist recapping the report’s recommendations before sending everyone off to the networking evening.

The whitepaper

The event’s main focus, of course, was to release the Ukie’s 20 page report on “growing the UK as an esports hub”. This whitepaper was crafted with help from people all over the esports industry. It was also the child of the Ukie esports sub-group, a body of members representing many over the esports space, including tournament organisers, developers and publishers and teams.

These include companies listed in Dr Jo Twists’ foreword, for example publishers like Activision, EA and Hi-Rez, league and event operators including ESL, Gfinity, FACEIT and Multiplay. This also included digital broadcast platforms such as Twitch and Azubu, teams including Team Dignitas and Fnatic, and grassroots organisations like the National University Esports League.

Like the video games that fuel it, the esports sector is now one of the fastest growing, most popular and vibrant categories of entertainment in the digitally driven economy.

The foreword from Twist focuses on how esports is growing, and about how viewership and prize-money occasionally exceeds those of traditional sports. There’s also an explanation of what the whitepaper intends to do, as “a first step at defining some of the key drivers for the UK sector.”

The pages following are statistics and information about what esports are, viewership figures and how the UK is far behind many other countries and regions in the world. It touches on the potential esports has for sponsors to get into the space, down to the young audience in the space.

This part utilises statistics from Newzoo mentioning that 73% of esports fans are under 35. Later pages explain esports’ relevance to the world, including why a thriving esports sector is a good thing; driving growth, adding highly skilled jobs and creating a hugely diverse ecosystem and allowing anyone to get involved where they see fit.

Page eight kicks off the Esports in the UK section. This broadcasts the statistic that the esports audience in the UK is set to grow from 6.5 million people to 8 million in 2019. This sounds like a strong growth figure, but as the page mentions it mean it’s not growing as fast as other countries. Why not? A variety of reasons including limited awareness from the general populous, a lack of support from policy makers, a lack of celebration or support for UK esports athletes and the shoddy broadband connections that many get in this country. These are all incredibly important points as to why there is a low amount of highly interested and engaged esports fans in the UK, as many either don’t know about it or don’t have the access to the industry.

Ukie, Rocket League
The Rocket League showmatch at the Ukie whitepaper release.

The page opposite explains what events have happened from UK-based companies despite these difficulties. For instance developers and publishers of esports titles basing themselves in the UK, like Activision, EA and Hi-Rez.

It talks about Multiplay, one of the UK’s oldest esports organisations, who were acquired by retailer Game for £20 million in 2015, as esports starts to see an upward growth. It also talks about the major events held in the UK, including ESL’s Pro League Season 3, where the games were broadcast from the ESL Studios in Leicester and the finals at the O2 Indigo in Greenwich, London. This was hosted before the FACEIT and Twitch collaboration hosted their ECS Season one finals at the SSE Wembley Arena. Both of those events were for prize pools of over $750,000 (£600,800).

The part I’m most pleased about is that it addresses the serious elephant in the room – the quality of talent in UK esports. The UK has some of the best players on the console platform, which makes sense due to the fact we’re a console heavy nation. But in the three major esports – League of Legends, DoTA 2 and CS:GO, there’s little-to-none at the top echelons of their scenes. The whitepaper addresses this by focusing on the potential National Training Centre at Pinewood, as well as organisations that are engaged on the grassroots level, like ESL UK and the NUEL.

There’s also a comparison of viewing figures at different ages for differing sports, and a discussion of what the status is in other countries and regions. South Korea gets a leg up on the UK through their internet speeds. The USA through their ability to monetise their tournaments more effectively. Germany through providing the right support to players, as it’s where ESL is headquartered. Scandinavia gets the leg-up via integrating esports with education and it being engrained in their livelihoods.

Ukie Recommendations

The whitepaper proposes eight recommendations, of which these are split into two halves; “Strategy and infrastructure” and “Skills, talent and diversity”. The list of recommendations is available in the brief post when the report was released, so I’ll be going more in-depth on what these entail.

Strategy and infrastructure

This section focuses on how to improve the UK’s access to esports and hosting events. Part of that is for the industry to work with the Department for International Trade. This would allow teams and tournament organisers to work with the government to attract large esports events to the country. This would include events like the Majors in CS:GO or DoTA 2. This would put approaching for tournaments in-line for how it is done for traditional sports, where the government works with sporting organisations to secure the hosting rights for them in the UK.

This also links into the fourth point, which is a more accurate measuring of the sector in the UK. The current way it’s monitored is through Newzoo, a private company that mostly focuses on the global esports environment. There is no effective way for anyone to monitor the growth of esports in the UK.

Another key part is for the Esports sector to co-ordinate itself into its own industry group. This has been proposed by Ukie to set-up an ‘esports council’, filled with the largest esports organisations. This would allow the esports industry to represent itself effectively to the government, as well as spreading best practices for running companies in the space.

Finally, and probably the most important point, is the level of broadband infrastructure the UK has available. The suggestion here from Ukie is that the government incentivise the development of the infrastructure to match those in South Korea, or other European countries. This is vital for esports, as it allows people to watch, broadcast or take part. There needs to be a strong commitment from the government, and ISPs, to deliver such speeds in order to grow esports in this country to a world leading position.

Skills, talent and diversity

This section leans heavily into visa access for competitors. The suggestion here is to integrate the current esport roles, from players to casters, as part of the Tier 1 and 2 visas as they would meet such classifications. This could be done through using the Tech City, London’s technological hub, as they are a ‘competent body’, a group of organisations who help endorse applications for these visas.

Ukie, Dr Jo Twist OBE, Diversity
The Skills, talent and diversity portion of the presentation.

The two parts that are similar are including modules on esports into the education courses provided by the games industry. Alongside this is the ambassador scheme, where there would be fifteen UK esports ambassadors, made up of players, publishers, developers and organisers to promote esports in the UK. This would allow people taking courses in games, or those looking around the industry, to consider esports as their potential career path. This would work if the people involved were true characters, brimming with charisma to encourage people to add their skills to the competitive space.

The one that’s been in the news most recently, and a point of contention that’s often brought up in esports, is the diversity in competition. To hit the nail on the head, it’s mostly men competing. Where we see the occasional female competitor in a male-dominated scene, many people believe that they could usher in a new wave of female competitor, but usually never do in great swathes. A proposal to counter this is for esports companies to actively support a diverse talent pool, as they bring people of all backgrounds into the space in order to diversify the scene.

According to the report, the UK should have close to everything it needs to be a major esports powerhouse. All it needs is a large body to be, in a sense, the chef to put it all together and whip up a coherent, well balanced scene in this country.

With commitment and willpower to follow through each and every point on the whitepaper, there is a strong chance that the UK could propel itself to the top of the esports scene once again.

The whitepaper is available from Ukie’s website, including photos of the event.

All photos sourced from the photographs taken by Ukie.