ESI Birmingham – a one day exclusive esports conference tied in with the UK’s first major – has now been and gone, and it was a resounding success.
Taking place at Arena Birmingham on Thursday, May 24th, the event acted as a perfect introduction to the industry and as a pre-cursor to ESL One Birmingham, the fastest selling Dota 2 Major. It was hosted with support from ESL UK, Intel, PwC, and the NEC Group.
Callum Scott, National Events Manager, The Rank Group, stated: ESI Birmingham was by far one of the best networking opportunities I have had. The wide range of speakers and topics covered really gives a huge insight into the world of Esports. I can honestly say that without ESI events, I wouldn’t have made so many connections.
“I had the opportunity to gain exclusive backstage access to the biggest UK Esports event. It was a fantastic experience which I would not of had without attending this ESI event. Professional, reliable, networking.”
Our own Sam Cooke, Managing Director at Esports Insider added: “We had some fantastic feedback from the day, and it saw a brilliant turnout too. Thank you very much to all our event partners, speakers and of course attendees for making it happen.
“A massive congratulations to ESL UK too for what ended up a top notch showcase of what the UK is capable of when it comes to esports. ESL One Birmingham was an exceptional event. Those who missed out on our ESI Birmingham, fear not, we are running the largest esports business event of the year, ESI London in September (18-20th) just ahead of the CS:GO Major in the city. You can find out more and pick up tickets (with an early bird price for now) right here.”
With four panels, two keynotes, and plenty of opportunities to network with industry professionals, here’s exactly what went down.
Community, the lifeblood of all things gaming
Moderator: Heather Dower, ESL UK
Speakers: Jon Winkle of epic.LAN, Jonathan Tilbury of NSE, Chris Murphy, of Square Enix Collective, Jorien van dear Heijden of Sheevergaming, Chris Archambault of Jagex
The purpose of this panel was to explain how integral community is to esports as a whole. For example, Chris of Square Enix found his way into the games industry when he saw the community around a particular game – it helped him to later realise that working the community is a great way to generate much-needed interaction and engagement.
Chris from Jagex went on to explain that the game Runescape is incredibly community-based, working with them closely to take in their ideas and input them into the game itself – something that creates a tight bond between the developers and the players.
“Esports is so broad, everyone can be involved, we’re not all fighting over a slice of the audience.”
Instant-messaging platforms such as Discord allow a brand, company, or individual to cultivate a community with strong engagement. They enable instant feedback and communication that helps the community to inform and advise, something that is key for Jonathan from NSE. This alone proves how invaluable it is to have a supportive community in the industry, as it truly allows companies to cater to their audience and strive.
The panel discussed how esports is open to anybody getting involved in any capacity – fans of all backgrounds are welcome. If you have an internet connection then you can speak, watch, and play with other people and there’s nothing there to stop you from doing so. That’s why esports can become such a big, big industry: there’s no restrictions.
Keynote – ESL UK & Intel UK
Speakers: James Dean of ESL UK, Mark Broom of Intel
Both ESL and Intel have a long-term partnership, having worked together since 2002. Together they created the flagship esports tournament series Intel Extreme Masters, and in 2017, Intel invested the most of any technology company when it become ESL’s official technology partner. Both James and Mark discussed the formalisation of this partnership, which took place at E3 in June last year.
“Esports started global and now it’s going local.“
Many exciting things were touched on during this keynote, from Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn winning big at IEM PyeongChang to AnyKey, an organisation that “is dedicated to supporting diverse participation in esports. They explained how they “hope to foster welcoming spaces and positive opportunities for competitive players of all kinds.”
Together they discussed the early globalisation of esports, and how now the focus is becoming more and more localised – developing players at grassroots levels. As a whole, both Mark and James divulged their thoughts on the past, present, and future of esports with a keen emphasis on diversity and grassroots development.
UK Esports, a land of opportunity
Moderator: Rob Black, ESL UK
Speakers: Ben Woodward of Code Red Esports, Dr Florian Block of Digital Creativity Labs, Ian Congdon of NEC Group, Roy Meredith of West Midlands Growth Company, Daniel Wood of UKIE
This panel’s purpose was to look at the United Kingdom specifically with an esports-focused lens, pondering just how much potential the nation has in the industry and if it can stack up with the bigger regions where esports is perhaps more popular and established at this moment in time.
It was said that ESL One Birmingham, and other Major tournaments that will hopefully follow, is a great way of proving to the rest of the world that the UK is a worthy host for such events. Just look at the success of the following event, it sold tickets quicker than any other Dota 2 event from ESL.
“Esports isn’t just about games – don’t forget about universities, local economy growth, press & media, and community.“
Roy exclaimed that “I’d love to see this region become the hub of esports in the UK,” backing it up by explaining that the region is young and diverse, and has more software developers and technology companies anywhere in the UK outside of the capital, London.
One thing made very clear by this panel is that there’s a very low barrier to entry in esports, especially in the UK. If you have access to a computer, console, or mobile, then you can almost-instantly join a community and get involved in some capacity.
Understanding the esports demographic
Moderator: Jacob Harrison, ESL UK
Speakers: Jurre Pannekeet of Newzoo, Joe Hills of Infinite Esports and Entertainment, Dan Matson of AMP Global Media, Summer Zemel of QLASH, Mike Murphy O’Reilly of DBLTAP
It’s hard to say exactly what the demographics are for the esports industry because it’s so wide open and accessible. Anybody from around the world can get involved with watching or playing a competitive game – it’s an industry that doesn’t discriminate. Despite this, it’s a male-heavy industry so far but it’s poised to change in the future.
Demographics are difficult to pinpoint from game to game because it goes so much deeper than that. As mentioned in other panels, esports started globally and is now filtering down the local, more fine-tuned demographics. This means organisations are now hosting local activations more and more because they know their demographic, thus creating a better experience for everyone involved.
Joe from Infinite Esports and Entertainment revealed that the Houston Outlaws – an Overwatch League franchise – has an 18% female demographic, something that is unheard of with an esports team.
A good point made by the expert panel was that while not everybody has a console or PC, everyone has a mobile. The accessibility of mobile gaming is a huge factor to its growth, but that also makes it harder to identify key demographics – it’s wide open! China is the biggest demographic in mobile gaming by a long stretch, but that’s still fairly broad.
Keynote – PwC
Chaired by: Andrew Fahey of PwC
Speakers: Clive Reeves of PwC, Mette Muller of PwC, Morgan Furby of PwC, Adam Edelshain of PwC
The second panel of ESI Birmingham was full of key figures from PwC – a professional services firm – a sponsor of the event who is new to the space of esports.
It’s easy to meet their new relationship with the industry with skepticism, but it actually allowed the speakers to discuss esports from an outsider’s perspective – something that’s still incredibly important.
“Two or three years ago, no one would dare to think about the current scale of esports. Imagine what the next two or three years will bring.”
The folks from PwC discussed the firm a little, explaining that they have a wealth of experience in technology, engaging audiences, driving growth, and assisting organisations in becoming more compliant from a tax and legal perspective – all of which are key components in ensuring the future of the esports industry.
The panel went on to talk about Brexit and how, if at all, it could affect the industry. Perhaps fortunately, they don’t think it will be a big obstacle for esports at all – in fact, it’s only going to grow in the UK with events such as ESL One Birmingham and the upcoming FACEIT Minors and Major in London.
Where is the revenue?
Moderated by: Anna Baumann, Esports Lawyer
Speakers: Tim Mangnall of Hugh Holland, Lenny Langenscheidt of BITKRAFT, Mathew Kemp of Jagex, Mark Reed of Heaven Media, Frederic Weil of Fnatic
The big question for every company that’s considering entering the esports industry is “where is the revenue?” and rightfully so. We’ve all heard that the industry is growing at a ridiculous rate, but the dialogue doesn’t often switch to exactly how it’s growing.
Frederic touched on the fact that Fnatic look at the spaces in which its fans – and prospective fans – occupy and try to occupy them. He believes it’s the smart way, and perhaps the only real way, to capture their attention and subsequently gain revenue.
“We have our fans to answer to.”
Partnerships such as that between PSG and LGD Gaming was given as an example of where revenue comes from. It saw a European football club teaming with a Chinese esports organisation, opening them up to the Chinese market. Mangnall said PSG is now the eighth most influential esports brand in China, and fully expects other sports clubs to follow suit since it was such a success.
Franchised leagues were another hot topic on the panel, with the likes of the NA LCS and Overwatch League proving popular. It was said that these leagues are difficult to make profitable from smaller brands, especially if bigger brands such as the likes of Fnatic has occupied that space for a while. The main revenue stream from a franchised league is from the league itself, with profits filtering down to the teams involved.
The closing portion of the day saw speakers, guests, and all attendees enjoy some drinks at the venue provided by ESI and the NEC Group, before heading to the Grosvenor Casino for some more networking complemented by a few more drinks and food courtesy of the Rank Group. It was ideal for establishing and cementing new relationships, as well as winding down after a jam-packed day.
If you like the sound of ESI Birmingham, then you’ll love ESI London 2018. A three-day esports business conference, this is one event you don’t want to miss.
The first day will have you networking with many figures from the esports industry in the evening, the second day is full of esports business focused workshops, panels and debates, and the third has a plethora of sessions on multiple topics around esports betting. Taking place at Olympia London, there is also an exhibition space and interactive zone on over two days, as well as networking evening activities across three evenings including a closing party at the Natural History Museum on the 20th September. All in all making this the largest esports business conference of the year.