ESI Birmingham – PwC – Why esports isn’t all that different to other businesses

During our most recent event, ESI Birmingham, which was presented together with ESL UK in Arena Birmingham ahead of the country’s first major, one of the keynote sessions was from none other than PwC.

Having a company from outside the traditional esports industry speaking at such an event may have raised a few eyebrows but, in short, PwC delivered.

The professional services giant, which boasts offices across 158 countries, hosted an engaging and thought-provoking keynote. Whilst PwC have been fully transparent that they are still in the process of learning about the industry, and that it’s accurate to say that esports, in many ways, is different to other industries, it also boasts a whole heap of similarities. As such there is a multitude of ways that the likes of PwC can be involved and help the industry to grow.

The panel in full from PwC. You can read an overview of ESI Birmingham right here

For those seeking to be deemed professional esports organisations, it’s imperative that they closely follow the regulations on how to handle data wherever they are located. They will still have to pay taxes even if they’ve the developer behind the latest hit title, and there will still be legal challenges even if they have just guaranteed millions in salaries to the players in their pro teams.

These are the key takeaways from the session in which PwC brought over a panel of experts in various fields to Birmingham. PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was founded in 1998 but can trace its roots back to 1854, brought partners from CS:GO powerhouses Denmark and Sweden that have already helped several esports brands in their respective countries. They brought experts from the media and sports industries. This was not because they were experts in esports, but because they had learnt the lessons from similar markets and businesses.

The PwC team stayed on for ESL One Birmingham which kicked off the day after ESI Birmingham talking to the teams and esports industry folk present, and discussing both challenges and possibilities. It was clear when speaking to all of their representatives that they see this as a long term commitment. If you work for a business with a history spanning over 150 years you’ve seen more than a few up and coming industries and companies. You have seen both amazing development and devastating crashes, and you’ve most definitely learnt a lesson or two.

Esports, of course, is even more complex than most businesses as it is much more than just a local focus. It’s complicated enough for most companies to set up operations in a single territory, but esports is global, something both Intel and ESL pointed out in their own keynote. Sometimes you have international laws to follow, such as the everybody’s favourite recent topic of GDPR right now in the EU. However, when it comes to employment laws and how to set up a freelancer structure, something very common in the esports industry, this is often varies greatly from country to country.

Mette Müller, PwC (Courtesy of RAV Photography)

This is something that Mette Müller at PwC discussed with us, as to why they think it is important to invest in esports.

“Looking at esports as an environment with a lot of passion makes it obvious that PwC can bring our learnings from other parts of the world to support that, and ensure that esports grows stronger in a healthy and responsible way, making sure that all the investors, sponsors, teams and young players understand what they need to do to stay professional. Also what to do when it comes to matters such as taxation, social security and immigration.

“Travelling across borders makes it important to understand how you avoid bad experiences when the authorities ask you questions about your earnings and whereabouts.”

In esports there are also some areas which are not yet fully regulated, which can lead to uncertainty. One prime example is the on-going discussion around loot boxes, something that is a wider video game industry debate, and whether they should be deemed gambling. When it comes to regulation in any industry, it’s important to take a proactive stance on the matter and not just sit around and wait and see what will happen. This way the esports industry can demonstrate to any future regulators and authorities that it is actively committed to achieving compliance; contributing to local economies and working closely with the relevant institutions to achieve this. All the while showing social responsibility such as the protection of young players.  This is another instance in which it can certainly help to have the assistance of large, established companies that boast extensive experience in this regard, such as PwC. This is whether you’re a game developer, tournament organiser, team or you’re involved in esports in any other way.

Month on month, day by day the interest in the esports industry is growing seemingly larger. This was evidenced by the number of brands and different companies in attendance at ESI Birmingham, making the possibilities seem endless.

However, we as an industry will make a big mistake if we fail to listen to those that know the very foundations of running legitimate businesses, not just within esports but any industry. If we want to grow, mature, further professionalise and help to secure the long-term future of the industry at large, then it’s essential that we get the basics right.

This means listening and taking advice together from experts in that field such as PwC, just as they listen to those within esports to understand our industry’s needs. As Fnatic’s Partnerships Manager Fred Weil said on his panel at ESI Birmingham; “Ask not what esports can do for you. Ask what you can do for esports.”

This seems to have rung true in the ears of PwC, and we look forward to seeing their next moves and being involved as they help to further shape and professionalise the industry at large.

Our next event is ESI London (September 18-20th). This will see over 50 speakers, 400 attendees, 15 exhibitors, and three networking parties including a Closing Party at the Natural History Museum.

Early bird tickets are available now for a limited time