The Story Mob and UKIE report analyses UK esports audiences and growth

11 September 2023


Esports in UK
Image credit: Ukie, The Story Mob

It is notoriously difficult to build a picture of what esports audiences actually look like. 

Demographic trends are hard to grasp considering that esports viewers typically skew towards the millennial and Gen Z demographics, and are chronically online. The murkiness around esports demographics is especially odd considering how much the industry relies on income from data-hungry sponsors and partnerships.

ESI London 2024

It’s this gap in industry knowledge that Karen Low, EMEA Managing Director at The Story Mob, understands well. When the opportunity came up to include demographic data from YouGov into Ukie’s latest UK esports report, her team got to work shaping a variety of questions to uncover what British esports enthusiasts really watched. 

“The biggest thing we added to the partnership was our desire to work with YouGov,” she said. “While we all agreed we wanted to include insights from key industry players to the report, the numbers don’t lie. I’m a firm believer that, wherever possible, you should support  your thinking with cold, hard data.” 

As well as data insights from YouGov, Ukie’s newly-released ‘Esports In the UK’ report in partnership with The Story Mob includes a mini directory of British esports businesses across fields like PR and investment. The report’s author, and Founder of Esports News UK, Dominic Sacco also included information about upcoming industry trends, like the growth of mobile esports and the construction of esports facilities across the UK

Laying the groundwork

According to The Story Mob, Ukie’s data partner YouGov, with its panel of approximately  2.7m people in the UK, provided insights from its weekly updated cloud platform Profiles. This covers demographic, psychographic, attitudinal and behavioural consumer metrics. The data was exported in July 2022.

The headline results of YouGov’s demographic polling hardly come as a shock. The majority of fans are young; over 50% are aged between 18 and 34. They are also overwhelmingly male, more so than the general gaming population: around 83% of all esports fans identify as men. Low believes the split is somewhat inevitable. 

“That less women play games competitively than men is a well-known fact and one that’s not going to go away anytime soon. That said, I do think there are some great inroads being made by key industry players when it comes to rebalancing gender inequality – VALORANT Game Changers, for example, was created to give women a safe space to play games and Guild’s recent ‘No Room for Abuse’ campaign in partnership with Sky was all about raising awareness of the problem – and perhaps also acknowledging that there’s still a ton we need to solve in that regard.”

Esports player male
Image credit: Shutterstock

A few key titles feature heavily in YouGov’s data. The Call of Duty League is by far the most-watched tournament, viewed by 15.5% of UK esports fans, closely followed by the Apex Legends Global Series (ALGS) which has now hosted multiple tournaments in the UK. FIFA (soon to be EA SPORTS FC), which remains one of the top-selling games in the UK market, has also profited hugely from the UK’s national obsession with football, which is the most-watched sport among esports fans at ~46%.

Esports viewers remain a small part of the general video game audience which Low finds unsurprising. “I think it will always remain slightly niche. Esports will continue to grow, but it will always be a small element of gaming because it has a unique appeal and a very dedicated and loyal fanbase.”

The report also highlights the strength of the UK university scene. Becky Wright, Senior Partnerships Manager of UK student esports organisation NSE commented in the report: “We’ve seen more and more students want to get involved with esports, casually or more competitively, and now the UK has the largest collegiate esports community in Europe.”

Unlocking British potential

LoL MSI worlds 23 trophy
Trophy at MSI London 2023. Image credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Qualitative and quantitative data live side by side in Ukie’s report. The directory of esports businesses includes key players like the University of Warwick, and Low’s own The Story Mob, but also teams and tournament organisers, from EXCEL Esports to Digital Schoolhouse. The whole list is meant to introduce new professionals to options that are available to them in the UK esports scene. 

That said, nothing, Low claimed, is a replacement for personal experience. “My first piece of advice [to a budding esports professional] is to go and watch an esports match. Live the experience as a fan lives it.”

The paper provides valuable insights into the potential landscape of UK esports for investors and partners during a time of vast restructuring of the industry.

The insights include a notable focus on Web 3. “I don’t think you can talk about esports and gaming without including esports and Metaverse,” said Low.  “Let’s face it, we’re an industry of early adopters – for better or for worse.” NFTs have occasionally been something of a siren’s song for some team owners, but remain a key source of sponsorship revenue for other British esports organisations like Fnatic.

There are other opportunities within the UK scene that could provide opportunities for the esports industry to grow, from converting the massive volume of mobile gamers to constructing physical venues to attract an engaged international audience to British shores.

The paper presents a dynamic, but realistic vision for the UK’s future in esports which will help Britain’s aspiring esports professionals build up a picture of the scene and its opportunities. That is, until British spectators get the next opportunity to see esports up close again…

Patrick Walker
Patrick is a freelance writer for ESI based in London, reporting on esports marketing and partnerships trends. He's currently playing VALORANT and Overwatch but always looking for the next big thing in competitive gaming.

Supported by The Story Mob