Most people know that esports refers to electronic gaming in a competitive environment. However, what a lot of people don’t know is that esports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

With the UK’s video game market being valued at £5.3 billion, it’s safe to say that there’s a huge demand, though many outside of the community know little of the lucrative prizes, multimillion fan audiences and international reach. Esports’ rapid growth has made it the next big thing in tech, and Astley Media is supporting bringing this to the South West. 

We’re sponsoring the region’s first corporate Esports Festival, hosted by Exeter College in partnership with Tech South West, in their new, state of the art gaming facility. The event will see representatives from South West organisations battle it out in teams of three, to become champions. We want to get involved as one of our values is to ‘never stop learning’ and we were interested to learn more about this huge global social phenomenon. Plus we are all about connecting others and this is a great way to go, have fun and further celebrate tech in the south West.

We’re always keen to be on the forefront of developments in the tech industry and we’re excited to see where this event, and the sub sector more broadly, will lead.

In order to give a greater insight into esports we chatted with some of the participants to find out what it is all about. …

 

Don Armand, Rugby player for England and Exeter Chiefs, founder of GAS (The Gaming Athlete) and leader of the Exeter Chiefs team at the tournament:

Q. What does esports mean to you?

A. Esports is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to be able to show off their skills doing something that makes them happy. Esports is a platform that has the ability to put everyone on an equal footing, and reach out to so many more people in a way that traditional sports can not. Personally, it’s great to be able to watch something I have played, on a bigger level, and see the depth that gamers go into to be the best at what they are doing. That takes commitment, practice and understanding. There is so much potential in an individual that plays competitive esports to succeed in anything they put their mind to.

Q. What can you tell us about your organisation GAS, The Gaming Athlete?

A. Without writing out an essay, at GAS we want to approach the gaming world with a health and wellness driven value set, but at the same time we want to create a brand that is first and foremost one that people want to wear and be associated with. Through passive health products we want to empower all that come into contact with GAS, to be able to find what their balance is in the life of a gamer, ensuring that their health is not what comes last. As well as creating awareness over the physical side of things, we want to ensure that mental health is looked after. Gaming/digital tech and platforms have massive potential to reach people in ways that were previously impossible. We want to fully embrace the potential that lies before us and utilise it to ensure that we as a brand, are creating maximum value for those that we encounter. Watch this space!

Q. What are the main differences and/or similarities between esports and physical sports?

A. The main differences without being too obvious is the matchday physicality. What I see as a similarity is what happens behind the scenes. The practise hours are one thing, but at the end of the day what you need to make sure you are looking after is your body and mind, if you want to maximise your potential in anything you are doing. Looking after yourself should be priority number one so consider what you do that is above and beyond what is prescribed by your coach/manager/physio etc, how well you manage your sleep, nutrition and physical exercise; all of those things are so important. I could highlight so many similarities depending on what game you play in esports, what setup you have etc, but at the core of it is, everyone needs to find a balance that ensures that what they are doing is sustainable, and leading to improvement and growth, both as an individual competing in a sport, and as a person.

Q. What would you say to young people interested in pursuing a career in esports?

A. This is an interesting question. I would probably say the same thing that got said to me when I was starting out my career in sport. Make sure all your eggs aren’t in one basket. You need to make sure that you as an individual are well rounded. Be a good person.  Don’t be shy to work hard above all else, but also realise that your future is in your hands, not someone else’s. Find the right balance for what you want to go after. If esports is going to be your thing, that’s great, there is massive potential in it, look after your body, and it will look after you!!

 

Troy Wheeler, team leader for co-sponsors of the event Timewade, and longtime esports fan:

Q. What does esports mean to you?

A. Esports and gaming for me is a passion, it’s a time to escape reality and enjoy virtual time with your friends. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, gaming is what kept me sane, being able to interact and play daily with friends whom I couldn’t visit was positive for my mental health through the tough two years we have all been through.

Q. What first sparked your interest in esports?

A. My friends are all avid gamers, it’s our common ground. We all play competitively and love the social and challenging aspects of e-sports!

Q. What kinds of technologies do you see in esports’ future?

A. I see a great future foresports. With the recent Microsoft 70$ billion takeovers of Activision Blizzard, this has shown that gaming and esports is a good place to hold money; this will only increase the amount of funding and research that will go into esports. I see the future of esports and esports research going into augmented reality and quantum computing, both of which are on the verge of a breakthrough in terms of technological advancement.

Q. What’s your favourite esports game of all time?

A. My favourite esports games are Rocket League and Overwatch – they both have a strong following in terms of professional gaming. Rocket League since becoming free-to-play has become one of the most popular FPS games today! Overwatch which has been an extremely popular game for years is showing no signs of slowing down, with the hopeful release of Overwatch 2 soon.

 

Andy Doyle, Director of event sponsor Filmily, who provide digital entertainment packages for sports teams across the globe including  Dallas Cowboys, Harlequins RFC, Hampshire Cricket, the US Tennis Open and NHL hockey team:

Q. What does esports mean to you?

A. To me I think we are in the infancy of esport, and even the classification of Sport vs esport will eventually diminish and they will all just be sport.  People argue that Gamers in esport are not ‘athletes’ but we can argue then for sports such as Snooker, Darts, etc. To me esport is a natural progression of sport and actually makes being a professional sportsperson 100% dedicated to skill and less of a mixture of natural ability, strength, DNA – and therefore more accessible to all.

Q. What are your thoughts on the exhibition/entertainment opportunities for esports (linked to what Filmily do for physical sporting events)?

A. The great thing from a digital point of view is the majority of participants and fans of these types of events are younger, more digitally savvy, mobile first  and really understanding fan participation.

Q. How do the fans of esports and physical sports differ?

A. I think the fans don’t really differ, except for the average age and the amount of viewing they do. To put this into context, do football fans watch YouTube streams of players practising? A few maybe? Do esport fans watch gamers stream themselves playing, all the time? Yes, it is massive and an industry on its own (Twitch streams 7.56m a day)

Q. Do you think esports can be seen as a more mainstream sport?

A. Yes, 100%, I think the difference is because it is new and still has an audience which feels like they are ‘in’ something that the majority cannot be. It’s a classic early adopter, even at the scale it is at now. When the under 25s become older and this is a natural part of life, the ‘e’ will be dropped I would hope.

 

Dan Pritchard, Co-Founder of Tech South West and Managing Director at Astley Media: 

Q. What does esports mean to you?

A. An industry that is exploding that not enough people know about! Also – it means I am very aware of my own mortality, because my equivalent was Football Manager and Grand Prix Simulator, which both came out in the mid 1980s. I’m hoping Sensible Soccer might get added for the next Esports Festival we run for oldies like me!

Q. Tell us more about the business side of esports, what opportunities are there for businesses to get involved with this industry and support the younger generation?

A. The young people doing these courses are equipping themselves with transferable skills way beyond the gaming arena – marketing, brand, management, collaborative working and much more. 60 percent of the jobs that will dominate the market in 20 years don’t even exist yet. That’s why this matters to the tech sector – to every sector. The response to this first SW Esports Festival has been fantastic. All the places for teams were filled in days – we have a waiting list! Jurassic Fibre, Rowe IT, Timewade, Filmily and Astley Media quickly got on board to support as sponsors. And we’re now being asked how we accommodate spectators, will you introduce other games and when’s the next one. All I can say to that is – watch this space!

Q. Why do you think esports is important to the tech sector?

A. Those with great tech skills and ability will be operating in this field. That means business should be interested. If you want talent, energy and commitment – you only have to look at what is happening in esports around the country – both within the education system and beyond. We have amazing esports centres now in our colleges, the British Esports Association is running national competitions and the personal brands of players are a key part of the ecosystem. Gaming is relevant to every sector – retail, HR, tourism. We check things out online. We socialise online. We play games online. We buy online. That’s what esports and the talent that it attracts matters to business generally.

Q. What do you see in the future of esports?

A. Predictions are tough, but as an industry it’s only heading one way – up. Like it or not, it’s going to be as big as any other type of sport – competitions, leagues, marketing, branding, event management, controversies, star players, winners and losers.

To follow the tournament live on Twitch go to the Exeter Esports Academy Twitch channel. The college digital teams will be providing a professional-level stream of the gaming and anyone can tune in to watch!