The eSports Phenomenon: The state of pro-gaming in the UK

The UK eSports scene has been around for the best part of 20 years

And Craig Fletcher has been involved in it since 1994, running his own Doom 2 league. By 1997 he set-up Multiplay.

The firm may be best known for its Insomnia gaming tournaments, but Multiplay also does online hosting for firms such as EA and Eutechnyx, helps with press events for publishers, and it even ran last week’s Minecon in Disneyland Paris – the second fan event for Minecraft.

So Fletcher knows a thing or two about building events for gamers and the popularity of competitive gaming. MCV sat down with him to discuss the state of eSports in the UK.

Multiplay has been around since 1997, how has eSports changed for you in that time?
We did our first branded Insomnia event in 1999 and it has continued to grow. In 2002 we started doing online tournaments and after that we got involved with the major names in eSports, we’ve been doing the World Cyber Games in the UK since 2004.

eSports is growing worldwide, but it doesn’t appear to be as big in the UK. Why is that?
We’ve given away over 500,000 in prize money over the last ten years. The last event we paid out over 30,000. So there is a perception that eSports is not big, but it is. If you just look at our events, if you went back just four years, our stage was very different, we were only just experimenting with livestreaming. We did lots of recording, but it tended to be ‘play video again on YouTube’.

Some of the big eSports events take place at the same time. Is that a problem?
That has been a problem. A number of our events have clashed with major ones. There’s been an explosion in the number of tournaments around the world that players can go to, it has become a challenge to choose where they want to go. And that hurts, especially if you have companies that are taking tens of millions of dollars in VC investment and throwing their weight behind it. For a family company like we are who have never had any external investment, it can be quite hard to compete. But what we have is thousands of gamers joining us at every event, half of which are there for the social side, to have a geeky holiday. And the other half to play in and watch tournaments.

It is still seen as a niche. What needs to happen for eSports to be accepted by the mainstream?
We are at an very evolving point. If you stopped ten people on a High Street and asked: ‘What would you say if your son or daughter wanted to be a professional gamer?’ You’d probably get laughed at by all of them. There needs to be a change in attitude and more awareness of how skilled it is to be good at this games. There is very little trouble at our events opposed to other sporting venues. It is very social. We are already seeing professional teams in the UK. But eSports needs more investment and more people to get on board.

What is your message to those that are either unaware or reticent about eSports?
Take this very seriously. Get advice at an early stage. Don’t come to us four weeks before launch when you are already feature locked and the game has gone gold. We need to be talking 12 months before your game launches so we can get working on what’s needed to make it successful. And that’s just for public multiplayer as well as a potential eSports title.

The key stuff that is needed in the game to make it an eSports title needs to be in there from the start. Things like free-flight modes so commentators can get to the action easily. Sort of like what a TV crew would have. You also need administration features to help people run tournaments better.


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