If UK esports are going to match the success of Team GB, then it has to build wider acceptance, not only with gamers, but also their parents and the public at large. For without broad cultural support, it will be struggle to become true contenders at the highest level.
That’s the thinking of Chester King, founder and acting CEO of the British Esports Association – or preferably just British Esports. That’s to align the organisation in the public’s perception with the likes of British Cycling or British Swimming.
Not just anyone can use that ‘British’ moniker, though. “Legally, you have to have authority from the British government in order to use the word British in the name of any organisation or company,” King explains.
The government wanted to ensure King’s group could prove it would be ‘the pre-eminent esports association in the UK’. King points out, half-jokingly, that there weren’t any others to compete with, but the real clincher was a great advisory board: “They’re all doing it for free, they’re all trying to help, build a UK scene.”
That board includes veteran esports host Paul ‘ReDeYe’ Chaloner, Team Dignitas president Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell, Multiplay founder Craig ‘Wizzo’ Fletcher, Twitch’s UK director of partnerships Chris Mead, world champion esports competitor Ryan Hart and many more, while Andy Payne OBE is chairman.
The government gave the organisation its blessing, and soon it will be making another important step: “We’ll hopefully be turning into a charity this month,” King says. “So we’ll get some tax relief from companies that put money into different charities.”
IT’S JUST NOT CRICKET
Strictly speaking, esports in the UK aren’t actually sports. “Legally, we are classified as a game under UK law, like bridge and chess,” King tells us. “The government says we’re a game and that’s fine. The reason for that is if you’re classified as a sport, then you get public funding.”
King is upbeat about the classification, though: “This does us a favour, because there are so many brands who were very cautious about esports because of its perception as an unhealthy lifestyle.”
He feels that the ‘game’ classification means they are free to make their own case for its merits.
“Our position is that esports aren’t a replacement for sports, but it’s a great activity for mental wellbeing. We’re saying this is like modern chess, and you’ll never get a parent saying you’re playing too much chess.”
Getting more kids involved is key to British Esports’ core strategic goal of growing the grassroots: “Here’s an activity that kids can do at night, when they’ve done their activity for the day. Instead of watching crap TV, wouldn’t it be brilliant if they played a game that was competitive, involved leadership skills, cognitive skills and strategy?”
King is optimistic that grassroots esports will get funding, maybe not as a sport, but from “either the Department of Education or Health, [as] it’s great for both technology skills and mental wellbeing.
“We’re doing a pilot in Maida Vale Library with esports training, shoutcaster training and journalist training. It’s really rewarding, [as] there’s a massive problem with libraries reaching children from ten to 14.”
And it’s been a huge, oversubscribed success. So much so that British Esports is also working on a one-day training course to help teachers put on esports clubs in schools.
British Esports is starting from the bottom up, looking to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation of players and their guardians. It’s an eminently sensible approach to growing the sector in the long-term, and it’s just the start for the fledgling organisation.
“We want to have future British global champions,” King says. “It’s not the responsibility of publishers to do all this, because people will be sceptical. You need an independent association to do that.”
And British Esports looks all set to be that association.