eSports is coming to Edinburgh, with the Insomnia Gaming event taking place this weekend (29th April – 2nd May) at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Ahead of the event, we wanted to take an in-depth look at the business of eSports and the eSports scene in Scotland. Can eSports be classified as a sport alongside the likes of football, tennis or golf, and should we be sitting up and taking more notice of eSports in Scotland?

eSports Event

eSports, a definition

Here’s a definition from a paper written last year by the Social Science Research Network.

eSports can be defined as a form of sports where the primary aspects of the sport are facilitated by electronic systems; the input of players and teams as well as the output of the eSports system are mediated by human-computer interfaces.

Or, more simply, individuals playing computer or video games. I’m sure many of you reading will have, at some point in your lives, been an amateur gamer, but eSports has exploded over the past decade. Playing FIFA against your friends has always been popular activity, and I’ve been known to play a season or two of Football Manager every year, but since around 2010, there’s been a real surge in the professionalism of eSports. Competitions sprung up, where gamers could face off against each other and compete for prize money. This was one of the major factors outlined by Scottish ex-eSports player, Mark Gardiner, that contributed to the rise in popularity.

I went from winning £5 every Friday night at my mates house, to entering tournaments all over Europe doing the same thing I would at my mates house and making a living from it.

In 2008, Mark won £50,000 playing in a Play.com sponsored Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) tournament at Wembley. eSport isn’t all about sports games though, many of the most popular games played are MOBAs, or multiplayer online battle arenas. BBC Three streamed the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, and according to official records, around 14million viewers tuned in to watch the finals. But if eSports isn’t all about sports games, can it be classed as a sport? As has often been the case with a number of ‘activities’ (chess and darts immediately spring to mind) down the years, the classification of eSports as a sport is widely debated. Increased participation rates and number of organised competitions watched around the world are the arguments for it being labeled a sport. It’s these same factors that are no doubt attracting businesses, and with businesses being attracted, that means more money is making it’s way into eSport.

Business of eSports

To hit that home, the winners of that 2015 League of Legends World Championship, SK Telecom T1, who are in fact a works team from South Korean wireless operator, SK Telecom, received a reported $1million. That pales in comparison to the $6.6m won by Evil Geniuses at The International 2015, a Dota 2 championship. The total prize money pool for that tournament stood at $18m. Red Bull, Intel, Samsung and HTC are just a selection of the brands that are investing in eSports. Red Bull in particular are a very active partner of one of the popular US eSport teams, Cloud9. If you needed more convincing that the business of eSports is booming, and still growing, according to Deloitte, eSports global revenues are predicted to be up 25% in 2016 compared to 2015, that’s an increase to $500million. Deloitte also predicts eSports is likely to have a regular and occasional viewership of around 150million people. What’s one of the major contributing factors to this continued growth? Mark believes it’s down to advancements in technology and accessibility. The online gameplay has dramatically improved, ‘back in 2008, you couldn’t really have big money tournaments online due to the lag’, whereas now, being able to play easily against someone across the world is something we’ve come to expect from games. YouTube, and streaming site, Twitch have played their parts in accelerating the popularity of eSports as a whole. Mark said that the ease at which amateur gamers can go online and watch videos of professionals playing FIFA or Call of Duty has really enabled amateurs to believe they can enter tournaments, and beat whoever is in front of them.

eSport tournament

New ground was broken in January, as Bundesliga side, Wolfsburg, became the first professional club to sign a professional eSports gamer. Benedikt Saltzer will enter FIFA tournaments and play as Wolfsburg, as the club look to ‘create a binding connection between real football and the digital version’. Saltzer was recently joined at Wolfsburg eSports by Englishman, Dave Bytheway. Will we see more football clubs moving into this space? Do you reckon you’ve got what it takes to become an SPFL clubs official eSport professional?

eSports in Scotland

eSports in Scotland can definitely be filed under the room to grow department. The upcoming Insomnia event in Edinburgh appears to have something for everyone across it’s different zones on offer, including opening up the 1,100 seater auditorium at the EICC for live events, and welcoming around 14,000 visitors across the weekend. There’s also a Glasgow based event at the SECC coming up in July, being billed as the Festival of eSports and Gaming. Scotland’s League of Legends Facebook group has over 1,000 members, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that we’re the home of the makers of Grand Theft Auto, billed as one of the UKs most successful exports.

What about the individuals looking to inspire the next generation of Scottish eSports stars? STV previously profiled Call of Duty gamer, Mark Bryceland, and at 23 years old, former League of Legends legend ‘Snoopeh’ has retired from eSports already and is now trying to inspire the next generation. He might have not quite made the transition to competitive eSports yet, but if watching FIFA YouTube videos is your thing, Scottish content creator, Euazzi, has over 12,000 subscribers on the platform. What does previous UK PES champion, Mark Gardiner, advise to do if you’re looking to get into eSports yourself?

Find the best players for whatever game, watch their videos, and learn from them. It’s easier said than done, but try and get in contact with the best and play them.

You quite often see comments in the media from sports players past and present blaming trends towards children and teenagers staying ‘indoors and playing video games’ for a lack of talent coming through in their respective sports. If eSports continues to grow, continues to attract investment from some of the biggest brands in the world and continues to offer opportunities to compete against the worlds best at what they do, why shouldn’t we be encouraging kids to take their gaming more seriously, just like we do with football, tennis or golf?