Significant focus has been placed on the role of construction, manufacturing and the digital environment in ensuring the region rebounds swiftly from the devastation of COVID-19.
In this article, Dr Richard Oddy (Subject Group Leader – Sports, Events, Esports and Hospitality at Birmingham City University) gives an insight into the booming esports industry and why the West Midlands is perfectly placed to benefit from this global phenomenon.
Esports is a global phenomenon that is here to stay. By the end of 2020 revenues in the global esports industry are projected to reach $1.1 billion, which is an annual growth of 15.7% (2020 Global Esports Market Report, Newzoo). Whilst many industries have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in esports has widened due to its ability to pivot in challenging times.
According to research published by Ukie, the longest-running games trade body in the world, the UK esports sector has grown at an annual average rate of 8.5% between 2016 and 2019. The sector supported over 1,200 jobs in 2019 and the expectation is that hundreds of new jobs will be created by 2025.
Many of you may be wondering however, what is esports? Put simply, it is competitive gaming at a professional level. The first esports tournaments took place in the 1970s with the Arcade Game era, and as technology has advanced so too has the esports industry. By 2019 over $670 million was spent worldwide by brands investing in esports, and winners of global esports tournaments were picking up higher prize funds than established traditional sports events. For example teenager Kyle Giersdorf picked up $3 million for becoming ‘Fortnite’ world champion, which is substantially more than what Tiger Woods took home for winning the US Masters in the same year ($2 million).
2020 has seen a number of sports stars invest in esports, most notably David Beckham investing in the London based company ‘Guild Esports’, and football star Gareth Bale launching a new esports organisation called Ellevens Esports. Further evidence of where this is all going.
Back in the UK, the wider gaming industry contributes £3 billion to the economy and crucially approximately 55% of the jobs in the sector are outside of London and the South East. The West Midlands is one of the main ‘hubs’ with circa 130 gaming companies in the WMCA region, 60 of which are in Leamington, and Birmingham hosts annually one of the largest live esports events, ESL One.
In my opinion, the West Midlands is perfectly placed to benefit from the phenomenal growth of esports due to the following:
- Young population – Birmingham alone has the youngest population in Europe with circa 40% under the age of 24. The perception of the stereotypical gamer (young, single, male, living at home) is somewhat misplaced. More than 50% of esports fans are in full time employment and a third are female. What is accurate is that over two thirds of esports fans are under the age of 35. It is my belief that esports is a vehicle which can be used to develop greater community cohesion and social interactions, especially important given the challenges young people have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Educational infrastructure – Birmingham City Business School has developed a BA (Hons) Esports Management degree programme to meet the demands of the industry, as well as a number of colleges offering Level 3 qualifications to develop the skills and knowledge to enter the industry. The next generation of leaders in the esports industry are being developed here in the West Midlands. The opportunity now presents itself to build an infrastructure to keep this talent in the county.
In order to grow the sector further in the West Midlands I suggest the following should be considered:
- Securing and leveraging global events – ESL One takes place in Birmingham each year and local government should consider how to ensure that the event stays in the region for many years to come. The economic impact of this one event alone has been valued as high as half a million pounds. Fans from all over the world attend ESL One which is the perfect opportunity to market what the West Midlands has to offer. Coventry is to be the UK City of Culture in 2021 and esports provides the perfect tool with which to engage a younger audience. Furthermore, with the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022 there is the opportunity to lead the ongoing esports/sports discourse.
- Leverage existing local expertise and infrastructure – I propose that local government work with gaming companies and Universities in the WMCA to encourage more esports activity and develop a proposition that places the West Midlands at the centre of the UK esports industry. West Midlands 5G’s Infrastructure Acceleration programme, and the work being done by West Midlands 5G (WM5G), is a vital component in achieving this goal as the improved data-flow infrastructure will provide better definition in the live-streaming of esports tournaments as well as enabling West Midlands based venues to be more attractive choices for live global esports events organisers.