E-sports as a whole is a subject I hold close to my heart. As a sport it is still very young, in fact, its probably not much older than me, not many people can say that they are almost as old as the sport they play. E-sports, being the umbrella title for all competitive video games, most recently my E-sport of choice has been League of Legends. A particularly young E-sports scene, it has only become truly popular in the last year and a half, and has come to dominate E-sports, bringing in over 8 million unique viewers for its season two world finals. As big as LoL and E-sports as a whole is in the US and Korea; heck, even in mainland Europe, the UK seems to be completely oblivious to the rapidly growing sport right under its nose.
Here we have three very normal looking customers at Harry’s Bar in Leeds, but they aren’t watching what you would expect: They are at the MLG Winter Leeds Barcraft. An event where Leeds’ E-sports fans come together to enjoy their shared hobby, Starcraft 2. As much fun as events such as these may be, they are few and far between, with very few members even in major cities. In PC Gamer’s December 2011 issue, an article mapped the UK’s Barcrafts, having 8 separate events in each of the UK’s major cities, since then there have been several attempts to start events for different games such as LoL, I myself have tried to host one, but the growth of ‘barcrafting’ has been brought to a halt.In fact it seems that the amount of people going to these events is slowly depleting. Some say this is because of the decay of Starcraft 2 as a game, and that LoL will eventually take over but at the moment, the UK is falling behind the world in its support of E-sports, I talked to Christopher “Panky” Pankhurst about the decay of supporters in the UK.
Panky himself started his casting in Starcraft 2, as a fan of both Starcraft 2 and LoL he was eager to actively support the respective scenes as much as he could. After being contacted by absolute legends to cast their games, he contacted Scumbag Krepo and YellowPete (two of LoL’s biggest and best pro players) back when their streams would only receive 100-200 viewers, and asked to cast their scrimmages, with his first video being CLG.EU vs Moscow 5 a week before the famous IEM Kiev Event back in April, which anyone who is into the LoL scene will know, was an eventful tournament. When asked what he thought was stopping the growth of E-sports in the UK Panky could only say ‘ Honestly, I have no idea, but I hate it.’ The Insomnia LAN events in the UK gather together almost 5,000 gamers for their event and last year had almost 85,000 people go through their doors. Even within the E-sports culture many UK residents don’t it events even though it is fact one of the UK’s very few and biggest LAN event, you would be hard pressed to find coverage of it in mass media.
Panky himself sees it as a lack of UK journalists who are interested in E-sports, that all the scene needs is a kick up the bum from a journalist and the awareness of E-sports would dramatically rise, that the only thing the scene needs is a figurehead to gather round, someone to push it into the limelight, and the attention of the UK’s general public. The one thing I see that holds back E-sports in the UK is the Stigma that many people still hold for gaming as a whole. It is still seen as shady to play video games regularly, that they are somehow something distasteful, to be shunned rather than accepted as a sport, and hobby that is perfectly wholesome.
Panky sees it has the difference between our generation, that being on a computer in his room was all that was to his parents, while to him it was talking to people all over the world, interacting with friends worldwide and even working as a caster form home, and now, being flown round the globe to narrate LoL’s biggest events, his parents see that it was not time spent alone, and that it was entirely beneficial, to me this is what the general public as a whole need to accept.
If I was to summarise my experience with UK E-sports with a single word; it would be unfulfilled. As much as I have enjoyed barcrafts, I yearn for a massive scale tournament in the UK, my whole being screams for something more than just a beer at the local watching the amazing event in the US or Sweden, When the UK finally hosts its own variant of Dreamhack or MLG, that is when i believe the UK will have finally proven itself to be a modern, E-sports savvy country, this unfortunately seems to be a long way off.
Link to the interview with Christopher ‘Panky’ Pankhurst: https://soundcloud.com/glombeh/christ