ECS Media Day

enuk screenshot

As I travelled down to Wembley Arena to take part in a press day dedicated to esports journalists and notable people within the community, I couldn’t help thinking how surreal it all felt. Representing www.esports-news.co.uk, the outlet that published by debut article, and entering the professional world was slightly nerve-racking but entirely worth it. During the media day I got to meet my idols, the professional CS:GO players I had been watching for over three years and had the opportunity to interview a countless number of them. Since then I have had my pre-event summary published on Esports News UK’s website and have another project in the works ready to be uploaded and published very soon.

I just wanted to say thank you to Dom Sacco, the editor and founder of www.esports-news.co.uk, for publishing my articles and for giving me the opportunity to attend the media day. Also, I’m very grateful to Mike Stubbsy, freelance-journalist, for speaking with me and giving me some valuable advice during the press day.

Three Grassroots Organisations And Why The Future Of UK Esports Looks Bright

Whilst it’s no secret that the UK esports scene has been lagging behind other nations in the majority of esports titles, the future is now looking bright for several reasons. Firstly, existing esports players and organisations are beginning to make a name for themselves. Recently, CS:GO player Smooya has joined Major Legends BIG, and exceL Esports had a quarter final finish at the EU Masters LOL tournament in Leicester; a tournament which featured some world renowned organisations and teams such as the Ninjas in Pyjamas and Origen. Secondly, a series of esports organisations have cropped up with the intention of promoting grassroots esports and helping improve the standard of play in the UK. The following article will explore three organisations that are helping the scene evolve including Gfinity’s Challenger Series; UKPL and Game’s Belong Arenas.

Gfinity Challenger Series

Gfinity’s Challenger Series has proved itself as being somewhat of a success. The subordinate league to the Elite Series supports competition in three different esports titles and showcases players who excel at their respective esport. Once the Challenger Series’ season is over, top gamers are drafted onto the esports teams that are part of Gfinity’s new franchised system. Although the league has elevated players to the next level of competition, the league faced some criticism at the beginning of its tenure. Some who were drafted into professional organisations were unhappy with their play time and disappointed at what little chance they had to prove themselves on the big stage. However, Kieran Holmes-Darby, exceL Esports’ owner, in a BBC3 interview, responded to this criticism by asking, “Why should it [the path into professional esports] be easy?” Despite some teething problems, talent drafted in through the Challenger Series have worked themselves to the top of their respective esports and proved themselves to be top tier professionals. Rannerz for instance, along with his team mate Zimme, managed to pick up the Gfinity Elite Series Season 3 trophy for their organisation AS Roma Esports Fnatic. Rannerz proved himself in the Challenger Series and was drafted in by one of the world’s most elite organisations and went the distance to demonstrate why he is the best.

Gfinity resized

UKPL

Inspired by ESEA’s RankS and created on the foundations of Faceit hubs, UKPL has become the proving ground for semi-professional, and professional, CS:GO players in the UK. It has provided them with a platform to rise through the ranks and progress to the globally recognised FPL, from which, many of today’s young Counter Strike professionals, such as Mousesports’ Ropz, have elevated their performance and made a place for themselves in pro scene. Despite its infancy, UKPL offers competitors prizes for placing in certain positions in their leagues and caters for upcoming talent, giving them a podium from which to get noticed and picked up by UK or international organisations. UKPL by nature is grassroots, however not the badly run and embarrassingly unorganised type of grassroots. On the contrary, the service is run by some of the scenes most experienced professionals and boasts having the likes of seasoned veteran MightyMax, Epsilon Esport’s very own coach Kieta and an industry leading observer in the form of Sliggy in the role of admins. The circuit’s 4 leagues offer their 4000+ members a chance to shine, progress and prove themselves to outside organisations.

GAME’s Belong Arenas

GAME’s Belong Arenas aren’t the first of their kind in the UK as similarly styled gaming centres and tournament venues have been around for decades now. However, having been there and experienced it first hand, I get the impression that they have nearly perfected the gaming centre experience. Although GAME itself is a nationwide chain and its Arenas follow suit and therefore would struggle to be classed as grassroots, I do believe its fair to say that the steps the business is taking are in the interest of grassroots esports and appear to have a focus on improving the scene. Due to there being 19 Belong Arenas across England, Scotland and Wales with each being backed by GAME, they can all compete against one another. By joining their local Arena’s “tribe”, players from any background can compete against other Arena’s “tribes”. Members of tribes take part in weekly events and community nights at local Arenas and, at the end of season, a grand final takes place. Recently, the grand final took place on a large stage at Insomnia 62 and saw tribes battling it out, each representing their region, for glory. Watching it live in person surrounded by roughly 100 other engaged spectators felt awesome, but I can’t begin to imagine what it must have felt like from the players perspective. It must have been so surreal. Whilst this sort of opportunity doesn’t provide teams and players with a contract or salary, it does provide a platform from which competitors can experience a professional competitors lifestyle and, as such, compete and prove themselves on big stages in front of hundreds.

Belong resized.jpg

So, to conclude, whether it’s the Challenger Series’ efforts to put players into a premier competition through a sound league and drafting system; UKPL’s determination to improve the UK CS:GO scene by providing an environment for UK players to play and shine amongst one another or even Game’s push to build a communally competitive spirit in their Belong Arenas by hosting community nights and regional tournaments, grassroots esports in the UK is looking like it’s on the up.

Tom Deacon on his transition into esports

After my “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series, I got in contact with former comedian and full-time desk host for Gfinty’s Elite Series, Tom Deacon. Since then, I’ve interviewed Tom about his transition into esports from full-time comedy work. Today, I have been lucky enough to have my article published on www.esports-news.co.uk. This is my debut piece on ENUK and hopefully the first of many, so please go and check it out here.

tom deacon_0315_photo by steve ullathorne.jpg

Due to having Year 12 exams later this month, I have decided to take a short break from any writing or interviewing projects until the exams are over. Regardless of this, I am more motivated than ever and will be determined to come back from the break with new content. Whether my writing pieces are published on this platform or the ENUK website, I will keep the blog updated and make sure there is a post which explains what articles written by myself have been published and where.

To Gfinity and Beyond – An interview with Richard Buckley

The third blog post in my “To Gfinity and Beyond” series will feature my interview with Richard Buckley, a world class FIFA caster who commentates on events such as the Elite Series, hosted by Gfinity. Richard has also worked to enhance the viewer experience by providing world class commentaries of FIFA matches with other companies including Sky Sports, EA Sports and ESL. Due to Richard’s extensive experience in commentating on multiple different events, I thought he’d have a unique insight into the Elite Series and would offer an interesting opinion on the question – “Why is Gfinity’s Elite Series an integral part of the UK esports scene?” The following post will cover Richard’s thoughts on the matter and I hope to offer, you, the audience an exclusive look into what one of the biggest names in FIFA esports thinks about the Elite Series.

One thing that is crucial for commentators is for them to build up an image and gain as much exposure as possible, so the first question I wanted Richard to answer was, “Do you believe the Elite Series provides valuable exposure for you and your personal brand?” To this Richard replied, “Gfinity is one of the biggest esports organisers in the world, if not the biggest, and being a part of Season 3 of the Elite Series has been a blast and may I hope it continue for some time now as myself and Brandon [Richard’s commentating partner-in- crime] have both loved being a part of the FIFA team.”

“Gfinity is the bridge for very good amateurs to transition into professionals”

IMG_7182

Another question I was keen to ask Richard was, “Do circuited tournaments such as the Elite Series that go on every week for a set period of time provide stability and security as opposed to random FIFA events that pop up all over the place?”. Richard responded, “Personally for me I think that the Elite Series format is very beneficial as it enables players to analyse their games throughout the week.” and went on to explain how this then allows them to, “work on areas of their games to improve ready for a date in the calendar every 8 weeks”.

As part of last week’s blog, I asked James Townley, esports photographer, “As the scene is maturing and becoming more professional with higher production value and better treatment of players, do you see that same level of professionalism and care put to those such as yourself?”. I wanted to see how Richard’s response to the same question might compare. Richard pointed out that, “Myself and Brandon are still new to the esports scene, we’ve only been around in the public eye for around 12 months” but then expressed how he has “always received top class” treatment from event organisers.

To try and summarise Richard’s thoughts on the Elite Series and Gfinity I asked him: “Why to you, if at all, is Gfinity’s Elite Series an integral part of the UK esports scene?” Richard then went on to give me a detailed answer and described how, “Gfinity is the bridge for very good amateurs to transition into pros in my opinion. It gives the players a platform to prove themselves in cups ran daily and also the opportunity to test themselves against other professionals in the scene”. Richard followed on by explaining how the Elite Series is also an instrumental part of trying to increase opportunities for and raise awareness of FIFA esports by stating how, “having Gfinity as part of a licensed EA qualifier is only a help and will continue to help to grow FIFA in one way and thats vertically upwards”.

Many thanks to Richard for agreeing to be interviewed as part of my “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series. More about Richard and his work can be found at: www.twitter.com/rbuckley1998

 

To Gfinity and Beyond – An interview with James Townley, JGTownleyMedia

I met James Townley at the ECS Season 3 Finals in June 2017 and soon became aware he had taken bookings for teams and organisations at the Elite Series. So, when trying to think of people who I could contact about the “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series, I knew James would be an ideal candidate. James is an esports photographer and has even branched out recently into videography, where he is working with two major esports casters who commentate on FIFA 18 matches at the Elite Series. As James has direct experience of working at the Elite Series, I felt it was essential to get in contact with him. We arranged to meet at Insomnia 62 where we had a chat about why he feels Gfinity’s Elite Series is an integral part of the UK esports scene.

“Gfinity allows me to gain experience in an actual main stage setting”

I was curious to find out more about how the scene has changed over time, so I asked James, “As the scene is maturing and becoming more professional with higher production value and better treatment of players, do you see that same level of professionalism and care being offered to those such as yourself?” James response indicated that things had changed for the better, “Yes I do. Before I started esports photography the care that we got was not a lot, we might get say just food and drink for the day but now it’s shifted into like hotel, travel, food, drink, and all expenses. So, we are almost being fully funded to an event and then you get paid on top of that.” Following on from this, James added, “but if you want to be treated like that you have to hold yourself to that level”. James went on to explain, “If we do something bad, we get punished and if we try and push past the limit, you’ll get punished, you’ll get your pass taken away from you.” He then went on to summarise his answer by stating, “With the professionalism side you are being treated with care however there is a huge side of responsibility that comes with it.”

IMG_6921

By the point at which I conducted the interview with James, I had spent enough time at both Gfinity and Insomnia 62 to get a good feel of the atmosphere at both events first-hand, so I asked him, “How, if at all, does taking bookings and photos at Gfinity compare to Insomnia?” James responded by saying, “Lighting is nowhere near as good [at Insomnia] but it’s because the open bracket at Insomnia is not a professional stage whereas the Gfinity is a professional stage”. He then explained further, “Gfinity allows me to gain experience in an actual main stage setting.” Although James can see the benefits of this setting, he is also keen to develop his skills, “I’d much prefer just to shoot Gfinity but if I wanted a range of lighting and to test my skills in settings then it would have to be Insomnia.”

The last request I made of James during our interview was for him to describe to me why, if at all, the Gfinity Elite Series is an integral part of the UK esports scene?  James couldn’t be clearer, “It’s the central hub. It’s been known for years for hosting Call of Duty events, Streetfighter, now Rocket League, now FIFA, CSGO events and things like that and you always see it.” He then added, “It’s like going back to the first question, it’s the middle platform of progression [between grassroots and] going up to the worldwide professional tournaments”. Concluding the interview, James expressed how “They will give you exposure and they will credit you, where credit is due”, so by, “attending a Gfinity event you can only gain wins unless you’re not professional, so it all comes full circle.”

Many thanks to James for agreeing to be interviewed as part of my “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series, and for providing the photo accompanying this post.

More about James can be found at:

James’ Twitter – https://twitter.com/JGTownley

His Portfolio – behance.net/jgtownley

To Gfinity and Beyond – An interview with Kieran Holmes-Darby

This first blog of my “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series will report on my interview with exceL esports’ very own Kieran Holmes-Darby. Kieran is the Managing Director and co-founder of exceL esports, one of the largest esports organisations in the UK, and is someone who has been a fundamental figure in pushing exceL to where it is today. Kieran, along with his brother and numerous staff, already have a rich history in the Elite Series extending across all three seasons in which his teams have competed.  For this reason, I thought I should get in contact with him and attempt to arrange an interview. Luckily, Kieran agreed for me to interview him at Insomnia 62, and so the following blog post will explore Kieran’s thoughts on Gfinity’s Elite Series and to what extent he believes it is integral to the UK esports scene.

An element of the Gfinity Elite Series that I believe is severely undervalued is its circuited schedule as it’s able to provide investors and team sponsors with stability and a better level of return on their respective investments. Whilst interviewing Kieran, it was apparent that this was something he agreed with too.  When I asked Kieran if he believed the future of the scene lies at the door of circuited tournaments, he stated, “It’s very difficult for the teams attending if it’s [an event] just popping up out of nowhere to gain sponsorship long-term.” He then elaborated, “If I can’t tell the sponsor what’s happening in three months’ time, let alone a year down the line, it’s very difficult for us to sell sponsorship. So, from a management point of view, the future for a team a hundred per cent needs to rely on the more circuited tournaments… because it makes everything from a management point of view, both logistically also commercially with the whole sponsorship side of things, so much easier.”

Web Summit

“I think the Gfinity Elite Series is probably one of the best things ever to happen to UK esports”

I attended Gfinity’s Elite Series last week and experienced first-hand how professional the environment is, which in part felt due to its high level of production.  I thought it appropriate to ask Kieran if he thought the scale of the Gfinity Elite Series gives both players and staff, that exceL field, good experience and whether it acts as a valuable stepping stone between local grassroot events and global scale events such as those that ESL host? Kieran expressed how he believed the draft system Gfinity has implemented into the Elite Series is, “Really good at tapping into grassroots talent”, and that the franchised nature of the Elite Series does a lot, “for players and staff members in terms of the internals of an organisation.” However, the consequence of this is that the system without relegation, “doesn’t necessarily cater for grassroots teams”, but rather grassroots players. Kieran expanded upon this by explaining how the grassroot players, once scouted through the draft series process, are in a better position as, “The teams you’re going to go to are stable”, and have, “decent financial backing”.

A question which I wanted to focus on was “Do you believe the Elite Series provides vital exposure for exceL?” One thing that organisations ultimately rely on is exposure and media attention to stay relevant and provide a reason for sponsors to invest in teams. Gfinity has been successful in gathering mainstream sponsors and investment from companies such as Lynx, and exclusive streaming deals with platforms such as Facebook, and so I was curious to see what Kieran had to say on the matter. When the question was put to him, Kieran responded with a bold statement and claimed, “Yeah, I think the Gfinity Elite Series is probably one of the best things ever to happen to UK esports”, before going on to describe how, “It’s a much more coherent structure than we have ever seen, I think, and it’s made it a lot easier for ourselves to go out, sell sponsorships and create narratives as well. That’s another thing, you know, having a structure like that allows you to create stories with your players rather than just one-off events”.

The major thing I took from my interview with Kieran is that the Elite Series is some-what of a uniquely structured event in the UK and is unparalleled in the benefits it offers to organisations. The tournaments organised by Gfinity have enabled exceL to receive bigger and better investments from sponsors due to playing on the biggest stage in the UK. This has allowed their staff to gain a broader level of experience in the industry, which will stand them in good stead when competing in even larger and more professional events in the future both domestically and globally.

Many thanks to Kieran for agreeing to be interviewed as part of my “To Gfinity and Beyond” blog series.

More about Kieran and exceL can be found at:

Kieran’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/xL_Kieran

exceL’s website – https://www.excelesports.com/