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.
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.
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.