GameCentral visits the League Of Legends UKLC final at Twickenham Stadium to learn about the challenges facing the games growing UK esports scene.
Released in 2009, MOBA title League Of Legends has been a titan on competitive gaming circuits since its first world tournament in 2011. While Dota 2 and Fortnite may have bigger prize pools, last years League Of Legends World Championship in South Korea became the most watched esports event of 2018, attracting 99.6 million unique viewers for the live final – surpassing even the Super Bowl.
As with many esports, this popularity has been slow to translate to UK shores. However, developer Riot Games has made strides this year, to establish a stronger presence here, creating new league UKLC (UK League Championship) with esports organisation LVP (League of Videogame Professionals), which is designed to lift amateur League Of Legends players to professional status.
Winners from the UKLC are fast-tracked to the Summer 2019 EU Masters group stage, where 20 teams from around Europe compete for a €150,000 (£136,200) prize pool. Runners-up in the UKLC and other leagues across Europe are put into the play-ins, where seven teams battle for three remaining spots in the group stage.
A new infrastructure isnt the only investment. In January this year, UK esports organisation Excel announced Twickenham Stadium as their new home – switching out training in gaming houses for a facility within the home of rugby. Its another step towards a professional image around UK esports, with Excels branding on show inside the stand as rugby fans scramble for their next pint.
Its apt then, that the first UKLC final, between Fnatic and Excel, takes place at Twickenham. While it isnt staged in the main stadium itself, the enthusiasm from the hundreds in attendance already feels destined for a bigger space. Since its also Excels new home turf, it feels like a notable first step towards an official ground for UK esports.
Mo Fadl, head of UK esports for Riot Games since 2017, is particularly enthusiastic about their progress over the past year, comparing it favourably to his past work in esport and community roles for developers Wargaming, NCSoft, and Blizzard.
The UK was lagging a bit behind in esports but were overachieving now with the initial goals weve set up, Mo tells GameCentral at the UKLC final. It takes time, but the UK has already made tremendous jumps compared to any country Ive worked in the past, or even globally. We are now nearly 18 months ahead of schedule just because it has picked up so fast.
But why have we lagged behind European countries like Spain and Germany? Mo cites English being the worldwide language for esports as a barrier to getting UK viewers invested in their own scene – with Spanish or German-speaking tournaments, for example, possessing a local flavour you cant find elsewhere. Over here, youre battling for attention against the biggest international tournaments streamed online via Twitch.
To combat this, Riot has attempted to add a UK flair to UKLC livestreams, to make it more distinctly British. Using homegrown casters and adopting a more playful approach, the aim was to build a more entertaining, and less stuffy, image for UK streams, to widen the audience and act as an alternative to the serious coverage of international tournaments.
Whether this will become an identity for UK esports remains to be seen, but its success has captured wider attention in recent months. Jaden Ashman, 15, from Essex was featured on breakfast shows like Good Morning Britain after winning almost £1 million at the Fortnite World Cup finals. While not from the League Of Legends community, its stories like these which boost the profile of UK esports as a whole.
Its great for everyone, Mo says about Jadens win. Its great for the players, great for the industry, great for all games, it helps the visibility.
To be frank, its all growing [in the UK]. There are key games, like legacy games, which are the foundation and new games which are coming – like Fortnite came in amazingly for the whole industry for the new players and viewers it created. It widened the audience for players to interact with each other, which is good for everyone.
A fog hanging over this growth is Brexits supposed arrival in October. Like many other business sectors, the uncertainty of its ramifications makes its potential effects on UK esports difficult to gauge – but its something which is a cause for concern moving forward.
Asked if theyre worried about Brexits impact, Mo said: Id be lying if I said no. There is a worry more for events and partnerships and infrastructure. We want a place in the UK for teams, for the leagues, for partnerships, which we have to be aware of. It doesnt mean it should hinder us but its another thing on our plate we have to look out for, to keep it in mind and build around it.
Naturally we have a lot of support from key partners in government. Were talking with them as well to make sure how can we make this transition, whatever happens, as smooth as possible so it has no impact on our players, fans, and ideally the industry in the UK.
The one thing we learned is no one really knows. No one knows what will happen. Even when we talk to people within government, theyre like, “Yeah we dont really know how itll actually work out, what it will look like, even whether itll be a deal or no deal.” No one knows in the end.
You prepare yourself for the unknown which is very tricky. So naturally we said okay, we can waste a lot of energy and focus on this which we have no knowledge about, or we focus 95% of our energy on building what we have right now and build it solid. Because no matter which storm comes tomorrow, if we build a solid ship it will overcome the storm.
While Brexits effect, if any, on UK esports is unclear, this uncertainty has already had a detrimental effect on the countrys viability to host prestigious tournaments. This years League Of Legends World Championship takes place across Europe in Berlin, Madrid, and Paris in October, with London omitted from the line-up to avoid any complications which could arise.
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Worlds takes months, years to plan in advance, Mo says. We have a lot of work infrastructure behind it so if theres any risk or potential risk, we try to limit it as much as we can.
This is something we actually looked at and its one of the “what if” questions. What if this happened, how can we make sure our place in the UK gets the best experience? How can we make it as good as possible for the players if this happens? This is something where Brexit, lets be honest, didnt help us in the decision in regards to the UK for the Worlds esport event.
Mos eyes arent necessarily on the immediate future but instead the long-game, when it comes to growing talent in the League Of Legends scene, and hes positive well eventually see UK playerRead More – Source