In the penultimate part of our mini-blog series on “esports in the UK: challenges and future opportunities”, we report on the panel discussion that took place between Heather Dower (founder of Hot Drop), James Dean (Founder of ESL UK), Wouter Sleijffers (CEO of Excel Esports) and Neale Maker (Esports and Transversal Marketing Manager for Northern Europe and Canada at Ubisoft), moderated by Sam Collins (UKIE).
The panel was asked it has helped university students who are interested in esports to progress with a career in the industry.
James Dean explained that ESL has held talks with various universities about the skill sets required for a career in esports, and how the universities can convey this information to students. ESL has also assisted universities with obtaining government grants to fund research and development into esports. This has helped universities bolster their offering to students interested in esports, which in turn will attract more students. James highlighted how the esports industry will only benefit from increased esports education if the quality of content and knowledge passed onto students is good, so they can progress in their own careers.
James also explained that aside from formal education, there are other routes for individuals to increase their knowledge and skills. Such routes include social groups and networks that can assist with sharing content and access. James also mentioned Tranmere Rovers, who have an apprenticeship scheme. This started out as a general industry apprenticeship but is now moving into the esports space.
The panel was then asked whether the career pathways into the esports industry were clear enough, and if enough talent was progressing through these pathways.
Wouter Sleijffers commented that there can be a tendency to focus on emerging player talent, but we also need the talent who builds and supports the industry ecosystem through their work. As spoken to by James, stronger ties with universities and educational programmes are needed to show that there are clear career paths in the industry. Wouter explained that Excel Esports are trying to increase awareness of these career paths and currently has a partnership with the Duke of Edinburgh programme to ensure engagement with the younger generation. Consistency and reality are both important, and individuals need to be guided through well-established programmes.
Heather Dower then spoke about whether businesses were finding the “right talent” for esports. She stated that Hot Drop initially recruited people that were passionate about esports but were generalists in nature. These employees can put on many hats and undertake many tasks and roles, but do not have specific expertise. After learning from experience and growing as a business, Hot Drop is now trying to recruit specialists. When explaining Hot Drop’s employment strategy, Heather highlighted that a key point is to keep employees satisfied by being clear on responsibilities for each role and sparking innovation in a particular area, rather than expecting employees to undertake numerous tasks from a variety of different roles and grow generally. It was felt that there is a lack of specific expertise specialists across the sector, and it is important to streamline roles for generalists and keep these roles separate from the ones that require specific knowledge. Heather also commented that education levels and academic achievement doesn’t matter necessarily when reviewing talent (specific university grades, for example), it is more about each applicant’s knowledge and skills which are relevant to the industry.
Sam Collins highlighted that the esports industry is constantly maturing and growing, as are the levels of diversity in talent. The same approach to diversity and inclusion that is taken by esports businesses to their players should also be applied to their recruitment processes. Sam flagged there is a massive amount of room for improvement in this regard and asked the panel what can be done to create more opportunities for women.
Neale Maker began the discussion by stating that historically, the growth of diversity and inclusion in talent like presenters and commentators has occurred as people have progressed through the ranks. For example, CaptainFluke started out commentating on streams, and was cast in Rainbow Six Siege games, but is now casting Rainbow Six Siege herself and is in the Six Invitational. It has taken five years to push her up through the ranks. GraceV is another example. She came through the university scene initially and is currently casting Rainbow Six Siege, but the aim is to push her up to the Six Invitational too.
Neale feels it is harder to increase diversity in players than presenters and commentators, noting there are currently no UK Rainbow Six female players. The industry needs to encourage women to play but to do that, we need to find out the root cause of why they aren't taking part. It is important to market and signpost that there are roles and women are encouraged to apply. The esports industry and relevant businesses must ensure that all talent, including players, welcome diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure everyone feels safe.
Wouter expanded on these points, saying that inclusion usually starts at a grassroots level and at schools, where children can talk about the games with classmates. New Meta is partnering with some schools to open gaming clubs, where any child that is interested in gaming is welcome. A key question for Wouter and Excel Esports – who rely on grassroots talent – is how businesses can collaborate and work together for children to have the same opportunities to be part of gaming clubs as they do for traditional sports and music, so they can enjoy the passion of the game together and build strong relationships. The key to increasing diversity and inclusion is ensuring esports is accessible - everyone needs to have access to the same hardware to hone their talent.
James stated that there needs to be an incentive to be consistent in encouraging diversity and inclusion across the whole ecosystem of the esports industry to make an impact. ESL introduced “ESL Impact” a couple of years ago (which is an online competitive environment for the top women's teams of the world) which has encouraged women to compete in esports and take it seriously. For season one of ESL Impact, there were 12,500 concurrent viewers, and 45,000 viewers in total, which highlights how there is potential for female esports to be as popular as traditional esports. Echoing Wouter’s point, James highlighted the importance of grassroots talent and the need for investment in the same to create incentives to get involved.
Ending the discussion on this point, Heather suggested that individuals in charge of marketing and decision-making for esports companies need to go with different norms and ideas and think outside of the box to appeal to different audiences. Heather proposed a couple of ideas to attract a greater variety of people to esports: ensuring that there is a diverse variety of influencers employed by esports businesses who will cater to and target different audiences; and paid advertising rather than standalone digital ads on social media, which has been proven to be successful and reach a wider audience.