Esports is one of the world’s fastest growing activities and Sunderland will play a key role in helping it become a multi-billion-pound industry in the UK, as WHO reports.
Last month’s announcement that British Esports (BE) – the national body for esports – is set to open a National Esports Performance Campus in Sunderland made headlines across the UK.
But to the average reader, little is known about esports and the huge economic, educational and cultural impact it has had in recent years.
So, as Sunderland gets set to welcome the UK’s first National Performance Campus, we made it our mission to catch up with the industry body powering the centre and those already putting the North East on the map as an esports centre of excellence…
What is esports?
An abbreviation of electronic sports, British Esports defines esports as ‘organised competitive video gaming’ and always human v human.
There are over 40 different esports from different video game categories, MOBA (mobile online battle arena), Battle Royale, sports and simulation, fighting, first person shooter, strategy and more. The most popular esports titles include: Lead of Legends, Dota2, Rocket League and Overwatch.
Competitions and competitive matches are often played in front of large live audiences with competitors battling it out to win trophies and cash prizes, which in some instances can amount to millions of pounds.
Already a phenomenon in several territories across the globe, with one in three people globally playing video games and over half a billion fans, esports is set to explode in popularity in the UK. During the Tokyo Olympics esports was trialed in the form of virtual sports and simulation video games and we will see the Commonwealth Esports Championships be hosted during the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.
Esports is also fast establishing itself as a prominent part of UK student culture, with thousands of students taking part in events every year from hundreds of different schools, colleges and universities. In fact, there are now more University esports teams than any other traditional student sport.
Competitions also require huge promotion and oversight, meaning a wide variety of jobs are now available in the industry, from content creation and journalism to event managers, broadcast and production specialists, marketing and web casters, to name just a few.
How big of an industry it?
According to Ukie, the trade body for the UK games and interactive entertainment industry, the esports sector grew at an annual average rate of 8.5% between 2016 and 2019 and directly supported 1,200 jobs in 2019 alone.
The UK industry contributed £111.5 million to UK GDP in 2019 however, a single major esports event can support 238 full-time members of staff and boost the economy by £12 million, meaning as the industry continues to grow, the economic benefits have the potential to provide a fillip to the UK economy.
Chester King, chief executive officer at British Esports, said: “The UK is Europe’s second biggest video game market and ranked 6th globally – this speaks to the potential of esports which will capitalise on gaming’s popularity, with talented competitors emerging and a growing audience keen to spectate and enjoy esports as a leisure activity. This is a market that we know will explode in the UK and we want to support its growth.”
What will the National Esport Campus look like?
Situated in the shadow of the Stadium of Light, in the former Audi dealership on Stadium Way, the NEPC will become a centre of excellence, providing access to state-of-the-art equipment, training and investment that will support Sunderland, the North East and the UK to become a globally-recognised esports hub capable of attracting and developing the world’s best esports talent.
The campus will offer educational and coaching courses for players and all other roles within the esports industry, and feature dedicated esports classrooms, performance rooms, streaming booths for shoutcaster skills and an arena space. It will also play host to regular esports events, community tournaments, summer camps and be used as a training base for the Great Britain esports team, which recently took part in the Global Esports Games in Singapore.
How will it benefit the city?
The move into Sunderland will initially create 20 jobs in the city, however, it is the wider benefits of esports that make this move hugely significant. It is expected that tens of thousands of spectators will visit Sunderland’s NEPC to tap into the world-class facilities that will be available, and that a whole new local ecosystem will be created by the move.
BE has leased the former retail property, which will allow it to grow roots in the city, creating an unrivalled esports facility that is expected to attract tens of thousands of people every year. As part of the transforming Riverside Sunderland community, the NEPC will add to the other leisure venues planned for the city centre, including the newly opened Auditorium and the planned Culture House, both of which will create attractions that will draw in many thousands of visitors to the city every year.
Riverside Sunderland has already attracted hundreds of millions of pounds in private and public sector investment and the British Esports is the latest to realise the site’s vast potential.
The city’s focus on 5G and digital technology was a major driver in BE’s decision. Sunderland City Council recently signed a 20-year strategic partnership with BAI Communications to design, build and operate digital infrastructure including Wi-Fi, LoRaWan (long-range wide area network) and a private 5G small cell network, which will make the city one of the best connected in the UK and position it as the crucible for the digital industries of the future.
Chester added: “Sunderland is a hugely ambitious and future-focused city and that aligns very much to BE and esports, which has vast growth potential and ties into Sunderland’s strengths in gaming, digital and sport. The campus will be an inspirational site, a place for players and coaches to work, learn and develop. This is a much-needed facility and through my team’s experiences we understand its importance.”
What are Sunderland’s links to esports?
Two of the city’s anchor educational institutions, the University of Sunderland and Sunderland College, have both invested heavily in esports provision over recent years.
Sunderland College is launching its first Level 2 and Level 3 esports courses from September (recruiting now) and alongside Hartlepool Sixth Form is one of only 13 colleges across the country to deliver Next Gen Skills Academy qualifications.
The college’s esports team, Sunderland Seers, is also made up of students who are studying on its Animation, Games Design and VFX programmes through NextGen and are the British Esports Championships’ most successful team, with recent wins in games such as Overwatch, League of Legends and Rocket League.
The University of Sunderland is currently looking into the opportunity of creating some cross-faculty bespoke programmes with esports as a key element for both undergraduate and postgraduate study.
It already has a strong esports society and recently opened a Virtual Reality (VR) and Immersive Technologies Lab in its David Goldman Building at St Peter’s Campus which uses the latest technology to host esports.
The University’s Faculty of Technology also has a Games Development programme which allows students to work in a simulated game studio environment and collaborate with talented games artists, acquiring the skills to join the next generation of game developers.
When will it be open?
BE’S National Esports Performance Campus is set to open in the summer, with a full refurbishment and an extension planned to the current 11,000 sq ft space. Work has started.