How to watch eSports in the UK: From TV to Twitch and live events
eSports fans are good at picking favourites. They have their favourite teams, their favourite tournament moments and their favourite players.
Chances are, if you’re an eSports fan, you’ll want to pick your favourite way of watching games, too. From huge streaming platforms to intimate real-world arenas, there’s a variety of ways in which audiences can experience eSports in the UK. Here is our selection:
Where to watch eSports in the UK
In many ways the definitive eSports viewing platform, Twitch streams everything from an individual trying their first MOBA up to the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series.
Its recent partnerships, with Blizzard for Overwatch streaming rights and BANDIA NAMCO for Tekken 7, demonstrate that Twitch is in the eSports game for the long haul. With around ten million daily active users, one of the primary factors for Twitch’s success is its focus on fostering community through chat.
As its director of eSports programs Justin Dellario told Alphr: “When you tune into an eSports broadcast on Twitch, you are experiencing more than just the viewing of a match. You’re interacting with other viewers who share similar interests, commentating on what is happening on screen and, in turn, building connections with your community.”
While it’s great to sit down and experience an entire eSports tournament, the growing audience of fans don’t have the time to invest each day. That’s where Dingit.tv, the UK-based premium highlights platform, comes in.
Serving selected match highlights to its audience of 30 to 40 million monthly users, Dingit partners with gaming brands and fans to upload select clips, effectively using the expertise of the community to pick out moments worth celebrating.
Its brand and community manager Claire Sharkey says the premium VOD approach was because of fan demand: “Our goal is to always provide an inclusive, premium zone and to support creators. By being able to focus on key moments in gaming, it enables us to provide the best promotion and interaction with our audience. We know our audiences’ time is precious, so we aim to give them high quality, effortlessly.”
While dedicated esports streaming platforms cater to hardcore fans, YouTube isn’t lagging behind. Its recent efforts with chat suggest it’s taking a leaf out of Twitch’s book, and it has big name brands taking it seriously as an esports distribution platform.
FIFA’s official channel, for instance, has the footage from the FIFA Interactive Club World Cup, which originally took place in London in August 2017. As FIFA has major crossover appeal with football fans, it makes sense that a huge distribution platform like YouTube would be the way to go for this particular esport after the fact.
Watch eSports on TV
For a uniquely British way to watch eSports, look no further than the BBC.
After a brief dalliance with eSports in 2015, when it broadcast the League of Legends World Championships live from Wembley, the now digital-only BBC Three has entered a partnership with London-based Gfinity to broadcast its Elite Series every Friday.
That the staid old BBC is taking eSports seriously – even on a digital-only platform such as BBC Three – is as clear a sign that eSports are on the cusp of entering the mainstream.
The rising popularity of eSports is also emphasised by the fact Gfinity has signed a deal with BT Sport to broadcast the Elite Series, about which its managing director of content and strategy, Andy Haworth, has said: “This fantastic tie-up with Gfinity marks our latest move to support and engage with the passionate and extensive gaming community here in the UK.”
eSports events in the UK
While its great streaming services exist to cater for the millions of fans who like to watch eSports in their own home, the co-founder of MnM Gaming Daniel Chung believes there’s no substitute for the live experience: “I always find that a live eSports crowd is so much more electrifying than a traditional eSports crowd, because the games are faster-paced, and the people who go to watch eSports aren’t affiliated to just one team: they’re there to watch the beauty of the game. No matter what happens in a game, if there is a massive play, the crowd always reacts positively.”
So for those fans who need to hear the roar of the surrounding crowd, its Gfinity Arena in South West London is the first dedicated eSports arena in the country.
Launched in 2015 in partnership with Vue, the arena seats 600 fans, many of whom will be coming to see the inaugural Elite League, which began this year. The Elite League, which features Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League and Street Fighter V, sees teams who are required to draft from Gfinity’s own grassroots Challenger Series fight it out live for the title of champion.
SSE Arena Wembley
For fans who want a stadium experience, the SSE Arena Wembley offers the chance to see international teams like Cloud9 compete in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive League every summer.
It may be a far cry from the sheer scale of events held at dedicated eSports venues like Seoul’s Yongsan eSports Stadium, but with the investment pouring into British eSports and some heavyweight teams in the country, going to the SSE is a taste of things to come.
While there’s plenty to be said for the benefits of watching eSports in an arena, there are just as many benefits to enjoying them surrounded by like-minded local fans (and beer).
Pubs such as Loading Bar in Dalston, East London, occasionally host intimate eSports tournaments of their own, which are almost guaranteed to make entrants decide to be eSports pros themselves (and then decide against it when they crash out mid-tournament).
Dedicated eSports bar Meltdown – which has locations in North London, Sheffield and across the globe – hosts tournaments of its own, but a large part of its appeal is in the community coming together to watch the biggest eSports matches together. From armchair managers to would-be players, the shared experience aspect of eSports is reinforced when people gather round to watch their favourite teams compete on a big screen.
Its general manager Ducan Morrison explains: “The appeal lies in the social side and the feeling of community, the same reason people go out to the pub to watch a football match or go round a friends house for the boxing. While watching streamers is fine at home watching a big tournament is far more fun and atmospheric surrounded by friends and likeminded people.”