'We want to bring new blood into UK eSports' – an interview with the Manchester eSports society

uom king of the north interview 1

The King of the North is a yearly event hosted by the University of Manchester’s eSports society. The event has been made available to the public for three years now and has been growing bigger every year.
This year, the finals were won by the University of Birmingham TCA Storm (who beat Exeter 1-0 in League of Legends), Warwick (who defeated Bath 1-0 in Dota 2) and Lancaster (who won 2-1 in CSGO against Manchester).
We attended the event on March 2nd at Manchester Academy to ask the event organisers a few questions about what inspired them to create the event, its future and what they’ve achieved so far.
eSports News UK’s Craig Robinson talks to Chris Hargreaves, chairman of the eSports society, and Rob Mulgan, former committee member of the society.

What is it that inspired you to create the King of the North event?

Chris Hargreaves: The original aim was to make a community that could come together frequently and be able to play games and compete together. Jacob, our former chairman who has graduated now, is a bit of a dreamer and wanted to make it go bigger than just frequent events for the uni. So we all agreed and decided to try and make a bigger event for Manchester and other regions that wanted to come, hence why we made it a public gaming event that you can see today.
We were originally inspired by things going on in the community such as the gaming internet café ‘Fraggers’ that was in Altrincham, just outside of Manchester city centre, as well as The NUEL. We originally had really good players attend Manchester uni and so this competition was designed to give them opportunities outside of these other tournaments so that they could keep competing.
However the majority of those good players we had have now moved on, and so opening up the event to teams around the country, as well as hosting other tournaments, had become the new focus, and that’s what we think is going well now.

“We know at the moment we are very small in comparison to events that Multiplay and Epiclan have in the UK – and that is something we hope the King of the North aspires to be like someday.”


How did you manage to make this dream happen?

Rob Mulgan: A year or two ago we nearly jeopardised the society, because we cut off socials to make sure King of the North (KOTN) could pay off. Thankfully it did really well and now the society is doing well for itself.
All of us committee members and volunteers taking part in past events/today’s event have all put in a lot of time and effort for this to happen. We have been busy for the past few months getting things planned, getting sponsors willing to come in and help us with things, planning out security staff for the event with the uni, talking with the uni over getting Academy 1 for the day (the biggest venue available by the uni); you name it.
kotn-castersSamuel Winterbottom and Joshua Dowse (right) on the League of Legends caster desk
Chris Hargreaves: We think this made sponsors see the light in what we were trying to do and that’s why we believe we got the sponsors to help us out.
MSI, Scan, Computer Planet, Twitch, NUEL, Gamers Apparel and Cooler Master have all given us huge support by providing machines for competitions, prizes and prize money, marketing us, providing matches for us to host/stream and providing entertainment at booths/stalls.
Even though Riot doesn’t directly sponsor us, it is cool that university events are getting promoted on the front page of the client. That helps us get advertisement out towards interested people across the country, hopefully attracting more people to these sort of things. In the case for Computer Planet, they actually came to us about a month or so before the event was on and it’s really good that people are coming to us interested in what we are doing.
Without these sponsors and other backers from Kickstarter and elsewhere, we would be nowhere near as successful as we have been with today, and that is good for everyone looking to compete and visit.

“The NUEL have got bigger at an extremely fast rate and have driven university eSports to a whole new level. We hope that they keep doing that – it really benefits us as it means there’s generally more interest in the country’s competitive scene.”


What kind of a difference is the event making?

Rob Mulgan: We hope the event is actually going well for the guests and they are having a good time, but really what we hope is happening is about inspiration. My time over the past few years doing this has helped me get further into eSports, and I’ve joined local company BetGame because of it (BetGame is helping to put eSports Manchester on the map) . This is the opportunity we want to give people, especially bringing in new blood for the scene and to get them into competing.
Also for society members we hope it’s giving them life skills for their C.V. and getting them prepared for when it’s their turn to plan KOTN in the next few years. Even with you coming here and interviewing us is really good as it shows we are getting good attention and shows people are motivated to get involved with eSports. Plus, we have never had an interview before, which makes it all the better.
king-north-warwick-uni-2016The University of Warwick won the Dota 2 King of the North tournament

Are there any other plans for the event that didn’t work out, or are coming soon?

Rob Mulgan: Originally we wanted banners to be in the first year but we couldn’t budget it up until now. The first chairman also wanted to have a crown of some kind hanging from the ceiling but a couple of realists like me and Chris just started laughing and told him to chill out on some his more ambitious ideas in a friendly way.
Still, he had some really good ideas and ambitions for the event that we wanted to work on but we haven’t been able to do so yet. Although some of the ideas we had at meetings will probably disappear when the new guys take over, but that’s fine since it’s their job from then on.

What’s next for the King of the North?

Chris Hargreaves: After this I am graduating and Rob isn’t part of the uni, as he’s going to work for BetGame, so we hope the guys and girls who become committee members after us are keen to keep King of the North going.
We have received as much help from everyone in the society as possible, so that when they become committee members or stay as members of the society, they have that experience ready to handle the event next year and so on.
Other events are going on around the country that do similar stuff to us and we feel that we are doing really good for ourselves in comparison. The only other UK organisation that is doing way better than everyone at the moment is the NUEL. They have got bigger at an extremely fast rate and have driven university eSports to a whole new level, especially with the GAME sponsorship not too long ago. We hope that they keep doing that, as it helps build up the whole of UK competition as a whole, which really benefits us as it means there’s generally more interest in the country’s competitive scene.
Rob Mulgan: We know at the moment we are very small in comparison to events that Multiplay and Epiclan have in the UK – and that is something we hope the King of the North aspires to be like someday.
At the moment we are growing steadily every year. In the first year we had around 200 people attend, in the second year we had about 320 people and now it looks like there has been about 500 people throughout the day – that is amazing for us.
We knew we had a chance at making this happen as during the first year we got those 200 attendees, and five Irish players even flew in to come and attend the first event. We hope more stuff like this happens to us as that will be really good for the event and it shows that our name is getting out there with who we are and what we do.
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