Esports has changed – my thoughts on the latest org to leave the UK scene behind

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ENUK editor Dom Sacco pens an opinion piece on esports org NerdRage ceasing operations in the UK, and why they’ve decided to instead focus on EU in the future is a warning.
I was saddened to receive a series of messages over Skype the other day confirming that NerdRage was about to call it quits in the UK scene.
The org have in my opinion made a decent impact within UK esports over the past year or two. They have a decent brand, put together effective rosters, made good headway in several games and came pretty close to taking the League of Legends ESL Prem crown on a couple of occassions.
Rupert “Rudiak” Cary and Paul “Despise” Barcz put a lot of effort and passion into building this org, while managing to avoid drama (or at least handle it very effectively) and just crack on with things.
There was something very real and genuine about them. Nobody’s perfect, and there’s nothing easy about making an org work in the UK, as I’m sure you will all know. To me, NerdRage were one of the good guys in this scene, and it is sad to see them go, especially this suddenly. But that’s not why I’m writing this article.

An impossible task?

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I’m writing this as a reminder that, yes, there isn’t much to gain from UK esports. I say that not to sneer or be dismissive – I’m being realistic. We all know it’s super difficult to make a career out of esports.
At the moment the UK scene can be a fantastic stepping stone to greater things. Maxlore, Medic, Grievance, Gorilla, Alphari – just a handful of players, casters and coaches that have plied their trade here and gone on to join huge organisations and tournaments around the world. They are in sustainable positions now, but not long ago were doing this for much smaller amounts of money.
You can have all the passion, time and love for esports in the world. But pumping your own money into something that can be very difficult to garner a decent return is not sustainable – not over a long period of time anyway. I’m not saying don’t chase your dreams, just look at why orgs like NerdRage are walking away and learn from it.
They said in their announcement post: “We have had ups and downs over the years in both the European and UK gaming scenes but have decided that there is little benefit in pursuing UK esports currently, and will be parting ways with all line-ups and sponsors associated with the brand.
“This isn’t necessarily the end for NerdRage’s esports teams as we will look to return to the EU scene at a later date and pursue activities to strengthen the brand in the meantime, but under a different banner to our current approach.”

Some UK orgs have made a damn good go of it – I’m thinking orgs like xL and Team Infused who have got it commercially right. But they are the exception.
Another org owner DMed me on Twitter after NerdRage’s announcement. They made the point that despite NerdRage’s effort, a lack of sponsors or a solid and successful commercial plan can spell disaster.
We’ve been here before: ManaLight folding is a painful reminder that orgs can’t survive without sponsors and funding. Then there’s Choke Gaming, who have never been the same since this. And many others.

Esports has changed – grassroot orgs’ halcyon days are over

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The anonymous org owner I spoke to made another great point: There are too many orgs. The UK/grassroots esports market is simply oversaturated. Much like streaming and YouTube.
I know PC hardware businesses who receive hundreds of emails every week from different streamers and esports teams looking for sponsorship. It’s not sustainable. To truly set yourself apart (and succeed) in a sea of super-dedicated gamers who want to make a career out of their passion is now almost impossible at this level.
You need numbers, you need content, you need fans, you need great marketing, branding and sound business knowledge as well as people skills.
The halcyon days of Fnatic and Team Dignitas setting up from scratch and growing as the industry grows are over. Back then, they were doing something many others weren’t. They’ve had time to grow their brands, to win tournaments, to make history. To be there when esports exploded – right place, right time. And that’s not to take anything away from them, they worked damn hard. Extremely hard. And they’ve deservedly got their rewards now.
But esports has changed. Everyone is doing this now, so if you want to make it from the grassroots without major investment you better make damn sure what you’re doing is amazing, different, bold and creative compared to everyone else.
It saddens me to admit it, but NerdRage’s decision to move away from UK and focus on EU makes sense.

Keep an eye on the big players

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There are so many traditional sports clubs, brands and investors getting involved with esports now at the top level.
In many ways, this is great for the industry: more money coming in, more jobs, more opportunities.
But with the rise of this mega investment and franchising, there is less space for the grassroots guys. Yes, they can get snapped up by a big brand, but growing your own org from scratch is a lot harder. I love those underdog, homegrown success stories. I just don’t think there will be as many of them going forwards.
There’s one thing the org owner said to me that really stood out: “I worry that without significant investment that in the next 12 months, we will all become irrelevant as more and more sports clubs get involved.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if in two to three years the grassroots scene is massively impacted by this.

There’s life after esports

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I want to end this article with a reminder.
Something timely appeared in my YouTube feed the other day: a video by Richard Lewis on the notion that it’s okay to quit esports.
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite and a wet drip saying this, but there are more important things than esports. Health, family, wellbeing.
It’s not the end of the world to take a break, contemplate refocus, take a different perspective or just leave behind a situation that is stressful or one that has become unfulfilling.
This tweet from NerdRage’s co-owner Despise is simple but has an important message. I think we’d all do well to remember it.

Image source: Riot Flickr

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