Esports business conference ESI Birmingham takes place this week (Thursday May 24th) one day before the UK's first Dota 2 Major kicks off.
We chatted to Sam Cooke, MD and co-founder of esports business publication and organisers of the conference, Esports Insider, to find out more about it, what to expect from ESI London later in the year and how he feels the industry is developing.
Esports News UK: Please tell us a bit about ESI Birmingham and the top talks to look out for.
Sam Cooke, Esports Insider: So we have six sessions in total, which includes four panels and two keynotes. The keynotes are from ESL UK and Intel, and the second a group from PwC. This is the first time PwC have been properly involved in an esports event so we’re delighted to have them on board sharing their sizable expertise on how to further professionalise the industry.
Intel and ESL meanwhile meanwhile have, I think, the longest running and most established partnership in esports, so this one should be well worth listening to!
Elsewhere we have panels including a focus on the UK as the ‘land of opportunity’, one on everybody’s favourite question; ‘Where is the revenue?’, and others on fan demographics and the importance of the grassroots community.
We’ve some fantastic speakers lined up, and moreover ones you don’t so often find at these sort of conferences. The likes of Dr. Florian Block from the University of York, Jon from epic.LAN, Malte who is Head of Esports at MTG, Jagex, Heaven Media, QLASH, Hugh Holland and more.
In short which are the talks to look out for? All of them. We spent a lot of time constructing these panels and making sure they’ll be both engaging and informative from teams of people that know what they’re talking about.
What's it like to have this event running alongside the UK's very first Dota 2 Major?
Having our conference tied in with the historic moment that is the UK’s first major. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. We’ve loved working with the ESL UK team who I’ve no doubt are going to pull of an excellent event and ‘do the country proud’.
"There are lots of companies looking to jump into esports but there are also a number of people claiming expertise and guidance where perhaps they’re not best suited... and this is dangerous for the industry as a whole"
In an increasingly fast-paced and growing industry like esports, how important is it for the industry to have access to networking events like this?
Of course I’m going to say this, but it’s vital.
Esports remains an emerging industry as you said, and with this fast growth, inevitably come growing pains. There are lots of companies looking to jump in, another huge brand in DHL has just announced a new partnership with ESL for instance, and this is great. But there are also a number of people and companies claiming expertise and guidance where perhaps they’re not best suited... and this is dangerous for the industry as a whole.
This is why we were delighted by the recent news of sports and entertainment agency CSM signing with Paul Chaloner and co’s Code Red Esports Agency. They’ll ensure a lot more brands enter in the right way.
We construct our events with the purpose of connecting the right people and maximising their networking opportunities, as well as ensuring they hear from the best in the business. It’s important for us too that they learn about esports and get excited about it as well. This is an entertainment industry after all.
We also look to help esports stakeholders across the board, anyone from teams, to tournament organisers to start-ups. This is why we’ve run the Forum Series at the Fnatic Bunkr in the past, and why at ESI London in September (18-20th) we’ll be hosting a number of workshops alongside the panels and debates. We also run some pretty fun networking after parties...
Who is the event for? I know there are some grassroots orgs who would like to attend but balk at the ticket price, but it's not really for those guys, is it? I think it's important the UK community understands it's an industry-focused event, and the importance of such a thing…
Exactly. So this is more geared towards any brand or company that is interested in learning more or getting involved in the esports space, and likewise, any established esports stakeholder that wishes to connect with them.
In terms of big brands, we have the likes of Microsoft, Asus, Intel, Vodafone, EE, Razer, MSI, Bafta, Dixons, the Premier League and more attending ESI Birmingham.
We do our best to support the grassroots too, we held the ESI Forum Series last year and tickets were a mere £15, food and drinks included. At our upcoming ESI London event, which will be the biggest esports business conference of the year, we will soon be announcing a Start Ups Rate so we aim to encourage those orgs and grassroots teams to come along too.
We’re always happy to help where we can too, so anyone in need of advice can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m not sure how much help I’ll be but I’ll do my best...
"Take your time, do your research, learn the differences between the games and genres, and know, as clearly as possible, what you want to get out of esports before you make any proper move"
For those who can't attend, how can they keep up to date with updates and developments from the show?
We are getting videos produced both of the event as a whole and of the panels too, and these will become freely available via our YouTube post-event and pushed across our socials.
With esports still in growth mode, more businesses are looking to get involved, however with cowboy consultants around, one wrong move and companies can be put off investing in esports. What are your thoughts on this, and how important it is for companies to get the right information and knowledge?
Exactly. So as I mentioned earlier, this is one of the main reasons we do these events to help fuel the growth of the industry as a whole and steer it in the right direction.
I couldn’t agree more about the cowboy consultants and so it’s events such as these which is where we can all band together to ensure no brand, company, or more importantly person for that matter gets taken advantage of.
We are seeing a lot more agencies helping fight the good fight too, as I mentioned Code Red, and there’s also the likes of Hugh Holland which has just signed a deal with Nodwin Gaming and is one to watch out for.
When it comes to PR too, shout out to Swipe Right, they’re UK based and do some excellent work. The importance of PR being done well, especially with the ongoing and seemingly endless tide of poorly researched mainstream media coverage of esports generally, is sizable.
What's the one piece of advice you'd give to businesses looking to get into esports, and in grassroots UK esports in particular?
Take your time, do your research, learn the differences between the games and genres, and know, as clearly as possible, what you want to get out of it before you make any proper move. It’s important to, talk to as many people as you can, and don’t be afraid of asking a ‘stupid’ question. There’s no such thing after all.
Esports Insider has grown to a reputable trade publication in esports over the past few years. What are your thoughts on the esports media landscape and the changing role of journalism, and how important it is to have sites like this?
Kind of you to say so Sir. For sure, it’s hard work, it’s extremely difficult to monetise editorial journalism these days and more so with such a niche coverage like the business of esports.
We think it’s important which is one reason we keep doing what we do, and will continue to going forward. We are looking at diversifying our media a little, expect to see a lot more video incoming in the not too distant future and maybe some more surprises.
"We are looking at diversifying our media a little, expect to see a lot more video incoming in the not too distant future and maybe some more surprises"
Are there any scoops you can give us on the upcoming ESI London event?
It’ll be the biggest esports conference of the year in numerous respects. We are now looking at over 50 speakers across more than 12 sessions, an exhibition space and interactive zone with over 15 exhibitors, more than 400 in attendance, and networking parties across three evenings including a closing party at the Natural History Museum.
There’s a marketing ploy about making history in there somewhere which we’re working on...
Thanks Sam and keep up the good work! For more esports industry news check out Esports Insider.
ENUK's Craig Robinson will be reporting from ESI Birmingham tomorrow so check back for updates.