In-depth interview with CTRL Esports, the students running an esports organisation while studying at Queen Mary’s College: ‘We are doing something we all believe in’

CTRL Esports at EpicLAN
CTRL Esports are a grassroots UK esports organisation set up by four teenagers who study the Esports BTEC qualification at Queen Mary’s College and also work at Guild Esports. Their tutor Nik Turner has been so impressed by their work, his company NTesports agreed a two-year sponsorship with CTRL, an org that have also partnered with the likes of HP and Intel.
The org, who compete in Rocket League, Fortnite and Valorant, have also won a Rocket League event at Bett show, and recently participated at Epic.LAN, with Insomnia around the corner. Dom Sacco asks CTRL Esports management Will Holman, Ben Gregg, George Lewin and Harry Lunn about their story so far and their plans for the future.

Running an esports org as students must be a challenge. What’s it been like so far? 

Ben: While it has been challenging directing a company as well as trying to maintain our work in and outside of college, we are doing something we all believe in which helps us to push through and ensure we are putting out high quality work in both workplaces.

While we prioritise our college work, it does not affect our ability to keep CTRL Esports up to date and the people within CTRL make the team what it is. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of things that we have been able to do.

It has been an amazing experience and journey with everyone that has been with us and we can’t wait for what is to come.

What sets CTRL Esports apart, what are your aims and your ethos? 

Harry: We take a unique approach to esports as we are young with fresh minds when it comes to running our team. Some of our aims are to not only create a tight knit community that supports and back each other within the UK scene but to excel and do well.

Our aim is to be able to provide up and coming esport talent and give them a platform to fulfil their wishes of becoming an esports professional. We are on the chase to that goal where we can do that, but at this moment in time we are incredibly happy with who we have in the team, what we have and how well we are doing. 

Tell us about your new Valorant roster and your experience at Epic.LAN 38 recently.

George: Our experience is something that we hope we will never forget and nor will the players. As it was CTRL’s first LAN event with a team competing under our name, there was a lot of pressure to do well and make a good first impression for ourselves and the players themselves.

Our overall experience was super positive and we can’t wait to go again. The atmosphere, the vibes, the passion and the feel of being at LAN is something that will never ever get old.

In addition to the overall experience, talking to the other owners from the teams we were playing against is truly fascinating as we can see the differences [between teams]. They are all incredible in game and in person, meeting them all was such an honour.

Some of the experiences the players have gave us an advantage over the others as well, this is super handy when playing LAN. Our Valorant roster consists of Syd, Marky, JKG, MJT and our coach JHahak (Daki has just left). We did super well and came third in the Valorant tournament, winning money and taking home 350 Beacon Circuit Points, which is a great start for the new split.

With the first ‘real’ tournament out of the way, the guys are feeling incredibly confident going into future tournaments such as Insomnia 70 and online tournaments. 

CTRL Esports - Marky and Syd Valorant players
CTRL Esports Valorant players Marky (left) and Syd (right) get intimate at Epic.LAN

You also compete in Fortnite and Rocket League, tell us about your players in those games – and do CTRL Esports plan to move into other games in the future? 

Will: Our Fortnite roster currently consists of Ghxsty, Cobbix and BowTheG and our Rocket League roster consists of Berserk, Serve and Hodge. Our RL roster is the newest addition to the talented team. They recently competed in the RLCS qualifiers and got to day two of the tournament. This was a very impressive result considering the roster is brand new. They are looking forward to the i70 where they will compete for the main stage. 

Our Fortnite roster is made up of Bow, Cobbix and Ghxsty. They are all very talented players and they want to prove themselves within the Fortnite scene. BowtheG recently competed in a LAN tournament securing himself £325.

And Ghxsty also won a game in the Solo Victory Cash Cup winning $100 from an official Epic Games tournament.

Although we are not actively looking to expand into new titles, we are keeping our eyes open for upcoming potential teams for different games.

Tell us about Queen Mary’s College and what it’s like studying there. Are you all studying the Esports BTEC?

George: The esports department at Queen Mary’s College is incredible – we are all in our second and final year of studying the BTEC Extended Diploma and we will be the first group to finish the full time course at the college. 

There is a very good reason as to why we chose to study there and it’s open for everyone to see. Will travels over an hour every day and is on a train at a little after 6am to get to classes on time. The facilities are unreal at QMC, we have two fully furnished Yoyotech arenas with over 50 gaming PCs, there is a cafe area where we can watch live streams, a streaming/shoutcasting room, a yoga and pilates room and that’s just downstairs.

Upstairs we have a HyperX lab, another teaching space and I hear there are more rooms being developed in partnership with some major companies happening soon. We have really good teachers in addition to Nik. Stuart Folkes brings his esports industry experience into the classroom to deliver a range of subjects and this year we’ve also had a new teacher Darren Beasley join the team, and between them they really do have everything covered. 

Due to QMC’s position in the market we are very lucky to have lots of opportunities available to us. We are one of just a handful of colleges who are part of the Fnatic College Partnership which has been brilliant! 

This event raised almost £1,000 for charity

We also have regular contact and guest talks with a wide range of people from industry which is inspirational when you’re hearing about the industry we want to be part of. 

The BTEC itself is really good. It teaches us so much about the industry as a whole and we have been able to use that information to help inform the development of CTRL Esports and to make it sustainable. I also think that it teaches a much broader set of transferable skills that can be applied to lots of different industries and not just esports.

If you think that the BTEC is esports is just playing games all day, you need to think again! But we love it and will definitely miss QMC and the staff when we leave in the summer, but I have no doubt we will be back, hopefully doing guest talks to students in the future.

Your tutor Nik has sponsored CTRL Esports for two years via his Ntesports company, and you have also secured partnerships with HP and Intel. How have you managed to team up with brands like this, what is it about your org that you think has helped attract these brands? 

George: We’ve been incredibly lucky with the support we have received and that’s largely due to the opportunities that we have been given. Nik Turner has been an amazing pillar of support through our entire journey, from conception to the current day. 

Nik is one of our lecturers at QMC and his knowledge and understanding of the esports industry is second to none – his passion for esports shines through his teaching which continues to inspire us every day. 

Nik is our personal tutor and mentor and has helped us in a number of ways over the last couple of years way beyond the classroom.

“We had to pitch our enterprise as part of Unit 3 of the BTEC and after [our lecturer] Nik observed us he asked us all to stay behind, we thought we were in trouble! But Nik told us that he was so impressed with all of the progress and achievements we had made that he wanted to ‘put his money where his mouth is’ and sponsor us.” 

George Lewin, CTRL Esports

We gave him a figure which he accepted but then he offered us extra as he said we could have asked for more. That’s what’s great about Nik, he teaches us the reality of the business world but makes us find out for ourselves. His esports consultancy company have joined our other sponsors and also agreed to extend the deal for a second year which is great as it helps with stability and security, which can be difficult for any grassroots org.

In terms of HP and Intel, Nik and James Fraser-Murison [director of esports at Queen Mary’s College], who has also been incredibly supportive and helped with lots of opportunities, took us to BETT Global 2022 in March last year where we won the first ever Rocket League tournament on the esports stage with the British Esports Federation. 

Nik and James were talking on stage amongst other networking duties and once the day had finished we went to HP to pitch our org to a bar full of executives, which was very scary at the time and something completely new to us. 

The pitch went well and Jack Hinchliffe, SMB Education Lead, agreed a deal with CTRL Esports which included some fantastic laptops as part of our partnership, which enabled us to help to develop our business.

What are your views on UK/grassroots esports in general, what would you like to see change (and how can you help bring about that change)?

Will: Although it is a very competitive space, we at CTRL Esports feel that the grassroots esports scene consists of loads of passionate and hardworking individuals who want to pursue esports as a full-time career.

The grassroots scene is something that we feel could be more supported by sponsorships as even though small in size, grassroots teams tend to have strong communities as we have experienced first hand at Epic.LAN and Insomnia.

We personally love the inclusivity of the scene and how well everyone knows each other and how supportive some teams are with others, you don’t see much of this at the professional level. We aim to help change the path within the grassroots scene by creating a roster full of talent who are passionate for this.

CTRL Esports Valorant team at EpicLAN
CTRL Esports Valorant players Syd, Marky and MJT lean on JKG at Epic.LAN

Please tell us about your background and how you got into gaming before forming CTRL Esports.

Ben: I first got into esports when I got a PC for Christmas, I then started playing Valorant and I discovered its various tournaments. Ever since, I’ve been interested in more competitively played games. I had found my passion, which then led me to study esports at college and it has grown my knowledge exponentially. 

Harry: My initial interest in esports began from a very young age, as I’ve gamed competitively for most of my life. Through competing in tournaments I became more interested in esports, and once I learnt about the Esports BTEC on offer at QMC I knew that was what I wanted to do moving into higher education – and hopefully into a career.

Will: I have always been interested in games ever since the age of six, where my dad would let me play on his PlayStation. My interest in competitive gaming came when Fortnite introduced its esports tournaments.

I played in lots of Fortnite competitions but as I became more interested in esports, I found a passion for management so I decided to take the Esports BTEC where I learnt the key skills to create an esports organisation.  

George: My first introduction to esports was when I got a PS4 and started playing Fortnite back in the early days. As the game grew, my knowledge for esports did as well.

I saw these big teams like Ghost, NRG and Faze doing super well and I wanted to learn how and why they’re so successful. I saw there was an esports course here at QMC and was instantly interested as it could help me pursue a passion and it would allow me to understand esports as a whole much more.

What’s the future of CTRL Esports? What’s next in terms of your short term plans? 

Ben: Grow our content output and community, continue to partake in tournaments and grow our corporate connections.

We want to increase production of content to further push our brand and our players’ brands to the public as this is a great way to create a community as well as provide entertainment. Through content we are able to further develop our brand image as well as reach a new audience. We want to create an inclusive community where people are able to have fun as well as follow us as an organisation and our players. 

We want to carry on with how we are competing now, we are currently competing in three titles Fortnite, Rocket League and Valorant. As we progress as an organisation we are looking to keep entering as many tournaments as we can and work our way up through the different divisions. We also want to grow our presence in games like Rocket League with our new roster. 

“We take a unique approach to esports as we are young with fresh minds when it comes to running our team. Some of our aims are to not only create a tight knit community that supports and back each other within the UK scene but to excel and do well.” 

Harry Lunn, CTRL Esports

What about your longer-term goals?

To grow our sponsorships, to help further develop our company and to compete on the main stages of esports.

As an esports organisation one of the main sources of revenue would be sponsorship, so as we grow it is important we develop further sponsorships with global companies to help take our team to the next level. We have already attained sponsorship from the likes of HP, Intel, HyperX and SystemActive and have recently added NTesports to the list of proud sponsors we have. It is important to us that the sponsorship we acquire is meaningful as well as ethical and we only look for sponsorship from the companies that we believe in their products.

As we progress further and build more structure as an organisation we also want to work our way up through to the higher leagues. We are already implementing various different methods of training to ensure our players are getting the practice they need to climb into the higher leagues. As a student-run organisation it is important we help to nourish and develop the players we pick up, so we can ensure they are progressing in their esports career. 

Due to being student run, we don’t have investors and rely on monetisation to keep the organisation going, we get this from sponsors, jerseys, consultancy work and tournament winnings. However as we delve deeper into esports and grow as a business it is important we create as many ways of monetisation as we can. This would be done primarily through sponsorship which is why creating active social media profiles through content posting is so vital. 

Finally, as students we are always looking for options to get more experience and learn, so in the future we want to provide that to anyone who needs it by offering a range of internships and work experience programmes. It is important to us that we offer the same opportunities that we were lucky enough to have at our college (Queen Mary’s College) to others who are starting out in esports.

We are constantly looking for ways that we can make a change in esports as it is an industry we all love. 

Thanks to CTRL Esports for their time. You can follow CTRL Esports here.
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