The UK Scene – What to look forward to in 2016?
Earlier this month, I had taken to the r/csgouk Subreddit to give a small recap on 2015 and what successful things had been achieved within the UK Scene from events, to teams, to prize money etc etc. I ended up getting an angry Adam “Blanks” Heath on my doorstep wondering why I hadn’t taken to UKCSGO.com to display my thoughts and make it into an actual article. Since Angry Blanks has been subdued with a lovely gesture (I gave him a free MaccyD’s and he soon shut up), I thought of something to relate to my said post (which you can read here) and perhaps make it into a two parter.
The reason I had taken to the CS:GO UK Subreddit (and subsequently posted it on the CS:GO UK Facebook page) was because I had felt slightly guilty that for the last God knows how many months, we hadn’t really got everything we wanted in place for the subreddit, and whilst it is still fairly active, it is lightyears behind what the Facebook page currently offers, and is still massively unfinished (as in it’s still a work in progress).
A lot of what I covered in my original subreddit post was around recapping 2015, so this article is designed to make you think about what is in store for 2016 and the many expectations of our nation this year. Let’s be honest a lot happened last year for UK CS:GO, and the growth we have seen has been an absolute beast in just this country alone. Back in 2014, epic.LAN was struggling to gain more than 6 teams for it’s events, we are now seeing extra demand to be at our events with teams stuck on the waiting list for our February event. We’d struggle with getting more than 100 viewers for our matches, at ESL UK Premiership S2 Finals in October, we set the record for ESL UK with 32,000 concurrently watching on the Twitch channel, and the seats were jammed packed all weekend live at the event.
So what can we truly expect for 2016? I will try to break it down into three different areas for people to read on, including offline event specific, online event specific, and the scene in general (including the prize money, more sponsors, more mainstream coverage and additional content).
Offline Events of 2016
Already the event calendar seems to be busting at the seams now, as we enter a year where Multiplay announced insomnia Ireland & insomnia Scotland, and MCM recently announced GamerMania which will be held in London as a LAN event. This will be on top of the ESL UK Premiership LAN Finals, epic.LAN events and the standard Multiplay insomnia events. This doesn’t include the potential for any other event organisers like Gfinity or Dreamhack to add additional stops to their calendars, or hell even ESL to host an IEM/ESL One here albeit very unlikely.
The online portion of events too are obviously increasing for 2016, with newboys JGL on the block, GAMEFACE consistently about, and of course ESL UK and any events they potentially run. I will of course cover these in my next article around the online side of 2016.
ESL UK Premiership
Peter and James of ESL UK recently announced that going forward into 2016, there would be three seasons of the ESL UK Premiership, with the re-branded EPS, it was incredibly successful last year and of course it should have the potential to grow this year. There has been growth internally at ESL UK and all fingers point towards a cracking year. There are of course big questions revolving around ESL UK, especially with what events they will pick to partner up with this year, but one would imagine that the MCM partnership which was good to them in 2015, will continue to flourish, especially as there is a lot of crossover in the respective comic book and gaming industries.
The other question would be around prize money, and whether we see a substantial increase, considering ESL UK were quick between Season 1 and Season 2 to increase the prize pools we will likely see a further bump of the prize pools. Ideally I’d like to see a £15,000 prize pool, with the LAN Finals being bumped up to £10k and the rest spread accordingly through the Group Stages & Promotions as we saw in Season 2 of the UK Premiership. That way you help the scene grow, and give some extra teams a bigger share of the pie, whilst keeping the LAN Finals the ultimate goal to look forward to for all teams involved.
The final part of the jigsaw puzzle, is really how do teams qualify for the ESL UK Premiership, the cups were good, but often it doesn’t reward the right teams into the Promotion’s tournament as we saw EZSKINS fall to United Estonia last season prior to the Promotions tournament. There was of course a tease of getting the re-branded A-Series back under a new format called “The Major Ladder” but nothing really happened, one would hope that we could see this format return in the near future, because the ESL A-Series 1st Division and Open Ladder in Counter-Strike:Source were very rewarding for the scene as a whole, because the 1st Division gave websites such as UKCSGO content to put out on a weekly basis outside of the League Stage for UK Premiership, and also gave upcoming casters a chance to highlight themselves. It also made the scene a lot closer in terms of skill as people tried to make it into EPS back then. We really need that back in the scene, even if it underwent a series of changes to make it better for the scene today.
The LoL announcement comes on January 15th, and I’m pretty confident that CS:GO will see it’s announcement sometime after.
Of course, the jewel in the Open LAN Circuit is iSeries (or insomnia LAN events), the move to NEC in the latter stages of 2015 really paid off for them, it gives them the best way to expand their event for both the LAN side of it, which many have felt they have neglected over the last couple of years, and the exhibition side of it (which as we would understand brings them a lot of money). They were also bought by GAME last year who seem really keen on pushing both iSeries forward and helping eSports grow, with the many job positions they seem to have in just their eSport division currently.
The CS:GO side of iSeries has got better, although it always seems to have the occasional set backs, be it whether Clanforge decides brackets need to be done in a unique way or whether their tournament system (brand new) decides to not produce a good enough group stage (insomnia56), and thus resulting in admins having to resort to Google documents and the way of excel spreadsheets to run their tournaments from. The biggest addition to the CS:GO side of iSeries was indeed the server side plugin which enables teams to pick captains, do vetoes and record GOTV demo’s without them going corrupt. It has helped the admin team keep tabs on all the matches go on in a far better way than using HLSW and giving rcon out to all teams. The really nice step that iSeries could do with their plugin is give sites like UKCSGO access to statistics from the matches so we can give a clear indication of what players are on fire.
That isn’t the only positive steps for iSeries. Last year we saw the European scene finally come back to the UK soil and back at iSeries, it’s been a long time, but we got there, and if iSeries can keep on perhaps mounting their prize pools and perhaps re-introduce online qualifiers for teams to win free tickets to iSeries, we might see a lot more hustle and bustle from the European scene. One can only hope, as this would in turn help our scene get better on an international stage.
Christmas is usually the time for people to buy their loved ones presents and not have any money for the luxury items in life, however epic.SEVENTEEN managed to sell out on Christmas Eve, and thus meant that no more tickets could be purchased. It was a record for epic.LAN to sell out 2 months in advance, it is usually something we see when we are sitting at the bar on the Wednesday night as a team preparing to set up the event next day. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but the CS:GO community has finally rallied behind epic.LAN which is something fantastic, and I know others on the epic.LAN Management team are incredibly overwhelmed by that support.
The biggest thing to note, is that the attendance for epic.SEVENTEEN would right now break the current record set by Call Of Duty 4 (at epic.SEVEN) for the most amount of 5 man teams a tournament has managed at epic.LAN, and this is without some of the UK’s finest players. I would really argue, that epic.SEVENTEEN will be the most open LAN tournament we’ve hosted for a very long time, as there are only two or three big names in there including Team Infused, CeX and uFrag.
The biggest questions going forward really revolve around venue specific and whether there is additional space for epic.LAN to grow at the current venue, and whether there is actual demand for more space to be taken. It is a double edged sword, because of course, you need to be financially risking to increase capacity at the event. The venue itself can probably house around 1,500 participants if you take up the Sports Hall and then obviously the additional rooms to help (Portland, Fair Isle, Lakeside, Longstone, Bamburgh and many other rooms). The biggest issue of all is finances. Unsure whether people actually realise this, but epic.LAN doesn’t have cash to burn, there are stakeholders in the company who put in money to help make the events run as they do, all the management are volunteers, all the staff, are volunteers, and all the casters volunteer too. This is why epic.LAN needs sponsorships, and the catch 22 scenario plays out once again, the LAN isn’t big enough for big money to be splashed out because there isn’t enough footfall to guarantee a return on investment. It’s a grim picture when I lay it out like this.
The big thing of course is to keep on improving the LAN as much as possible, after the issues that happened last February around the internet, epic.LAN has taken control of the venue’s internet and IT services, and of course, there will be an additional line of internet being installed soon, hopefully by February. It’s a long game, but if epic.LAN keep seeing demand, then space will have to be taken, and we hope the event continues to improve.
Of course the other big thing to boot is the recent announcement that epic.LAN will be going to produce online content for gamers on Twitch, with a wide variety of content being produced which will include guest talk shows, DJ sets, and playing games generally. This will all kick off on January 18th, so make sure you get involved and watch. This endeavour will hopefully do an array of things, which will include increasing our online presence in between events, keeping epic.LAN relevant, and producing good quality content for a wide variety of people within the eSports scene.
This event was announced in September last year, an event which would be hosted by MCM and would have both an eSports presence through ESL and a LAN presence at the ExCeL Centre in London. The event would also include all the usual bits you would see at an EGX like event, with a massive exhibition, and game launches at the event.
However since the original announcement, there has been little follow up on whether this will actually happen this year, as there has been no fresh announcements of any kind. It would be great for those in London to have a LAN event to go to, as most LAN events like epic.LAN/iSeries decide to stay centrally because it’s ideal for all those people in North and South who head to these events. It’d also be interesting to see how another NEC type of venue would cope with a LAN event which would need the 24hr event specific instead of what we usually see at exhibitions in the UK (10am – 7pm ish).
This event has prompted epic.LAN to change epic.EIGHTEEN dates from the usual July slot, to an earlier June slot as to avoid any overlap between the events. Let’s hope Gamermania shows what it is capable of, and launches without a hitch, but no news since the launch does worry me slightly.
Here is another concern currently, this time last year, there had already been announcements regarding the plans for events from Gfinity in the wide world of CS:GO, but this year they have been curiously quiet on that front. We do know that Gfinity recently hosted Halo World Championships at their “Arena 2.0” so they are still kicking around, but there has been very little in terms of actual media coverage regarding CS:GO which they were very keen on getting involved in and helping progress.
They delivered better events last year, despite G3 in 2014 being an utter disaster, they had a much better showing throughout 2015, and many within the community feel that Gfinity can provide some of the better events on the CS:GO Calendar. If they continue on that path we could see them help shape a better future of the UK eSports, albeit they’ve been very reluctant to actually help foster the growth here on domestic soil. Yes they hosted a UK Championship which was for £5k, but they really didn’t put this out there and their treatment of it was rather lackluster compared to the events earlier in the year.
I get that the UK is inferior to Europe but it would be nice to see them, ESL, epic.LAN, iSeries all help contribute to the growth of the UK eSports market in a positive aspect instead of treating the UK eSports scene as an after thought. They could potentially be one of the few to actually help pioneer it here in the UK, they have a wealth of contacts with mainstream, and if they wanted, I’d think they could potentially fill a gap in the market something like the E-League which Turner are helping to bring to mainstream in America.
As it currently stands, this article is pretty beefy, so I will spread the remaining stuff over two more parts (depending on how much I actually write). Stay tuned to UKCSGO.com for all the latest news about the UK CS:GO Scene. Part two of this series will be expected in the latter stages of January, so keep an eye out for this piece.