Hello everyone! Recently I had the pleasure of grabbing an awesome interview with one of the organizers of the StarCraft II World Championship Series UK Nationals, Luke Cotton. It was a great opportunity to find out what had gone into such a superb event and what the future holds for eSports, especially in the United Kingdom.
Luke works for Trifecta Media with Ben Woodward since 2011 and they are the guys behind the ESL UK franchise. Despite both having a busy University life and other work commitments they managed to produce a great weekend of Starcraft II action! Here is what he had to say:
Hi Luke, well done on your recent success at the StarCraft II World Championship Series UK Nationals, how was the event for you?
Thank you – I’m glad that people considered it a success! Personally, I’d say it was the most stressful thing that I’ve ever done but also the most rewarding and I was thrilled how it all came together. The response from the community and the turnout was incredible and I’m really proud to hear people say that it was the best ever esports event that the UK has had. Of course there were some setbacks along the way, but they’re all things that we can improve on for next year (if the tournament happens again and we are lucky enough to host it again, of course)!
Did you like the venue and did you feel it was suitable for the amount of attendees? If not, how do you feel in the future you could help make it more suitable?
BAFTA is a fantastic venue and their team did everything possible to accommodate us especially considering that we are not the usual clientele or the type of event that they’re used to running. Whilst it isn’t the biggest venue ever, we still smashed the attendance records of any events that had been held in the UK before, so I think it would’ve been the wrong decision to go with anything bigger than BAFTA for this event. Holding the event at BAFTA also gave an extra prestige to the event and having competitive gaming associated with BAFTA, albeit loosely, can only be a good thing for our industry. Going forwards I’d ideally look for a bigger venue for any similar StarCraft II event in future, but I’d be more than happy to host another event at BAFTA.
What was your highlight from the event in terms of game play? Any particular players you enjoyed watching?
I didn’t really get a chance to sit down and watch any of the matches in full over the weekend and I haven’t had the chance to watch back any of the VODs yet either. I caught part of the Winner Bracket Final between Ziktomini and JonnyREcco and it was great for them both to show that the UK players are able to play a high standard macro game rather than relying on cheeses which you so often see in ZvZ. I enjoy watching all the UK players play though and I can’t say that I have a favourite player to watch – I’ll be cheering on all of them on the international stage and especially our three representatives, Ziktomini, DeMusliM and JonnyREcco, at the StarCraft II World Championship Series Europe Finals in Sweden!
How many hours went into getting the event underway and did the event run as smooth as you initially wished for?
Ben and I had been working on this pretty much full time (whilst juggling ESL UK and our final university exams) for the past four months, so a lot of hours if you look at it that way! We had Sarah and Graham helping us a lot as the event drew closer too. We started setup for the event itself on Wednesday off-site where we installed everything onto the awesome PCs which Intel provided, then the branding went into the venue on Friday and we were in from 5.30am on Saturday morning to install the networking and AV. We had a lot of help along the way though, and there’s no way that we could’ve put the event on without people like quadV and our admin staff. We had a few hiccups at the start, although when the biggest problem is trying to avoid getting arrested for having 400 people queuing outside blocking Piccadilly, one of the busiest roads in the country, they’re problems that you don’t mind having – I think the local priest managed to get his congregation in for his Saturday morning church service eventually. There were a few technical issues too early on, although that was somewhat to be expected considering that this was the first event which we’ve done ourselves from scratch. I thought Sunday was phenomenal!
So do you have any plans to do more events in the future?
We don’t have any immediate plans to put on any more events, such is the nature of our business that we’re reliant on a client (be it a publisher like Blizzard for the WCS, or a sponsor) wanting to fully fund an event taking place. We’d love to put on more events though and are actively looking for partners to enable us to do so – we’ve been hoping to run a new ESL Pro Series in the UK for some time and hopefully now that we’ve shown what we’re capable of it might raise some interest, so whether it’s part of a pure “pro gaming” campaign involving an EPS, or something of a showcase involving competitive gaming at events like Eurogamer, we’d love to do more. We’ve often spoken about doing smaller competitive events at LAN centres without sponsors as a way to try and build up the local UK scene, but it always seems to be too cost prohibitive to do so (for StarCraft II more so than any other game with it being 1v1). If we can ever make the numbers add up so that it’s not going to cost us money then we would love to start doing a series of smaller events, so if there are any LAN centre owners out there reading this who love esports, have a suitable venue and don’t want an extortionate hire charge, then get in touch!
How do you feel the e-Sports scene in the UK sits in comparison to other countries? And do you feel there is anything you hope to see grow in the future and in what forms do you think that will take?
Honestly, I think that the UK is lagging a long way behind in terms of esports but has an incredible amount of potential. Events like iSeries are great for casual gamers, but there’s nothing for pro gaming like in other countries, such as the EPS in Germany. We don’t have a god-given right to have that support though, and I think that the UK scene needs a catalyst to kick start a proper pro gaming scene and drive growth. I really hope(d) that WCS would be that, and it has raised a lot of awareness and interest in the competitive scene, but we need SC2 fans to take a break from playing ladder for an evening each week and come and play in ESL UK Opens, then go and compete at iSeries, as that’s what makes the people with the money take notice.
On a positive, the British StarCraft fans have shown that they are up there with the best of any European country. The atmosphere at WCS was electric, especially the times when you couldn’t hear Tastosis over the crowd because they were so loud – that’s insane. We had people queuing from 7am for a midday entrance, which is unheard of in any other country. The Barcraft scene, where I think that the UK is a long way ahead of other European nations, especially with London Barcraft, is really important at creating this spectator mentality.
When you look back to previous UK esports events, especially in London, such as Intel Friday Night games (where ESL had to offer free drinks for people to come and still didn’t get anywhere near the turnout of WCS UK) or a plethora of international CounterStrike tournaments which had next to no spectators, we didn’t have that community at all. I could put on an event in London tomorrow (for StarCraft II at least) and people would come and support it: I think Barcraft has created that mentality and that level of grass roots support and way of getting new people involved is fantastic.
I want to see the whole esports scene grow, and I don’t think there are really separate parts that can grow without the others. Firstly we need people playing in esports competitions at all levels (amateur, semi-pro and pro), the amateurs and semi-pros willing to watch their local pros compete online, and especially go to any pro events, and then of course we need more funding – but that won’t come until the other things are in place. Esports organizations need to work together to do that; we would like to work with people (and do work with some, like Multiplay) who on paper would be a competitor of ours for the “Competitive Gaming Pound” because we realise that the market right now is way too small for anyone to be sustainable in the long term (with the possible exception of Multiplay, because most of their revenue isn’t directly driven by professional gaming). It annoys me that some companies would rather fight for the scraps rather than try to work together to grow the whole scene so that everyone can prosper.
Do you have any additional comments for us or the fans?
I would like to thank everyone who came to BAFTA for the StarCraft II World Championship Series United Kingdom Nationals – the crowd was awesome and it was truly a pleasure to be a part of it. The response we got to the event showed to me how far esports in the UK has come since I first got involved six years ago. Also to apologize to the many people who I didn’t get the chance to have a proper conversation with at the event, if there’s a next time hopefully things will be less frantic! I shouldn’t forget the people at home watching either, thank you for tuning in and especially for your tweets – it was great to get #sc2wcs trending in the UK (a first for getting anything esports related trending in the UK before I believe). The biggest thanks have to go to TwitchTV, PNY, Tt eSPORTS, Intel and most of all Blizzard for allowing this event to happen and giving the UK our moment in the spotlight – hopefully we’ll have another chance next year!
So all in all eSports is now one step closer to domination in the UK thanks to these guys! And I would personally like to thank them for such a well done job! If you wish to thank them personally or want to see what the guys are up to then I strongly recommend you go check them out at http://www.esl.eu/uk/ and personally check out Luke Cotton on Twitter at his account: http://www.twitter.com/LukeCotton He is an awesome guy and well worth a follow. He has always taken time to answer any questions and these guys will do anything for eSports so if you have a plan, these are the guys to chase!
I hope you enjoyed this interview and now have a little inside knowledge on the effort that goes on behind the scenes of Starcraft II events which sometimes will get over looked!
Many thanks; this is Mike ‘Zen’ Waller! Over and out!