Kilkenny-based entrepreneur Trevor Keane has masterminded a new e-sports arena called the Celtic eSports League, focusing on a lucrative new genre that grew up around video games.
Trevor Keane is the founder of Sportego, a fan-engagement company building official apps and analysing fan and social data for clients including the British and Irish Lions, Bournemouth FC and West Bromwich Albion FC.
The Celtic eSports League, which has received the blessing of EA Sports, links top gamers with professional clubs from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales for a 14-round league.
E-sports is a huge growth area, and the Celtic eSports League is well positioned to grow and develop in the UK and Irish market.
‘On a global level, e-sports is big business, with 200m-plus viewers worldwide and a value of $900m’
– TREVOR KEANE
E-sports has evolved into a multimillion dollar business, where gamers – or those just interested in gaming – are tuning in to their devices to watch their favourite gamers battle it out in lucrative tournaments around the world.
As well as EA Sports, major game publishers like Activision Blizzard have stood up and taken notice of the popularity of gaming vlogging on YouTube, as well as the live-streaming of games on Twitch.
According to a PwC report entitled The Burgeoning Evolution of E-sports: From the Fringes to Front and Centre, e-sports generated revenues of $463m in 2016.
While defining e-sports as a sport is a controversial issue, e-sports is one of the fastest-growing gaming competitions in the world. It enables players and teams to take each other on in various real-time strategy, fighting, first-person shooter and multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) tournaments.
In 2013, Red Bull estimated that some 71.5m people watched e-sports worldwide.
Some e-sports tournaments have become physical events, such as the League of Legends World Championship, the World Cyber Games, the Electronic Sports World Cup and the World E-sports Games in China.
In September 2016, the Dota 2 tournaments saw 632 registered players share $86m in prize money, with 23 players winning over $1m apiece.
We spoke to Keane to get his take on the exploding e-sports space.
Tell me how the Celtic eSports League came about and why you think it would be a success on these islands?
E-sports is a fast-growing and evolving market. In some regards, there is an element of the wild west about it. We are seeing brands team up and leagues getting involved, often without clear strategies. The aim of the Celtic eSports League is to bring structure to this space, especially from a football angle.
In the last 12 to 18 months we have seen the likes of Manchester City, West Ham United, Wolfsburg, PSG, Schalke and Valencia dip their toes in this space without a consistent approach. West Ham, for example, have a FIFA player on their roster, while Schalke have a full e-sport division. Our aim is to work with football clubs that want to be in this space, providing them with a structure that allows them to learn more about e-sport and would offer gamers a competitive environment to play in. Time will tell how much of a success this will be, but there is certainly appetite in Ireland and the UK for competitive gaming.
We have spoken to a lot of gamers and there is an excitement about the platform we are offering. Ben Burnell is a player that sticks out for me. He is a Welsh man living in London. He is a fan of TNS Saints, the current Welsh Champions. His experience with the Celtic eSport League means that he now has the chance to put on his team’s jersey and represent his club in a competitive environment. It’s the modern version of Roy of the Rovers.
How big is the market for e-sport in Europe, and Ireland and UK particularly?
On a global level, e-sports is big business, with 200m-plus viewers worldwide and a value of $900m. From a European standpoint, the market value is $269m. The audience demographic is one that appeals to sponsors and media companies. They are tech savvy and more likely to subscribe to services like Spotify or Netflix than traditional mediums. 69pc of the European e-sports market is under 25, with the range going from 18 to 35.
In the UK, there is currently a massive surge in popularity. For example, the League of Legends world championship quarter-finals was a sell-out event in October, filling the Wembley SSE Arena. The event was also shown on the BBC, a first for them. Prizes at major e-sport events are on par, if not greater than, traditional sports.
The largest prize pool offered in the UK has been around £500,000 for the ECS Season One final held at Wembley SSE Arena. However, this pales in significance when compared to the 2016 Dota 2 Finals. The tournament had a prize pool of $20.1m, $9m of which went to the winners. For context, a player on a winning NFL Super Bowl team, for example, gets $97,000. Based on a 53-man squad, this equates to a total of just over $5m. A team that wins the Champions League will earn €15.5m.
Technologically, what kind of resources are going into the creation of the Celtic eSports League?
The Celtic eSports League is working with a number of partners to ensure we provide a quality product. Our main platform is Twitch, a channel similar to YouTube but predominately focused on gaming. Twitch is where the action takes place and where people will watch the live events.
To get that place we need to broadcast games. We have a multimedia team working on the content and broadcasting. All of the Celtic eSport League games are played on Xbox and we have to ensure that the players have the tools, such as Elgatos – essentially a streaming and broadcasting UBS tool – as well as headsets. We want to produce a quality product and learned a lot of lessons during the pre-Christmas e-sports cup. A new edition for the league will be in-game live commentary.
All games will have a highlights package produced. These need to be edited to a high standard and will be distributed via media partners including Dingit.tv. We are talking to two well-known publishers – one Irish – about creating exclusive content for them to promote the league.
In addition, during the initial phase of the league, we identified an opportunity to create a product that would increase the spectator experience. We are currently working with product designers on this with a view to introducing this tool in Q3 2017.
In terms of financial backing and sponsorship, who is supporting the creation of the Celtic eSports League?
The league is an initiative between Sportego and Geoff Wilson. Sportego is in the fan engagement space, working with clubs to strengthen their relationship with fans and brands. A lot of conversations Sportego had with clubs focused on e-sports as an engagement tool. However, the know-how and resources to engage with the e-sport market were not in the clubs.
Geoff meanwhile is a marketing consultant working with the likes of FIFA and FIBA. He has good knowledge of the e-sport market and we decided to partner and leverage our skill sets to helping innovative clubs move into this space.
The Celtic eSports League offers clubs the chance to essentially dip their toes into the e-sports space and to get comfortable with a new emerging sport. We have created a modern platform that follows the traditional football framework. The league is a round-robin event, where each person plays weekly over a 14-week season. The players are assigned clubs to represent and will play in their colours and wear their jerseys during games. The person with the most points at the end of the season wins.
The league is being funded in-house at present. We have worked to secure sponsorship to fund the prize pool and have recently signed a deal for content distribution with Dingit.tv. We are actively talking to a number of parties at present and hope to finalise additional sponsors before the start of the league.