How The UK’s West Midlands Is Putting Esports Front And Centre

The esports industry has gone from strength to strength in recent years, moving from being highly ridiculed to being widely loved. The growth of esports, and how quickly attitudes have changed, have led to tournaments for games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 going from peripheral events at the edge of the industry’s consciousness to major news stories where players compete for millions in stadiums filled with thousands of adoring fans.

With the industry continuing to make strides Great Britain is taking note, in particular the West Midlands. Already contributing a quarter to the country’s £7.16bn video games market in 2022, setting their sights on the esports market is a natural step for regional authorities looking to revitalise the West Midlands economy.

It’s for this reason that the region, represented by the West Midlands Growth Company, has signed a new landmark ten year deal this month with the Global Esports Federation to make the former industrial region the epicentre for esports in the UK.

The deal serves as the latest of many moves the region has made in an effort to lay the foundations for the area. In 2022, it was announced that this year’s Commonwealth Games, held in Birmingham, will be the first in the games’ history to include an esports Commonwealth Tournament. Furthermore, in 2020 Coventry University announced a strategic partnership with the Asian Electronic Sports Federation to further invest in esports.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street is a huge supporter of this initiative. In a statement on the West Midlands Combined Authority website, Street stated that he was “thrilled when we confirmed that the first ever Commonwealth Esports Championships would be staged this summer right here in the West Midlands and this exciting partnership with the Global Esports Federation showcases the scale of our region’s ambition – to be a global leader in what is the world’s fastest growing entertainment sector.”

The pandemic has been a key factor in this growing interest for both video games and esports alike. Heralding a new step forward into a more digital world, the pandemic turned our perceptions of what it meant to be a ‘stable industry’ on its head, demonstrating the need to invest in a diverse range of industries and forcing many regional authorities to think outside the box in the hopes of helping the region weather potential economic risk.

The West Midlands is not alone in placing bets on esports. Many UK regions are clamouring to cement their own position in this billion pound industry; in 2021 the first-of-its-kind esports studio opened in Manchester and in 2022 a National Esports Performance Campus in Sunderland was opened.

With any new venture however there are risks and the esports industry, though growing, brings with it a number of risks that any region looking to invest must be wary of. The growth has been major, sudden, and often unregulated. At GDC 2018, Frank Fields of Corsair described the industry as overhyped for the amount of investment receives. This risk is of particular concern when regional authorities look to it as the solution to growing unemployment, which is the case in the West Midlands region, with cities such as Birmingham reporting record high numbers of unemployment; one of the highest in the country.

Risks aside, if the West Midlands Growth Company continues to push for further investment this could mark a turning point in the region’s history. West Midlands areas like the Black Country, so called because of its industrial history, once thrived but have been left behind as technology has moved on. The last 40 years has witnessed the region’s economic and social decline.

The West Midlands region is in prime position to become the centre of the esports industry in the UK, and regional authorities see this. By making the West Midlands the epicentre of the esports industry it not only provides opportunity to those in the region but to other neighbouring counties as well who might normally have seen this pass them by if the industry was cemented in either a northern or southern region of the country. If it works, this could be one of the greatest things for the region not just from an economic standpoint but an educational and cultural one too, something long overdue for the region.

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