As video gaming becomes increasingly accessible and ventures further into mainstream culture, it would seem only natural that eSports follow suit. One organisation keen to help this happen is The United Kindgom eSports Association (UKeSA), who organise and deliver gaming tournaments across many platforms and even more gaming genres – from sports sims like FIFA 09 to FPS shooters like Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare. On top of this, they are currently laying the foundations for GameOn!, an event that promises to set a new benchmark for UK video game expos.
Mike Benbenek is one of the figures at the forefront of this operation and was kind enough to enlighten us on what the future holds for eSports, why the entrance age needs to be higher and how gaming is comparable to sex in the UK… hit the jump to read the full interview.
Gamer Limit: First off, as is customary here at Gamer Limit, please give us a brief run-down of what UkeSA is all about and the Grand Finals that took place on June 20th and 21st.
Mike Benbenek: The UKeSA is a non-profit org that is looking to help create and grow relationships between all the different aspects of competitive gaming in the UK – media, teams, government and the players. The UKeSA Grand Finals were the culmination of the Season One leagues and tournaments that took place on Enemy Down. 40K in prize money was given away in 9 titles in around 20 events. The event was streamed live on the net with record numbers… in fact, we may have set a record for the most watched CSS game ever! Still waiting on confirmation of this though.
GL: What was it about UkeSA that interested you when you first joined the venture?
MB: I was heavily involved with XLEAGUE.TV – as both a presenter, producer and editor. I come from a television background and have always been looking to get involved in programming for gamers. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Because of my involvement in the numerous competitive gaming scenes and communities, plus my TV experience, Ray Mia asked me to be the UKeSA Press Officer and to help with community relations. Since then my roll has now evolved to include numerous other responsibilities.
GL: How far an impact and reach do you envisage eSports having in the future? Will they ever make the Olympics? And would you want them to?
MB: The Olympics? Probably not for a long time, if ever. However, there is no doubt that eSports will only continue to become bigger and better. Europe is slowly catching up to Asia and the States, it just takes the right combination of people. I think that for eSports to be taken more seriously by the mainstream, we need to raise the age of the average competitive gamer.
Currently, it sits around 16 but for it to become more marketable the age needs to be more like 20. In order for that to happen we need to get players and, most importantly, managers making a living from ‘pro’ gaming. Unfortunately, that is way off. Players still tell each other to “go f*** themselves!” at events. As long as that still continues to happen it simply isn’t going to grow. What sponsor would want to touch that?
GL: How does one become a pro-gamer playing in these tournaments?
MB: There are really only two players in the UK who I would consider true professional gamers – Chris Bullard and Zuccubus. Both play for Dignitas and both seem to make a decent living from playing games. Everyone else is an amateur or semi-pro. Getting involved in the community is simple – go to Enemy Down, the SGL, ESL, or one of the other European gaming league sites and sign up. Play matches, see how good you are, get better and go from there.
GL: With E3 just over, did you see or hear about anything new that could be a future platform for UkeSA competitions?
MB: Modern Warfare 2 was the big one. That game is going to be gigantic – Activision are expecting 11 million copies out the door by the end of the year… it took that last CoD title 7 months to get that many copies sold. The E-Sports scene is pretty set in its ways so getting new games is tough. Left 4 Dead 2 could be interesting along with the new Wolfenstein. After that, the big one is Starcraft 2. I feel sorry for Blizzard with the pressure they are under with that title.
GL: What do you think of Project Natal? Will it take off?
MB: I was blown away by it at E3. It really has come out of nowhere. I think that only certain games will work with it as most games really require some form of controller. Driving games will not work. FPS will not work – they barely work on the Wii. Multiplayer titles that work well are way off though in my opinion. The potential is there with Project Natal.
GL: Do you feel gaming is running the risk of isolating or locking out less able-bodied people with so much emphasis on motion control?
MB: Controllers will always exist. One of the reasons I love gaming is the accessibility it gives to gamers who are both able-bodied and those with disabilities. I think Nintendo and Project Natal will be missing a big trick by ignoring accessibility. Gaming is for everybody.
GL: Tell us what you have planned for GameOn! Now that you have a bigger audience to cater for at Earl’s Court.
MB: Our prospects are much bigger with the venue change. I can’t say who is doing what at this point by I can say that there will be some HUGE announcements over the next few months. We have so much more time to prep for this event which just means a bigger and better exhibition. The best parts of the event are still intact – the fact you can try games AND buy them. A perfect opportunity for both businesses and consumers.
GL: Can the UK compete with a showcase event such as E3, in terms of coverage and hype?
MB: No. The UK public just don’t support gaming like Asia and the States. Gaming is like sex here. Everybody does it, nobody talks about it.
GL: Does gaming need more TV coverage? Does it deserve it? An e-Sports channel to compete with “regular” sport, perhaps?
MB: Nah. TV is so 2000. Gaming belongs online. The streaming numbers for XLEAGUE content and for eSports events I’ve worked on have been much bigger online than off. TV is expensive and prohibitive. We just need to give TV budgets for online content. That would mean more shows, better interactive content and greater exposure.
Thanks so much for your time, we hope to be in touch again soon.