For many years, the UK Esports scene was far behind the industry compared to countries like the US. However, the situation is changing. In 2020, the UK sector represented 8% of the global Esports market. The development of a gaming infrastructure in the country has promoted the emergence of the sector.
Platforms such as Red Bull and SideQuest have invested in venues in London. Other areas of the country, such as Sheffield and Liverpool, are also home to Esports facilities. As the infrastructure continues to grow, further expansion of the UK Esports sector will happen. This expansion is supported by the UK government but is leading to concerns about the regulation of the sector and the betting industry surrounding it.
UK Esports Sector On The Rise And Has Government Support
Although UK-based Esports organisation Fnatic has been successful since 2011, this success has been achieved with a non-UK roster. Recently, the emergence of Esports in the UK has been reflected by Into the Breach’s CS:GO success with a majority UK roster. UK players also feature more widely in top teams such as Fnatic, NRG, and Sentinels.
It’s certainly an exciting time for the UK Esports sector as it emerges from the shadow of the industry’s major players. The UK government recognises and supports the growth of Esports in the country stating that “Esports has the potential to develop as an area of real national strength in the UK.”
Concern About The Regulation Of Esports In The UK
As the UK Esports industry expands, some experts have expressed concern about the regulation of the industry itself and the betting activity surrounding it.
In terms of betting regulation, the UKGC has overall responsibility. The organisation, full name the UK Gambling Commission, regulates all casinos and sportsbooks that are licensed in the UK. Online providers that are UKGC licensed are part of the GAMSTOP scheme, which helps protect players from problem gambling. It’s worth noting that casinos not licensed by the UKGC are neither part nor protected by the gamstop scheme and have to follow their foreign license compliance for players protection.
The UKGC considers Esports to be on the same level as other sports and expects betting operators to adhere to licensing requirements for sports betting when offering Esports content. This expectation was detailed in a report issued by the UKGC following an engagement exercise undertaken in 2016.
At the time, concern was expressed about the potential for underage betting to increase due to the attraction of the gaming aspects of Esports for children. As a result, the UKGC emphasised the licensing requirement to confirm the age of anyone participating in sports betting.
The UKGC further enforced its position by taking action against the founders of FIFA virtual gambling website, “FUTGalaxy.com” for permitting underage gambling.
Continuing To Moniter
The organisation also continues to monitor the situation concerning betting and young people in the Esports sector. In 2022, it published its ‘consumer experiences and attitudes to Free Bets & Bonuses’ report. In this report, the UKGC discussed the annual growth rate of 8.5% in Esports betting between 2016 and 2019, which it mainly attributed to males aged between 18-24. The same report recognised that seven in ten gamblers were not aware of self-exclusion tools available.
So, the UKGC continues to monitor the situation regarding young people gambling on Esports and has reminded UK-licensed casinos and sportsbooks of their responsibility to engage with customers and promote safe gambling tools.
Outside of gambling regulation, there is no legal framework for Esports in the UK. Any regulation that does exist relies on individual organisations and Esports providers. UK bodies like the British Esports Association and global organisations like the World Esports Association and the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) all have a role to play in regulating Esports and banning players who participate in cheating, such as match-fixing.
Many Esports enthusiasts have expressed concerns about how effective this piecemeal approach to regulation will be as the sector expands. There is no intention to make changes in the UK right now, but this may change as Esports becomes a more mainstream activity.