Skiing down a virtual slope or battling against gamers in Venezuela? Esports and gametech might look fun, but it could be the future for the next generation too with job opportunities and inward investment to boot.
Countries like Saudi Arabia want to level up as global esports players with plans to plunge £38bn into the lucrative industry, and IN4 Group’s founder Mo Isap hopes Greater Manchester could find itself on the leaderboard for esports with HOST’s new Gametech campus.
“For the last 10 years MediaCity has been the North’s, if not the country’s, major campus for digital, creative and entertainment media with the likes of BBC and ITV. What does the next 10 to 15-20 years look like? It’s not traditional filmmaking. It’s not the traditional BBC environment.
“If you look at gaming and esports, this is the next iteration of entertainment. This is where entertainment is moving,” Mo Isap, founder and CEO at IN4 Group, told Prolific North.
The IN4 Group is the operator of HOST (Home of Skills and Technology) at MediaCity in Salford, where you’ll find the Gametech campus. On a tour of the dedicated space for esports tournaments, training, education, broadcasting and live streaming, it appears to be a hub of activity. A group of school children have just left for the day but across a number of rooms there’s a handful of people live streaming, taking photos, or huddled together for a session in one of the gaming rooms.
“The whole esports and gametech space has exponentially boomed, the pandemic was a massive catalyst. It’s outstripping the traditional media sectors,” he explained.
But what has helped the “boom” in esports and gaming? It’s both the immersive, evolving world of gaming where the “world has moved on” and the Covid pandemic has accelerated the virtual world where more people interact online.
He believes the esports and gametech industry could surpass the traditional media sectors, with 3D creation tool Unreal Engine even influencing big budget shows such as The Mandalorian.
“It’s about the ecosystem, which is huge. The local universities have invested in esports degrees. There are studios here in Manchester developing indie games and smartphone games. There’s companies like Team 17, who are in MediaCity, one of the largest game studios.”
With often big operations behind esports and gametech, from production to branding and cloud engineering, there are ample opportunities for the region. But it all starts with nurturing the next generation with pathways into the industry.
“Once it’s boomed there’ll be places that will become centres of this. We might then just end up being just crumbs off the table. But if we do it now, we could be a global leader, we could attract inward investment of some of the biggest game organisations there is because they’ll see the talent,” he explained.
“How do we now do what MediaCity hasn’t been able to do with this investment? The BBC and ITV coming here and the convergence of this sector meant that jobs were created and around 10,000 people are working here. But when you then dissect that 10,000, you will see that there is a certain demographic still predominant.”
As Salford is still the 18th most deprived local authority area in England, he emphasised that there are “children and young people and adults and families who are today struggling to make ends meet” and that there is “global prosperity coming out of here, but going elsewhere”.
“Economically, this is massive. Inward investment, jobs, studios and productions will come from this world. At the same time, we now have to connect that opportunity to the people of this region.”
With the Gametech campus offering bootcamps, training and support and teaching programmes, he hopes this will be a driving force to cement careers in gaming and esports for those based within Greater Manchester.
“HOST is very much an investment by Salford City Council to drive economic and social impact for the city. The dichotomy with a lot of these initiatives and a lot of these economic investments is that there’s a lot of people who take benefit, but the majority of them are not from the local area. If we are going to make a true impact in terms of people’s ambitions, aspirations, but more importantly their pathway and opportunity, we’ve got to do things differently.”
“That’s why what we are doing at HOST and at IN4 Group is finding ways of how we can activate the interest of those individuals, particularly young people, to the future that they could achieve.”
From helping school children, college and university students to even career changers, the Gametech campus aims to train and educate people whether it’s through workshops or gametech bootcamps in Unity and Unreal to develop the next generation of talent.
There’s a tiered esports tournament space too, where game publishers can host competitions or professional esports teams can utilise the space to bootcamp.