How Ireland's growing Esports scene is building a lasting legacy

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How Ireland's Growing Esports Scene Is Building A Lasting Legacy How Ireland's Growing Esports Scene Is Building A Lasting Legacy
While the consumer market in Ireland has always been strong, the competitive side of gaming has been slower to develop. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
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Kenneth Fox

Ireland is not only a hot bed for gamers, but also home to some of the biggest gaming publishers in the world.

Electronic Arts (EA) have a studio in Galway, while Riot Games and Activision/Blizzard both have studios in Dublin.

The consumer market in Ireland has always been strong, but the competitive side of gaming has been slower to develop here. The United States, South Korea, China, Sweden and Denmark all lead the way. However, Ireland has been making strides to change that in recent years.

Trevor Keane, co-founder of Epic Global Agency told BreakingNews.ie: "Ireland is a growing market, if you look at the last few years, we have gone from a grassroots scene to now having teams like Munster Rugby Gaming (MRG) and Nativz based in Dublin who both compete in League of Legends."

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Epic Global Agency helps Esport players get their foot in the door as well as create commercial strategies for teams.

Having infrastructure in place which fosters talent is crucial, and sadly that is one of the main areas where Ireland is falling behind.

“We are trying to create a pathway for Irish gamers. We are looking to do an Irish league based on Valorant which would then feed into the UK league.

“That is what needs to happen more and more, create the infrastructure in Ireland that will feed into other ecosystems," he says.

There are around two million gamers in Ireland across all spectrums, and it is estimated there around 700,000 Esports enthusiasts.

DreamHack Atlanta 2018 attendees compete against each other in the game Counter-Strike. Photo: Chris Thelen/Getty Images

Another issue which Keane highlights is the lack of coverage of Esports in general compared to other sports.

"We haven't seen the same coverage of Esports in the national media like you would with other teams. You don't see Irish players or teams on the news when they win.

Academy systems

"In the UK you have the likes of The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) who are a gaming body, and you have Digital Schoolhouse which is a pathway into the sport."

Esports is closely linked to STEM learning in the UK, so people are exposed to it at a very young age. Gaming can often be a tool to help people learn skills such as teamwork and communication.

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While rugby and soccer have academy systems to nurture young talent, Esports is no different and while individuals can succeed on their own, having those systems in place will help Irish Esports in the long run.

That was something Enda Lynch, head of enterprise at Munster rugby, was aware of when he decided set up an Esports team as a way to expand the Munster brand.

The idea stemmed from needing to create other revenue streams beyond just success on the rugby pitch or ticket sales. After going to a network event in the US with major sporting brands like the News York Mets and Yankees, the idea of an Esports team came about.

While some of the biggest sporting brands like PSG and Barcelona have pumped money into their Esports teams, Lynch was aware that to get the respect of gamers, you need to earn your stripes. Photo: Ben Hoskins - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

"I came back from that event enthused, and I started looking into our own data. It is the same for all live sports, TV audiences are ageing, and younger people digest sport very differently.

"We wanted to add longevity to the brand and try and capture a younger more tech-savvy demographic."

The question was, what game to focus on? But also how to build a team? They settled on the most popular Esports game League of Legends, which is as a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game.

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Teams of five face off against each other to earn kills and take over the other teams base.

While some of the biggest sporting brands like PSG and Barcelona have pumped money into their Esports teams, Lynch was aware that to get the respect of gamers, you need to earn your stripes.

"We set the team up during the pandemic, and we said we are not going to come in with money overnight that Munster don't have. We have to graduate up through the leagues and gradually build our sponsorship and commercial base."

The ultimate goal for MRG is to have a residential programme where they have their players on a campus like they would with their rugby team.

The 2 Johnnies playing with Munster Rugby Gaming

Due to Covid-19 they have had to slow down their plans, but it played into an approach of building up their team and fanbase at a steady rate.

They compete in the Northern League of Legends Championship (NLC) which consists of teams from the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland.

Organic growth

While others teams have come and gone, from buying their way into Division 1 and not setting a foundation, MRG made a conscious decision to stay in Division 2 and build organically.

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As Lynch put it:

We are not in it for the boom or bust, we have commitments to player salaries and we want to do things the right way.

One of the most important elements of Esports beyond pure skill is the mental component. Players are competing as a team with a huge amount of pressure on them.

MRG brought on board Esports psychologist Kate O'Keefe who has worked with some of the best League of Legends players in the world.

One of the bigger issues in competitive gaming is what is known as 'titling', where a player goes off script when things go wrong, and it negatively effects their performance and their teams.

"Already we have identified two players that have issues taking feedback, and she is working on that with them. It fits into our ethos, as we want all players that come to us to leave better players," he says.

Even though they are keen on branching out to other games, Lynch says they are a "family-friendly" brand and stray away from first-person shooter games like Call of Duty or Valorant which have more toxic communities.

As Lynch says: "We have had players in the past that didn't fit with our ethos, so we didn't renew their contract. It is that simple."

A screenshot of MRG playing League of Legends

Their team itself is a melting pot with a mix of nationalities and personalities. As Lynch says: "We have our lead player Ronan 'Chemera' Stewart, and he is the highest rated player playing under the Irish flag.

"We also have a Fin, a Swede and a Dutchman on our squad as well. Our coaching staff is also a mix of people from the UK, Sweden, Germany and Ireland."

Communication can be difficult with some many nationalities, but having a player and coach from the same country mean they can bounce off each other if they hit a roadblock.

While the likes of MRG and Nativz are striving to make a name for themselves in the NLC, at the same time they are blazing a trial for future Irish Esports team to succeed.

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