According to the Just a Game? report published by YouGov in September 2017, four million British people (or 7% of the British population) have watched esports.

One-fifth (21%) of 18 to 24-year-olds in Britain have watched esports, explains the report, compared to just 1% of those aged over 55 years old. Moreover, 8% of Brits would be interested in watching esports again in the future.

While these figures may seem substantial when considering that competitive gaming as we know it today hasn't been around for very long, UK esports viewership pales in comparison to other regions.

The same YouGov report notes that, in the United States of America, one in eight (12%) have watched esports while one in nine (11%) in Germany have tuned in.

Even more impressively is that in China, one in four (45%) adults have watched esports, a figure that comes as little surprise when considering headlines that 126 million viewers in China tuned in to watch the final of the League of Legends 2018 Mid-Season Invitational.

Given the large disparity between the esports markets, it begs the question: why is esports struggling to take off in the UK? And moreover, what can be done to help the UK esports scene grow?

The Player Pipeline Problem

The lack of success of the UK esports industry is in part down to the systemic player pipeline problem. The reason why esports markets in places such as China and South Korea have been able to thrive is that of the huge proliferation of immensely talented players.

These homegrown talents lead to a snowball effect, as not only does it encourage more viewers in these countries to tune in, but it also encourages other, up-and-coming players to stick with or even consider esports as a viable career path.

In the case of the LoL 2018 MSI final - one of the primary reasons why it got so many Chinese viewers is because a Chinese team, RNG (Royal Never Give Up), was taking part.

The UK's esports player pipeline is stymied by several factors, with one major factor being the stigma that surrounds video games.

In an interview with the Daily Mail Online, British professional PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds player Michael 'hypoc' Robins explained that there is a massive cultural barrier preventing UK esports players from considering the industry is a viable career path.

"I think gaming still has the stigma of "it's not a real job" in the UK, especially in my experience," said hypoc, adding that "I have plenty of friends who called me crazy for quitting my job and doing this full time."

The PUBG pro also explained that "There's a hush-hush attitude with esports in the UK, and coupled with the reputation that British esports has got, we don't produce the big names. Because of that, there's not that local fanbase."

Though, hypoc feels that if local players are supported, are able to rise up and do well and larger tournaments come to the UK, then the scene will be able to grow.

The UK Needs Better Infrastructure

Another hurdle on the path to go pro is a technological, rather than a cultural problem. Specifically, the UK's poor internet speeds put it on the back foot when compared to other, esports-loving nations.

How can we expect British players to become as good as those playing in South Korea when the Brits are faced with astronomical levels of lag?

It is mighty difficult to counter a wombo-combo and to reach the upper echelons of a game when the combo has already been completed in the time it's being displayed on your screen.

According to Akamai's State of the Internet report, South Korea has the fastest internet in the world, averaging 28.6Mbps and there are plans to make 5GB and 10GB internet commercially available later this year.

Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands, six countries that typically dominate the European esports scene, have the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 9th, and 12th fastest broadband speeds, respectively.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is way down in 15th. Although the UK government has made efforts to roll out superfast broadband to more people, the region is still expected to slip further behind other countries in the coming years.

Lack Of Government Support

Speaking of the government, a lack of government support is considered another major reason why esports in the UK has been unable to reach its full potential.

To its credit, the British government has made some efforts to support esports in an official capacity. Most notably, in 2016, the government backed an esports initiative called the eGames which took place alongside the Rio 2016 Olympics.

But it's largely agreed that the government hasn't done enough, especially in comparison to other country's governments.

For example, the CDU, the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel previously made headlines when it included support for esports in its official party platform.

Other German political groups, including the competitor, the Social Democratic Party, also endorsed esports in their manifestos.

Many countries also have state-funded esports programs, with South Korea's Korea Esports Association (KeSPA) beginning life as a branch of South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, before being spun out to manage the country's esports efforts of its own accord.

British gaming and esports bodies, including UKIE, have outlined some key suggestions for the government, including developing a methodology in order to better measure the esports sector, include esports in the UK's gaming education programs, to deliver superfast broadband and 5G around the country, and to work with the industry to make appealing offers to major esports international tournament holders.

Why We Need More British Teams

With government funding and support, it would also give rise to more British teams, who will be able to work to foster British talent and put the UK on the esports map.

As mentioned, there is a player pipeline issue but by forming British teams, we could potentially see a groundswell of support.

For instance, the Overwatch World Cup and the immense talents of these players is a great advertisement for these countries and it highlights the efforts to support esports by countries like Norway and Switzerland.

Likewise, the talents of the League of Legends Latin American South and teams like Furious which star local talents from Argentina and the surrounding areas, are a fantastic showcase.

The UK does have several major esports teams, including Overwatch League team the London Spitfire, but the Spitfire specifically has been criticised for having a predominantly South Korean line-up and being backed by North American sponsors.

Arguably, developer or government-sponsored expansion of esports  teams in the UK would galvanise support, getting even non-esports fans interested in the industry.

Esports is such a huge opportunity that the UK, including fans, players and the government, don't want to miss out on. We are seeing some positive steps forward, such as the Belong esports arenas hosted by GAME.

But it's clear that much more will need to be done in order to ensure that the UK doesn't get left behind, in the dust, as the esports industry races ahead with the likes of China, South Korea, and the United States strapped in right at the driver's seat.

The 888sport blog, based at 888 Towers in the heart of London, employs an army of betting and tipping experts for your daily punting pleasure, as well as an irreverent, and occasionally opinionated, look at the absolute madness that is the world of sport.