Commonwealth Games 2022: England esports team 'at top of their game' for historic trial

By Jay FreemanBBC Sport
England have named a formidable team for the 2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships, with players representing some of the biggest organisations in the sport
2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships
Venue: International Convention Centre, Birmingham Date: 6 & 7 August 2022

The 2022 Commonwealth Games are well under way, with records being broken and thousands attending events across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

But what about the future? How can the Games adapt to stay relevant and pull in a coveted younger audience?

The inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championship finals start on Saturday as a pilot, before possibly joining the full programme from the 2026 Games.

BBC Sport spoke to England manager Mark Weller about their preparations.

'Stress is there, but not nerves'

Unlike many esports tournaments, the Commonwealth Esports Championships will not carry cash prizes with players instead competing for gold, silver and bronze medals.

England will compete against 28 other Commonwealth nations across three titles - DOTA 2, eFootball and Rocket League.

Weller has assembled a formidable roster for the event, with many competing in professional leagues within their discipline and representing some of the biggest organisations in esports.

"There's no nerves, I'm just very confident. There's a lot to do, I think I'm just focusing on the task at hand at the moment," Weller said.

"Stress is there, but not nerves. With our roster, I don't know why I would feel any nerves to be honest, they're all very capable, they all play at the top of their game."

However, the event's positioning in the calendar did give Weller a headache in terms of his selection.

Weller continued: "The idea was to build the strongest team we could from the players who were available, which has been quite difficult. Almost all of our players play in professional leagues within their own disciplines, so there's an overlap between key events.

"Rocket League has been quite a difficult one to manage. The Rocket League Championship Series, which is the biggest tournament for Rocket League, overlaps the Commonwealth Games so during selection we weren't sure on who would 100% be available for the event itself.

"If one of them were to qualify, then they would be out of the roster. That was really difficult to overcome because we've got a lot of really good Rocket League talent in this country."

England's 2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships roster

  • eFootball Open - Stephen 'Pirate' Singh
  • eFootball Women - Alia 'Aliawgharvey' Harvey
  • Rocket League Open - Kurtis 'Kash' Cannon, Joe 'Hibbs' Hibbert, Dylan Harry 'Eekso' Pickering
  • Rocket League Women - Bella Athena 'Crimson' Selwood, India 'Alanis' Browne, Aliya 'Aliyamay' Hanson, Maisie 'Takara' Stanley
  • Dota 2 Open - Jonathan 'Crysen' Bennett, Matt 'Mousou' Butler, Moiez 'symetricaL' Mahmood, Elliott 'Adzantick' Hammond, Jason Connor 'Tanner' Weedon, Robson 'TeaGuvnor' Merritt
  • Dota 2 Women - Lily 'Always-Changing' Milne, Ellenor 'Bellemiku' Howard, Karen 'Karenlyl' Liu, Emily 'Gimmick' Huxley, Ruby 'Ruby' Dawn

Seeing what is possible

Karen 'Karenlyl' Liu and Emily 'Gimmick' Huxley are part of England's DOTA 2 women's roster

The Commonwealth Esports Championships have organised their titles across both open and women's categories.

Ten of England's roster are part of the women's categories, something which Weller says represents an opportunity to grow the sport.

"I'm really happy they've put a women's category in each game," he said.

"It is really important to me because there's no reason why women shouldn't be playing games. Within the esports and gaming space, women are not treated fairly. There's quite a lot of abuse online and it's still seen as a very stereotypical male thing to do.

"There's no reason why women obviously can't enjoy and excel within gaming.

"I'm really hoping that younger people and younger girls that might be watching the Commonwealth Games esports coverage can see that it's possible to be there, and there is something to strive for and is something to be inspired by."

'The next generation of competitive entertainment'

England's esports manager Mark Weller is also the chief gaming officer of Manchester-based Vexed Gaming

Could the pilot be mutually beneficial for the Games - which need to adapt to changing viewing habits - but also to help esports prove itself to a general audience?

Weller thinks that a successful Games can inspire a new generation, when legacy sports may struggle to attract their next tranche of athletes.

"I know this will capture the eyes and imagination of a lot of young people out there," Weller said.

"Right now, esports is thriving within its own right, traditional sports are struggling to attract a younger audience and esports truly is the next generation of competitive sports entertainment.

"If we can use esports just like we use traditional sports, as a touchpoint to find something the youth are truly passionate about and want to pursue as a potential pathway, that could open a large amount of career options for them.

"I feel that's extremely beneficial. Gaming and esports have taught me so many modern 'real world' skills, some which traditional sports teach you but many don't."

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