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Isle of Man is known for many different things in many different circles. If you mention ‘The Island’ — as it is referred to by locals — to a motorcycle racing fan, they will know it for its world famous road race, the TT Races. To those in the betting and eGaming sectors, the Isle of Man is known for being home to some of the biggest names in the industry — an Isle of Man Gaming Licence is greatly sought after for those operating outside of Europe.
The same can be said for crypto and blockchain businesses as well as other emerging tech firms choosing the island nation as their base of operations. But what of competitive gaming? Why is the Isle of Man taking its learnings from eGaming and applying them to esports?
Chris Kissack, Esports Advisor to the Digital Isle of Man, known for his enthusiastic support of grassroots esports and his unyielding love for the Isle of Man, was quick to answer.
“For starters, sports is in The Island’s DNA,” Kissack told The Esports Journal. “You only have to look at our pedigree in producing Olympic level competitors; whether that’s people like the Tour De France legend, Mark ‘Manx Missile’ Cavendish, or four-time Olympic Snowboarder Zoe Gillings-Brier.”
The support the island’s community gives its sporting scenes is fierce and proud, from a professional Olympic level down to the grassroots. That support extends far beyond popular traditional sports; the island’s also hosted Grandmaster-attending chess tournaments. Esports has been no different. Kissack said local businesses and its independent government alike join in on supporting local esports initiatives.
So what does a small, self-governing crown dependency in the Irish sea have to offer the esports industry, and what makes it unique and competitive amongst leading global cities?
“The Island is 33 miles long by 13 miles wide,” started Kissack, oddly proud of the statistic. “While this affords many benefits — such as a fantastic work-life balance with average commute times being only 20 minutes — it also allows for clusters of industry and sector champions to be easily identified and accessed. There is a very close government relationship with regulators, an established community of lawyers, service providers, and advisory boards.”
Doing business on the Island is, if Kissack is to be believed, “a real breath of fresh air.” Meetings can take place within walking distance of each other and it’s the only Island nation to be awarded the UNESCO Biosphere status, for what it’s worth.
He maintained that the Isle of Man’s reputation and track record in eGaming is what makes the Isle of Man licence a gold standard in the sector, evident in the host of recognised names in esports betting that are Isle of Man licensed. Whether through its award-winning frameworks and infrastructure, world-class data centres and telco HQs, or seven separate underwater interconnector cables — the Isle of Man has the ‘fast, reliable internet checkbox’ ticked.
Be it an esports startup or entrenched firm looking for a new home, the island’s other established industries have laid the groundwork for a smooth landing, Kissack asserted. “The Island has a great reputation and track record in a number of sectors. Esports businesses, organisations and players are happy with what they find here.”
At a grassroots level, the island nation has a number of community programmes and local tournament organisers running events on a regular basis, and the fighting game community is strong and growing stronger. During the height of the pandemic, while most of the rest of the world was enduring lockdowns with LAN events off the table — the Isle of Man enjoyed fits of COVID-freedom and could safely continue to run local events without fear.
The Isle of Man is one of the first governments in the world to sponsor an esports organisation. The Digital Isle of Man, an agency within the Department for Enterprise, is an official sponsor of X7, an Isle of Man-founded and locally-owned organisation competing in the League of Legends NLC Division 1.
Josh Kingett, Founder of X7, told The Esports Journal that the government-backed sponsorships are a key ingredient in the Isle of Man’s esports scene.
“The support X7 received from Digital Isle of Man has been invaluable to the growth of my organisation,” Kingett said. “When talks began, I never envisioned we would arrive at a jersey sponsor, which helped us greatly as we were starting out. Being able to showcase that we had the backing of a whole government effectively allowed us to make our debut within the UKEL stand out even more.
“Showing you have that level of support greatly helps with credibility when engaging with other potential sponsors or partners. It is the same with other businesses who set up here — the Digital Isle of Man sponsorship carries a lot of credibility. We are extremely grateful for the support we have received on the Island and are proud to help raise its profile in the esports space.”
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The island has attracted professionals from around the world to relocate. Known for its work-life balance, high quality of life, low taxes, low crime, and an impressively resilient power infrastructure — the island is a bit of an expat haven.
Liam Slack is one such imported professional and the latest addition to Digital Isle of Man’s esports team. Slack was attracted by the island’s drive to establish itself as an attractive esports ecosystem and anchor for esports business, and moved from Los Angeles to the island in January, bringing with him a wealth of esports knowledge and experience.
Digital Isle of Man CEO, Lyle Wraxall, impassioned by what the island has in store for 2022, told The Esports Journal: “We will continue to build on the momentum we started a few years ago with our commitment to grow our esports sector here on the Island and see it mirror the success the Island has had in the eGaming and finance sectors. The Isle of Man is recognised as a safe, secure and trusted jurisdiction to set up a business, do business with and relocate your business to.
“With our local talent and grassroots initiatives increasing in number and being championed by the likes of Chris, industry professionals relocating to the Island to be part of our esports strategy, and recognised organisations such as X7 being founded on the Isle of Man, the future for esports on the Island is a very exciting one indeed.”
The Isle of Man may be small, but its ambitions certainly aren’t. On this Irish-sea island — where the going’s good and the esports personnel have light hearts and open arms — a growing, self-contained esports ecosystem awaits.