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Opinion: Dutch esports talent development programmes are facing these five challenges today

By Sjaak Kuil, H20 and Anita Király, ISCA

Gone are the days when gamers could storm to the top of the esports ladder from home and without professional guidance. Today, more and more attention is being paid to nutrition, cooperation, and mental and physical health. That’s why several talent development programmes for ambitious gamers have been created for esports players since 2020. In this opinion piece, programme coordinators from BrabantSport Esports Talent Hub, H20 Esports Campus and Esports Talentcenter Gelderland share the five main challenges and opportunities of these programmes.

The insights in this article come from the online esports seminar on talent development held on 26 May 2023, organised by the Dutch Knowledge Centre for Sport & Exercise in cooperation with Next Level Esports. Focusing on improving performance, the Knowledge Agenda provides a starting point for research on the topic in esports and discusses the most relevant questions from Dutch esports coaches and staff members.


  1. Lack of a national (esports) pyramid

The biggest challenge for talent development in esports is the lack of a national esports pyramid, says Matthijs Mol, coordinator of BrabantSport Esports Talent Hub: "In traditional sport, there is a clear sports pyramid, where a player progresses from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. This clear structure is still limited in esports. I think this is a crucial factor for the structural flow of esports players."

Donny Stumpel, coordinator of Esports Talentcenter Gelderland, describes what he thinks a pyramid should look like: "At the top you have elite esports, in the middle talent development and at the bottom the width of esports. We are in the middle part, talent development, and have to build the bridge to the top of esports. [By talent scouting] through a school tour, we try to get the grassroots esport athletes into the talent development programme, but getting to the top is still difficult."

Dirk Tuip, coordinator of H20 Esports Campus, sees opportunities for the pyramid alongside challenges: "With Go!Gaming, we have a basic infrastructure that you don't have in other countries, namely six esports and gaming facilities in different cities such as Utrecht, Nijmegen and Eindhoven, made possible by H20 and Pathé. This gives everyone a chance to train together, not only online but also physically at different regional locations. This makes it easier to facilitate regional talent and competition."

Mol explains what it takes to set up such a pyramid: "You need a focal point that stands above it, represents interests and coordinates in certain areas like a federation in the traditional sports world."


  1. Finding talent

Mol sees finding the right talents as a big challenge: "In esports, the broadcasting structure is often invisible, because a lot happens online. This makes it difficult to find esports talent." Currently, teams and talent development centres often rely on players who sign up themselves or search within the social circle of already signed up players. The players then have to meet a number of quality requirements to get into the programme. Stumpel: "We select players based on four aspects: skill in the game, motivation, age and location. As a result, some of the interested players also drop out." Partly due to the lack of a pyramid and the online culture, identifying esports talent is still difficult for centres.

  1. The uncertain career path of an “esporter”

When talent does get discovered, the career path for esports players is often uncertain. This has also to do with the esports pyramid, says Tuip: "It is now often unclear how a player who has gained some experience in smaller tournaments or matches, who plays a bit higher up the ladder and gets excited by this, can progress to a semi-professional level."

Mol adds: "In esports, you can be among the world's top players out of nowhere and also drop out just as quickly."

One explanation for this includes the instability of esports games and league structures. Owners of the games, when popularity declines, can unilaterally decide whether the league remains funded. That means an esporter can become unemployed overnight and have to switch to another game that requires different skills. Stumpel uses traditional sport to illustrate his point: "Compare it to a professional tennis player who suddenly has to play professional padel within a few months."


  1. Lack of social support for an esports career

Besides uncertainty, coordinators regularly see a lack of social support from a talent's environment, says Stumpel: "Parents and coaches are still often unaware of what their child is doing in esports and how much time is needed for further talent development. The lack of support is common among players, which seems to affect their development." Science also sees social support as an important motivator for (sports) talents (Knight at al, 2017). Just when you realise that talents in other sports spend an average of 28.5 hours a week on their sport (Van der Roest et al,2023), this support seems indispensable.


  1. Need for coaches with knowledge of the game, pedagogy and didactics

For a good training programme, it is obviously important to have good coaching. Mol says: "Currently, there are few coaches who have both game-related knowledge of the games and experience or training in coaching." Stumpel elaborates on this: "We are dealing with first-generation, self-educated esports coaches, who have sufficient gaming experience, but often still lack the didactic and pedagogical aspect of coaching."

At H20, as with the other centres, they make great use of knowledge from traditional top-level sport. Founder Dirk Tuip: "We work together with Talent Academy Group who have a lot of experience in performing in traditional top-level sport. There is a specific focus on mental resilience and injury prevention where we use knowledge from sports." With this, all centres indicate the need for coaches with the right mix of knowledge on how to coach and what to coach.


Structure, coaching and support

How to safeguard, professionalise and encourage talent development among esports players? In summary, according to the coordinators, a clear, industry-supported esports pyramid would be one of the solutions to better find talent and offer a more structured career path. There is also a need for well-trained coaches with gaming, pedagogical and didactic knowledge, which offers opportunities for educational institutions. To create more support for careers in esports, the role of the talent's social environment seems to be an important factor. Research and knowledge institutions can help in preparing the right information that talent programmes can share with parents.

This opinion piece is an adaptation of an article by Dion Bulkens, Specialist esports, gaming and gamification at the Knowledge Centre Sports & Movement, and Ralph Tesselhof, head coach League of Legends at KRC Genk. And translated by Sjaak Kuil and Anita Király for the European Grassroots Esports project. The original article can be found at



Knight CJ, Berrow SR, Harwoord CG. Parenting in sport. Curr Opin Psychol. 2017;16:93-97. 

Van der Roest JW, Dopheide M, Elling A. Topsportklimaat Trainings- en leefsituatie. Beschikbaar via: Geraadpleegd 1 november 2023. Utrecht: Universiteit Utrecht en Mulier Instituut.

Posted on 13/12/2023 by Sjaak Kuil, H20 and Anita Király, ISCA


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