This sport will soon be a 1 billion dollar business with a global audience of over 300 million fans. But it doesn’t involve a ball, stadiums or grass pitches.

Welcome to the world of eSports.

E-what?

eSports (short for Electronic Sports) is the name given to professional competitive gaming. In a nutshell, competitors play video games, while being watched by a live audience. Millions more watch the games online.

One major tournament, the 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals, attracted 43 million viewers.

League of Legends is a hugely popular fast-paced action strategy game. Gamers battle to be crowned the best in the world, competing to earn $1 million in prize money.

In fact, winning eSports tournaments can net participants up to $25 million when winnings, sponsorship and appearance fees are taken into account.

The highest earning player, German Kuro Takhasomi, has earned almost $3.5 million to date.

Growing fanbase

Image: Newzoo's Game Streaming Tracker

Fans watch on YouTube’s gaming channel or on Twitch, a dedicated gaming channel on the web. eSports viewers spent 17.9 million hours watching their gaming heroes on those channels in the first quarter of 2018. The most popular game to watch is Dota 2, followed by League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

The global eSports audience will reach 380 million this year, made up of 165 million dedicated eSports fans and 215 million occasional viewers.

The money involved in eSports is also growing fast.
Image: NewZoo
Image: NewZoo

In 2018, the eSports industry is projected to generate $905 million in revenue, reaching over $1 billion over the next two years.

China and North America will generate over half of that sum.

Fans buying tickets and merchandise will contribute $96 million.

Is it sport?

Image: Visual Capitalist

Just like traditional sport, eSports has its fair share of professionals, commentators and celebrities.

Prize money is certainly comparable to more traditional sports. The National Basketball Association prize pool is $13 million, the Golf Masters is $11 million and the Confederations Cup is $20 million. eSports exceeds each of them with a total prize pool of $24.7 million.

In fact, FIFA has its own eWorld Cup, where the 32 best FIFA18 Xbox and PlayStation players will compete for the title of FIFA eWorld Cup Champion.

eSports has become so popular, that even the International Olympic committee is trying to understand it better. The IOC and the Global Association of International Sports Federations are jointly hosting an eSports Forum at the Olympic Museum in France.

“The aim of the Forum is to explore synergies, build joint understanding and set a platform for future engagement between the eSports and gaming industries and the Olympic Movement,” they say.

The IOC isn’t the only organisation taking eSports seriously.

The US government has recognised full-time League of Legends players as professional athletes.

But detractors scoff at the idea of calling gaming a real sport. After all, gamers sit still in a chair for hours on end showing only agility and dexterity in their hands, they argue.

But those who play eSports would counter argue that it takes a great deal of skill and strategy to win games. They also point out that they practice for hours a day just like any other sports player, and that physical exertion isn’t the marker of sport. Darts players and snooker players don’t have to move much either.

It may be a moot point. An industry that is projected to make $1.4 billion by 2020 is unlikely to require the approval of naysayers.