The eSports market is estimated to grow to £1.4 billion by 2025.

Dominic Sacco, founder of Esports News UK, told the BBC that before the industry continues to grow and expand its audience, it needs to make some fundamental changes to how it is organized in the future.

“In early 2022, a Saudi Arabian government-backed group acquired two of the largest eSports tournament operators in the world, ESL and FaceIt,” he explained. “I think we’re going to see more of this and it’s going to be a big trend in 2023 and maybe beyond.”

But what is behind the boom in competitive video games?

How to play eSports?

Experienced players compete against each other, individually or as a team, playing popular video games for prize money. The biggest games include Supervisiona “first-person shooter” game in which futuristic “heroes” fight each other; Protection of the ancients 2, a multiplayer fantasy “battle arena” game in which teams compete; and complex strategy games such as StarCraft II, in which sci-fi “species” battle for galactic dominance.

Some events are held online; others in arenas filled with spectators, with games projected on wide screens. The first competitions date back to the 1970s, but they began to gain momentum around 2010, when live streaming on the Internet attracted viewers from all over the world.

How popular are they?

Very popular. Video games are one of the world’s largest leisure industries. Globally, it brought in about $180 billion in revenue last year, more than the movie and music industries combined. It is estimated that there are about three billion gamers in the world, which is more than a third of the world’s population. As a result, a large number of people play eSports: one of the most popular games, Rocket Leaguehas more than 80 million players worldwide.

In 2019, Epic Games, the publisher of the fighting game Fortnite, launched a “World Cup” where anyone could apply to participate. About 40 million won: the final filled 19,000 seats at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, and the winners shared a pot of 30 million dollars. More than 500 million people watched eSports online last year; biggest events like League of Legends the world championship, which gathered more than five million viewers.

Are there professional teams?

Many: According to Statista, there were 3,600 professional eSports players in the US in 2021 and about 1,000 in Russia and China. Their teams, like traditional sports teams, play in tournaments and leagues and compete for the best players around the world, offering lucrative salaries and thorough training. These teams attract an extraordinary level of devotion from their fans, who follow the ups and downs and scandals – match-fixing, doping – as much as football fans.

There are leagues for all kinds of eSports. One of the biggest games League of Legends, played by perhaps 1,000 professional players representing 120 franchise teams in 12 global leagues. Professional players in this game in the US are guaranteed a minimum salary of $75,000; the average salary is close to 300 thousand dollars.

Last year, Tom Lees, a British professional who plays soccer FIFA, became the first eSports player to break the £100,000 transfer fee threshold when he moved from Hashtag United to Excel. Lower level players may not receive a set salary, instead taking a share of the tournament’s prize money. In 2021, more than $200 million in prize money was awarded.

Where does the money come from?

Originally, major tournaments were organized by video game publishers, mainly to help sell their games. However, today they make money like other professional sports do. Major tournaments are sponsored by global brands such as BMW, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. There are ticket sales for events, and broadcasting of games via online platforms such as Twitch and YouTube is another lucrative source of income: broadcasts are often accompanied by advertisements.

Professional eSports players and teams can also earn money by endorsing products – such as energy drinks – and branded merchandise: they sell everything from clothing to toys, sculptures and digital game art.

Is eSports a real sport?

This question has been controversial for a long time, and different nations have arrived at different answers to it. In the UK, eSports are classified as games; in Russia, “cybersport” is classified as an official sports discipline. The International Olympic Committee is currently considering a question that has a philosophical aspect. To be a sport, does the game require tension? Does the sport require manipulation of real-world objects? Is darts a sport? Snooker? The only thing that is obvious is that high-level eSports require phenomenal reaction and concentration. And some strategy games are very complex and cognitively challenging: StarCraftfor example, often compared to both chess and playing the piano: elite players will perform around 300 actions per minute on their keyboards.

But they’re not exactly healthy, are they?

No. Some professional players are known to train up to 16 hours a day and sleep only four hours a day (see box). It’s unheard of for gamers to spend 100 hours a week on their computers. Studies have shown that sitting for six hours a day for two consecutive weeks can increase cholesterol levels, lead to muscle degeneration and increase the risk of weight gain and heart disease. In many ways, it may not be too different from a demanding office job, although studies have also shown that gamers’ heart rates can reach up to 180 beats per minute during matches – almost the stress level of a racing driver.

Will eSports overtake sports?

Not anytime soon. Newzoo, a market data collection company, estimates annual global eSports revenue at $1.4 billion; the English Premier League alone took in about $6.2 billion last season. Established sports have amassed loyal followings for decades, taking root in certain cities; and they earn a huge amount from television syndications, which cannot yet be said for eSports.

On the other hand, the demographics are on the side of eSports. The average age of Premier League fans attending matches is over 40, while over 60% of eSports fans are under 35. And while participation in traditional sports is declining in most countries around the world – certainly in the US, but not for now in the UK – video games are ubiquitous: according to the latest Ofcom figures, 91% of children aged 3 to 15 in the UK reported playing them.

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