Boats on water in docks.

The rise and rise of e-sports

28 April 2017

With the announcement that e-sports will be included in the official programme for the 2022 Asian Games, competitive gaming is now a globally significant brand, and the once-derided pastime of playing video games is now a viable, and lucrative, career opportunity.

How many times have you been told by either a parent or a teacher to spend less time playing video games, and more time either studying or outside "playing a real sport"? Well, now you can count your lucky stars that you ignored this short-sighted advice, because e-sports are officially a big deal. The previously ridiculous notion of being paid to compete against another gamer is now a very real career prospect. 

E-sports, or electronic sports, is an umbrella term for organised competitive computer gaming either as an individual or as part of a team. Players can participate in tournaments, where they are often paid a salary by a sponsored team, and have the opportunity to compete for cash prizes.

Video game competitions made an inauspicious debut in the early 1970s. The first 'intergalactic spacewar olympics' were held at Stanford University and the winner was awarded a year's subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Things have come a long way since then; there are now large scale tournaments held every year that revolve around a particular game (for example the League of Legends World Championships, or the International Dota 2 Championships), as well as multi-game tournaments like the World Championship Series or the World Cyber Arena.

It's not just the type of tournament that has developed – the money involved in e-sports has swelled to eye-watering sums. In 2016, the e-sports industry generated $493 million in revenue, with a global audience of about 320 million people. The prize money awarded to winning teams frequently tops $10 million, far outweighing many other sporting tournament payouts, including the Super Bowl, the Masters and the Tour de France. Revenue is expected to rise to $696 million in 2017, and reach $1.2 billion in 2020.

A quick Twitter search of #esports brings up a host of tweets regarding corporate sponsorship, broadcast media, adverts for tournaments and sales of e-sports team merchandise. No longer the domain of procrastinating students or bedroom-dwelling teenagers, e-sports is going stratospheric and household name companies, including Coca-Cola, Red Bull and American Express are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to jump on the bandwagon.

Sporting success, previously reserved for the physically superior alphas of this world, is now attainable by the everyman. There isn't really a restriction on the type of game that makes a good e-sport - 'cyberathletes' will battle it out for glory in the most popular e-sport games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Dota 2, as well as old favourites like Call of Duty, FIFA, World of Warcraft and Halo – so whether you're more suited to MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) or FPS (first-person shooter), you can achieve eternal sporting cyber-glory. Just ask the Dota 2 superstar Li 'iceice' Peng, who, as the top-earning e-sportsman of 2016, raked in a tidy $1.9 million in prize money alone.

 Perhaps you should consider putting down the books and picking up your headset and controller…