Most sports fans are oblivious to the scale of competitive online gaming.
But Electronic Sports, known as eSports, is already bigger than most traditional sporting competitions and the powers that be in world sports understand its reach and value.
In the latest move to bring eSports closer to the mainstream, it has been announced as a full medal sport for the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, after being a demonstration sport next year in Jakarta.
Two leading governing bodies, South Korea-based International eSports Federation (IESF) and the International eGames Committee (IEGC), which is backed by the British government, are already working toward the inclusion of eSports into the Olympic Games.
The Australian eSports scene
World-class eSports comes to Australia early next month when Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena, originally built for the 2000 Olympics, hosts an event on the Intel Extreme Masters circuit, which is into its 11th season.
Tyler “tucks” Reilly is captain of the team representing Australian eSports club the Chiefs.
“In the past two years it’s grown tremendously in Australia and I think it’s going to grow a lot more in the next couple of years,” Reilly told The New Daily.
“In South Korea it’s been extremely professional for a good 10 years and it’s very big in America. We watch it and hope that happens in Australia one day.”
Reilly says a few Australians have been successful with teams based overseas.
“It’s a dream for nearly every Australian player to go overseas and compete in America or Europe.”
The Chiefs face the top-ranked team in the world, Astralis from Denmark, in their first match of the tournament on May 3.
“We’ve flown to Sydney and are going to be practising non-stop every day for the next two weeks, going over everything and preparing for that team, trying to have everything planned out,” Reilly says.
“We’ve never played against a Tier 1 opponent but we’re very confident we can compete against the best in the world.”
The incredible numbers
The global eSports audience tops 300 million, it generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue and has attracted billions in investment.
It’s able to fill venues like Madison Square Garden while Twitch, a live streaming video platform largely for online gaming, attracts more than 45 million gamers a month.
The most popular multiplayer games include Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Starcraft, and Call of Duty, although the largest prize money is won in Defense of the Ancients 2.
The best Dota 2 players compete annually at an event called The International, with a multi-million-dollar prize pool sourced through crowdfunding.
In 2014, the pool was just under $US11 million, in 2015 it topped $US18 million and at The International 2016, a staggering $US20.77 million was up for grabs.
What else does the future hold?
As eSports moves closer to the mainstream, some American universities now have representative teams and even award scholarships, just like in field and court sports.
Perhaps due to the synergy with the popular FIFA multiplayer games, a number of top European soccer clubs, including Manchester City, Dutch giant Ajax, Paris Saint-Germain, Spain’s Valencia, and Turkey’s Besiktas, have already added eSports teams to their stables.
The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers led the way in North America when they acquired eSports teams Dignitas and Apex, and the owners of other major franchises are following suit.
“I’m not sure how big eSports will be locally compared to real sports but it’s definitely a possibility that an AFL team might pick up an eSports team,” Reilly says.
That means it’s only a matter of time before the Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney eSports teams join the fray.
But at least now you know they’re coming.