The most successful competitive video gamers can now make millions annually in the realm of eSports, also known as pro-gaming. eSports has been gaining popularity since the late 2000s and is estimated to have a global audience of more than 380 million in 2017. It is the fastest-growing sport in the world.
“That’s just amazing for me to see where it came from, just small hotel ballrooms … to my mom’s basement, to selling out Madison Square Garden, selling out the Staples Center, in minutes,” says Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo, coach of UK-based team Dignitas and former world No. 1 player. The Dignitas females playing Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CSGO) make up one of the top global teams.
Most eSports gamers focus on live strategic fighting games of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) and first-person shooter (FPS) variety. Numerous world tournaments exist, including the Evolution Championship Series the League of Legends World Championship.For many players, eSports has evolved from a hobby or personal passion into a career that leads them into multimillion-dollar competitions and contracts. For example, South Korean eSports star Faker, who is 21, makes an annual salary in the millions before his sponsorships and bonuses.
Owners of professional traditional sports teams are buying eSports franchises and signing on eSports stars. In the UK, Manchester City signs on virtual Fifa stars. In the U.S., the Philadelphia 76ers became the first North American professional team to purchase eSports teams (Dignitas and Apex) in 2016. 76ers-supported eSports athletes like the Dignitas females playing CSGO benefit from many of the same services NBA players receive, including support from nutritionists, sports psychologists and team doctors.
Scott O’Neill, CEO of the 76ers and of the New Jersey Devils, says he has received numerous calls from executives who want to learn more about eSports opportunities and how to get involved. He’s being advised by consumer tech and video game expert Greg Richardson, who explains, "The market created itself and became a product that a quarter billion people are watching, and when they watch, they're watching an hour and half a day.”
Like with any sport, the fans have favorite teams that they follow and watch in games and real-time finals. In London’s East End, fans can meet players, buy eSports gear and equipment and watch live and streamed matches at the Bunkr, billed as the “world’s first eSports concept store.” It’s run by Sam Mathews, who founded the team Fnatic more than a decade ago. Fnatic has now gained global success; it’s been in hundreds of tourneys, has more than 3 million followers on social media, and in 2011, its League of Legends team won the first world championship.
“There's a whole subculture we're trying to display through Bunkr which is the more edgy lifestyle side of eSports,” says Mathews of Bunkr. “It's great when you're on the wave of a new sport and it's nice to be riding a wave that's growing,” he expresses, adding that his team now has its own hardware company and fashion line.
In 2016, the total revenue for eSports was at around 493 million and the projected revenue for 2020 is 1.5 billion.