The rising popularity of eSports will be further in evidence on Friday when the first ever Overwatch League Grand Final takes place in front of more than 20,000 people in New York.
Held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn – a venue more accustomed to hosting major sporting and music events – the finale of Overwatch’s first eSports league will be contested over two nights between London Spitfire and Philadelphia Fusion.
Multiplayer shooting game Overwatch has been hugely popular with online players since its launch in 2016 and its first competitive championship will feature a total prize pot of more than 1.4 million dollars (£1 million).
The critically acclaimed multiplayer game is played between two teams of six, with each player selecting from a roster of 20 characters to build their squad and defeat the opposing team.
Since launch, it has amassed a fan base of more than 40 million players.
eSports is rapidly becoming one of the biggest live event markets of the 21st century, now regularly selling out arenas to fans wanting to watch professional gamers attempt to win multi-million dollar tournaments.
Despite the meteoric rise of the game and the trend of professional gaming, the Overwatch League’s own commissioner Nate Nanzer has admitted his shock at the competition’s achievement of selling out its venue well in advance of the event.
“We knew the Overwatch League had amazing, enthusiastic fans, but this is something else,” he said.
“We’re incredibly excited to play to a packed house at one of the world’s premier sports and entertainment arenas. With the help of our broadcast team, our partners, and Barclays Center, we’re going to put on a first-class show for everyone in attendance, and for the millions more who will be watching online.”
Large-scale eSports are now increasingly common in arenas and stadiums around the world – well-known gaming series Call Of Duty and Fifa are among the dozens of games to hold events, often with large prize funds on offer to the winners.
Keith Sheldon from BSE Global, which runs the Barclays Center, said such was the size of professional gaming events today that the arena wanted to establish itself as “the destination for major eSports events.”
The Overwatch finals will see the two teams take part in three best-of-five matches to crown the competition’s inaugural winner.
London Spitfire are the only European team in the 12-team Overwatch League’s first season, though the franchise’s squad is currently made up entirely of South Korean players.
However, Spitfire’s academy team British Hurricane, which competes in the second-tier Overwatch Contenders league, does feature several British competitors.