What is eSports and why is it so popular?

(Robert Paul/Activision Blizzard)

Professional gaming is now a multi-million-pound business, with thousands of fans filling arenas to watch players compete against one another.

The gatherings have grown from small local events between friends to worldwide showpieces that are streamed online by millions.

Here is a look at the rise of eSports.

– What is eSports?

The practice of professional and competitive gaming, more widely known as eSports, has existed for as long as multiplayer video gaming has.

However, improvements in technology have changed multiplayer from something that is done in one room by gamers on the same machine to an event that can include hundreds of players at once in different locations around the world, on different consoles and devices, linked by an internet connection.

This, along with the vast growth of many video game developers, has enabled many firms to fund and launch their own competitions for players.

As game streaming platforms such as Twitch have also emerged, it has helped turn these competitions into global events.

– How popular is eSports today?

The Overwatch League Grand Finals beginning on Friday in New York has sold out the city’s 20,000-seater Barclays Centre, while the upcoming Fifa eWorld Cup is taking place at the O2 in London next month, highlighting how much of a draw these events are.

Other high-profile games such as Call of Duty and Rocket League now also have their own competitions.

Overwatch League player Min-seok “AimGod” Kwon celebrates Credit: Robert Paul/Activision Blizzard

In the era of social media fame and YouTube stars, eSports competitors and teams are also starting to build up their own identities and fan bases.

Now professional sports teams – including Manchester City – have formed their own eSports teams in order to take advantage of its growing popularity.

– What about prize money?

Prize money at eSports tournaments can vary, but some prize pots have been known to rival or exceed figures seen at other sporting events.

In 2017, the total prize money on offer at The International, an eSports competition for battle arena game Dota 2, was more than 24 million dollars.

The winner of the upcoming Fifa eWorld Cup in London will also receive a 250,000 dollar (£141,000) prize, while the Overwatch League prize pot is over one million dollars.

– How is it likely to evolve?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has already acknowledged the growing popularity of eSports, concluding last year that it could be considered a sport.

This has led to reports it could feature at future Games, and the organisers of the Paris 2024 Games have already expressed an interest in including it, while it will also feature a medal event in some form at the 2022 Asian Games.

However, the IOC has said no form of the sport that features violence can be endorsed by the organisation, which is likely to affect if and how the sport is implemented as many of its most popular events feature games that contain some violence.