How eSports could soon be the most profitable game in the world

There's a multi-million dollar sporting revolution sweeping the globe that involves sitting on the couch, snacks and sugary drinks at hand, staring at a screen. At last, you're thinking, the sport for me!

Welcome to the world of eSports, where it's possible to be completely inactive and also a world champion.

eSports are simply teams (multiplayer online battles) or individuals competing in real-time strategy, fighting and shooter games, in front of a live audience and streamed online.

Rapid rise of eSport

Just as the games industry has eclipsed the movie business in revenue and profit for years, now it's coming to get sport. The increasing power, stability and availability of streaming platforms, such as Twitch.tv, has been a core element in the growth of eSports.

The phenomenon started in South Korea and is quickly penetrating the rest of the world. In 2016, eSports generated almost $500m in revenue and capture a world-wide audience of around 250 million.

eSport is also breathing life back into a once-proud but now tired, sticky and increasingly irrelevant theatre chain in Australia. reported last month that Australia's first city-based professional eSports league, Gfinity Australia, has developed a partnership with Hoyts cinemas to create eSports arenas in movie theatres around the country.

The league launches next month, with a prize pool of $450,000. Teams will compete in a car soccer game, Rocket League, fighting game Street Fighter V and first-person shooter, Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

Passion, power, profit

"It'll be a state-of-the-art experience for fans to come and watch and also for streaming and live broadcast," said Gfinity's CEO, Dominic Redmond.

But, surely it's not, like, a real sport? That's up for debate and in the competition for your sporting leisure dollar, eSports is a sophisticated player.  "We know how sports work in Australia," said Redmond of his goal to build a national eSports league. "It's all about that passion and rivalry between clubs so we think that's going to add a new dimension to the whole eSports field in Australia."

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The 2017 Intel Extreme Masters in Poland is the flagship event for the world's largest eSports company, Electronic Sports League (ESL). It was attended by 173,000 gamers and watched by more than 46 million online, across 19 different languages. Now that's an audience any broadcaster and advertiser worth their salt should be wooing.

That's why both the AFL and A-league in Australia are investing in eSports versions of their game to tap into new revenue streams and stay relevant to the younger market.

It's the potential for growth that's truly extraordinary. eSports are already a $1.5bn global industry projected to grow by 50 per cent by 2020. At that rate, it will overtake the American NFL, a $13bn behemoth.

Ambitions off the field

Professional eSports A-league player, Marcus Gomes, 20, told the ABC "I can definitely see more people becoming fans of eSports as more and more people begin to understand and respect professional gaming."

Gomes had a dream of playing football, with a real ball, on a pitch. Now he is, and in the big leagues. There may be no real boots or grass, but there are finely tuned professional players, thrilling stadiums of screaming fans with their silky skills, in brutal competition.

The elderly among us have grumbled for decades that a generation raised on PlayStations and iPads won't have any idea how to run around outside with a footy. The explosion of eSports would seem to prove our point.

There's already a push for eSports to be included in the Olympics, as early as the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Five South Korean eSports players carried the Winter Olympics torch to Pyeongchang.

Discipline of the game

But how can sitting, staring at a screen be considered a sport?

Surely sporting greatness comes from countless agonising and boring hours in the gym, on the road, on the training paddock or in the pool? The ability to drive your body through the pain barrier to glory comes from work and time, effort and sacrifice – that's what sport's all about!

Well, in 2017 the IOC said "competitive eSports could be considered as a sporting activity and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports."

Fans argue gaming is very much a sport. It requires careful planning, precise timing and skilful execution. To reach the top requires years of training. It's highly competitive. And it's not as if all traditional "sports" require a high level of physical fitness or an outdoor playing area.

The e-revolution

In the end, eSports doesn't care about arguments about whether an activity requires puffing and running about to be considered a sport. It's too busy grabbing the attention, eyeballs, time and dollars of a huge, growing, young demographic who were raised entertaining themselves with digital screens.

They don't care about the competition being "real" or not.

Their digital world has always been real and this is digital natives making their own fun. As communities mature, grow and interact, competitions become more popular and technology allows a more immersive experience, eSports aren't just here to stay, they're going to swamp traditional sport in popularity.

The revolution, it seems, will be available on multiple platforms.

And there won't be any ball tampering.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

Do eSports [;ayers deserve the same recognition as more traditional athletes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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