Edited and prepared by Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU

Great guest post by Gary Tierney, Ireland Managing Director, HP.

In Ireland, September brings a few dreaded certainties: colder temperatures, rain and darker evenings. However, this is offset by arguably the highlight of the Irish sporting calendar – the All-Ireland Championship Finals.

As summer rolls in to Autumn, ‘All-Ireland fever’ grips the nation and tickets become the most sought-after items in the country. Communities unite and old rivalries erupt. Players are greeted by the rapturous roar of the 82,300-strong crowd as they emerge from the tunnel in Croke Park, ready to honour their county.

For a moment, let’s imagine that instead of 30 highly athletic Gaelic football players emerging from the tunnel, a gaggle of men and women – some in t-shirts and hoodies, many still in their teens – walk out, take their seats in front of computers on a stage erected in the centre of the pitch, and feel the roar of the sold out stadium. The eSports All-Ireland Championship Final is about to kick off…

Playtime’s over

It might be hard to imagine that scenario, but it is not as farfetched as you might think. Competitive gaming has been around almost as long as video games themselves. In the early days, competitions amounted to friends challenging each other in a game of Pinball or Pac-Man, however, this quickly transitioned to organised tournaments and the arrival of what we now call eSports.

Over the past decade, eSports tournaments have exploded, evolving into a multimillion dollar business. Being a ‘gamer’ today not only involves playing games, but also tuning into your device to watch your favourite stars battle it out in lucrative events around the world. Globally, eSports isn’t a niche area any more, it’s a phenomenon. And it’s not just a virtual playground for teenagers either. Contrary to the stereotype, recent research suggests the average gamer is 35.

Recently, more than 73,000 people attended the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Poland – almost as many people who will attend the All-Ireland Final. This presents a serious opportunity. On a global level, e-sports is big business, with 200m-plus online viewers worldwide and an estimated industry value of $900m. It is becoming big business in Ireland too – in 2016, Irish gamers spent a reported €244 million, including over €1 million on Irish-made video games for the first time.

Battle of the brands

Computer games have always been commercially lucrative, bringing the world some of its most recognisable brands (Sega, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo, to name just a few).  Yet, the exponential growth of eSports in recent years is attracting big money from corporations outside of the traditional gaming space.

In the US, eSports events regularly sell out stadiums, offering huge marketing opportunities for sponsors, and in turn swelling the prize pot available to competitors. One of the most established tournaments – ‘The International’ held in Chicago – this year had a $10 million-dollar prize for the winners. Even coming 18th won you over $60k!

Unsurprisingly, the considerable cash on offer is attracting more players to eSports, who now see it is a viable career, which in turn increases the value of these events. Large consumer brands, particularly those whose target audience is similar to that of the games industry, have all jumped on the eSports sponsorship bandwagon. The likes of Coca Cola, McDonalds, Red Bull and Mountain Dew have all had a regular presence at major eSports events in recent years. Meanwhile, the globe’s biggest broadcasters have sensed an opportunity. For the 2016 Capcom Cup – a Street Fighter V video game tournament – the broadcast rights were sold to ESPN for an undisclosed sum.

More traditional spectator sports, such as football, are also embracing gaming. Football clubs are signing their very own eSports players to represent them in tournaments. Manchester City FC recently signed 18-year-old gamer Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown, following in the footsteps of rival Premier League football club West Ham United’s who signed 2016 FIFA interactive World Cup runner-up, Sean Allen. eSports athletes are becoming megastars in their own right – with fans attending tournaments wearing the names of their favourite player, on their team’s latest jersey.

E-normous possibilities 

The global potential of eSports is simply huge. As broadband internet reaches more areas of the developing world, the number of gaming enthusiasts is only going to grow.  Similarly, technology advances will lead to more immersive experiences, improving the viewing experience, while also pushing gamers to become even sharper and more competitive.

It is on the technology-side that HP is playing a leading role in eSports’ growth. Our OMEN gaming range is used by competitors at a number of pro tournaments, while our latest innovations – including a virtual reality backpack, and the Omen X laptop announced at this week’s GamesCom event in Germany – are allowing gamers to reach new levels of speed and performance.

Perhaps the only weird thing about imagining Croke Park sold out for an e-Sports match is that it hasn’t become a reality yet. Such is the momentum behind eSports, it seems more a case of when, rather than if.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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