Making a living from playing video games is something that many of us have probably dreamt about at some point or another. However, while it might be nothing but a pipe dream for most of us, a number of the most talented gamers in the world have been able to take such a step thanks to the unstoppable rise of professional gaming – also known as eSports.

Perhaps even more incredibly, at this point, it looks like the industry is on the cusp of becoming a mainstream proposition that could ultimately be as popular among younger generations as the more traditional sports we have all grown up watching. But just how has this happened?

A global powerhouse

The history of eSports competition is a fairly long one which can be traced back to events such as the First National Space Invaders Competition in the US at the start of the 1980s. However, while the potential of bringing talented gamers together for major tournaments has always been recognised, it has only really been since the start of the 21st century that the concept has really taken off.

Now, the scene is a fully fledged industry where thousands of fans pack arenas to watch tournaments live with many more watching online via Twitch and similar platforms. Prize money in such tournaments can be huge, with competitors at The International 2017 competition based around Dota 2 battling for a share of a mammoth $24 million prize pool. It is not just PC and console-based games which are used for competitions either, with mobile tournaments also becoming increasingly common.

According to research body Newzoo, the global eSports economy is expected to be valued at a massive $905.6 million this year and such figures are a key reason why so many major businesses have looked to get involved in the scene in recent years. For example, German car manufacturing giant Audi has sponsored Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team Astralis, TV production firm Lionsgate has backed the Immortals team and betting brand Betway has also given its support to the Swedish organisation Ninjas in Pyjamas. In addition, the rise of eSports has led to partnerships like the recent agreement between Dell and McLaren, with the former set to provide support to the Formula One team in a number of ways including on eSports and simulation issues.

A big future in Ireland?

Considering the incredible progress which has been made in professional gaming, it is believed that 2018 could well be the year when the concept really breaks through in Ireland. There have already been some steps in that direction, with the major Games Expo Ireland – or GXI – held in November last year proving a big hit and featuring a host of competitions related to titles including FIFA 18, Street Fighter V and Rocket League. Furthermore, renowned football agent Margaret Byrne has also reportedly taken the step to set up a similar kind of organisation to provide advice and support to emerging eSports talent.

However, all eyes are now on whether a new tournament will be the big moment when the concept becomes a major hit with the Irish public. Sponsored by mobile phone giant Three, Ireland’s EStars League has already got underway and is based around the PC strategy game League of Legends, one of the most popular titles in the eSports world.

The competition will see a series of regional events held across the country and will then culminate in a final tournament which is set to take place at the 3Arena in Dublin in the middle of May. Regarded as Ireland’s first major eSports event, there are high hopes for the league with the winning side getting to share a total cash prize of €20,000. Mags Byrne, the managing director of Ireland’s EStars, said that the hope was that the event would give the country’s “newest breed of eSports champions the platform and opportunity to shine”.

A new dawn?

The launch of the Ireland EStars League certainly does feel like a major moment and the clearest sign yet that the country is warming to the notion of professional competitive gaming. There is still a long way to go however and the success of this competition will no doubt be monitored by many organisations, both in Ireland and beyond, with each of them keen to see whether the country is ready to take its love of video gaming to a whole new level.

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