The rise of the eAthlete

Saudi Arabia’s Mosaad Aldossary is sweating very hard. As the game ticks on into the final few minutes, an international audience is about to witness him crowned Qualifier Champion and book a place at the World Cup. He has put in countless hours into his dream, and it is about to become a reality. The final whistle blows, and a roar of victory can be heard around the arena. This sounds like a heart-warming football story. Except that this isn’t football. This isn’t even what many consider to be sport. Mosaad ‘Falcon MSDossary’ Aldossary is the FIFA 18 FUT Champions Cup Manchester Champion.

For many years, video games were simply seen as games. They were something recreational, which many never believed would be talked about in the same breath as sport. Sports video games were seen to be games played by those who couldn’t play the real thing. If somebody mentioned the possibility of playing video games professionally, it would be met with laughter and cries of “grow up” or “get a real job”. However those who ignored these hecklers and focussed on their passion have profited immensely, and the professional video game scene dubbed “eSports” has exploded in the last decade, both in terms of investment and viewership, and some believe it is set to overtake traditional sport by 2050.

EA Sports’ FIFA 18 FUT Champions Global Series offers the game’s best players the chance to progress to the FIFA Interactive World Cup (essentially, a World Cup played out on FIFA) and pays out a cool $200,000 to the winner of each event. However, eSports is not limited to sports-based videogames. MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game League of Legends pulled in 43 million total viewers worldwide for its 2016 eSports championship final. Team-oriented first person shooter Overwatch’s eLeague had the same number of viewers as the NHL on its opening weekend. Although not yet having a competitive scene, Fortnite Battle Royale has taken the gaming world by storm and the popularity of content creators on livestreaming sites like Twitch has exploded. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, widely regarded as one of the best Fortnite players, earns a reported $500,000 a month from livestreaming his rounds of Twitch, not including revenue from his 4 million subscriber YouTube channel or sponsorship deals. His $6 million a year salary means that he earns as much as Italian international goalkeeper prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma.

$6 million. For playing a videogame.

NINJA

As our world becomes increasingly digitalised it would seem that what we define as “sport” is making a shift in the same direction. Although many may disagree with it, it is happening, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping.