You’ve all heard of e-sports, right? No? It’s video gaming as a spectator sport. Players compete against each other on stage, with big screens showing what’s on their monitors to the audience, while a live commentary is broadcast. It is so popular that in South Korea a competition final sold out a 46,000-seater stadium in under a minute, while tens of millions of viewers also watch online. Oh, and e-sports has nothing to do with taking ecstasy. As of March, London is set to get the UK’s first dedicated e-sports arena. Gfinity is a UK company who currently organises gaming tournaments for ‘Halo’, ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Fifa’, and broadcasts them online to audiences of around ten million. It’s currently engaged in scouring the capital for a venue.
‘We’ve been offered old cinemas, really cool warehouses, all sorts of places,’ says Gfinity founder Neville Upton. ‘We’re looking at places that are around 500 seats, but we reckon we’ll be able to organise events that – at a conservative estimate – will be watched online by 50 million people.’
Will it convert more Londoners to e-sports? Possibly. Sessions are, admittedly, up to ten hours long. But helpfully, it’s one of the few sports that has constant commentary blaring out into the stadium. Events also have stalls where audience members can try out new games and take a bit of time away from the match. And surely there has to be a reason that its humongous viewership makes the Wimbledon final look about as communal as solitaire?
‘It has such mass appeal that it’s the only truly global sport I can think of other than football,’ says Upton. ‘And I’ve seen e-sport games of “Fifa” that are more interesting than some of the ones on Sky Sports.’ Football without the 0-0 draws? Count us in.