By Imesh Ranasinghe
Did you know that video gaming was a $ 336 billion industry in 2021? This is according to BITKRAFT Ventures, a global investment platform for gaming, esports, and interactive media.
A decade – or even five years – ago, we would not have thought that the video games we used to play through our PCs and mobile phones for fun would take centre stage in the world economy someday.
Some gamers are even earning money for playing the very games we used to play such as Call of Duty (COD) and PUBG, and sometimes they earn millions of dollars.
This is called eSports and according to Forbes, Electronic Sports, or eSports, have become much bigger than the professionals who play video games for a living. eSports are a global phenomenon. Worldwide, some 380 million people attended eSports events in 2019, rooting for champions in games like Fortnight, Dota 2, and League of Legions.
Television networks broadcast the competitions. In the United States, CBS and NBC are even developing sitcoms based on the sport. The combined online audience for esports, according to Goldman Sachs, is larger than HBO, Netflix and ESPN combined.
By 2022, ESPORTS.NET said that the value of the eSports industry reached $ 3 billion from $ 1.1 in 2019 due to the boom gained by the pandemic and is expected to earn a revenue of $ 1.8 billion in 2022, the majority of which is earned by Asia.
Asia is one of the biggest markets for video gaming and eSports, as it was estimated by the World Economic Forum that China earned $ 360 million for eSports in 2021 while the video gaming turnover was $ 49.3 billion in other Asian markets, including South Korea and Singapore, while India is also in the hunt with almost $ 1 billion revenue from gaming in 2021.
Prize pool for competitions
The prize pool for eSports is what has made it attractive so far for leisure game players around the world to pursue a professional career.
Some international eSports tournaments such as The International 2021, which was a tournament for DOTA 2, had a prize pool of $ 40 million in 2021 where the first place team was awarded $ 18 million.
The prize pool offered depends on the popularity and the participation of the particular game played at the tournaments.
Tencent, the developers of the PUBG mobile game, offered a $ 180,000 prize pool for regional tournaments in 2021 in which Sri Lanka also participated – the highest in the region for international tournaments.
The DOTA 2 Asia Championship offers a $ 3 million prize pool, which is the highest in Asia.
In Sri Lanka, local eSports competitions were reported to have offered a maximum prize pool for team games at Rs. 1 million while single-player competitions had a prize pool of Rs. 30,000.
According to a report done by eSports researcher Christina Gough, the global eSports prize pool will be $ 543 million by 2023.
eSports job creation
eSports has also contributed to the creation of new jobs over the past few years, as the companies have started to grow and develop their requirements.
According to Tencent, esports has spawned a robust ecosystem, creating many new jobs in the digital economy – from game developers, graphic designers, and KOLs, to social media content creators.
In our neighbour India, Ernst & Young stated that esports would generate a total economic impact of over $ 1.3 billion in the next four years through investments, direct industry revenues, in-app purchases, and other revenue, while the esports industry is expected to create over 11,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2025.
Indeed, a job search site in the US stated that job postings for esports roles rose by 343% between the end of 2015 and 2019, and it rose by 40% in just the first three months of 2020 before the pandemic.
eSports in Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, the journey of eSports has been slow; after its gradual development since 2007, eSports was gazetted as a national sport in Sri Lanka in 2019, which is now governed by the Sri Lanka eSports Association (SLeSA).
According to SLeSA President Raveen Wijayatilake, there is an addressable market of approximately three million people in Sri Lanka who are interested in gaming, which is 14% of the country’s total population.
He said many of the private companies in Sri Lanka together with SLeSA hold several eSports tournaments throughout the year.
Wijayatilake, who is also the Managing Director and Founder of Gamer.LK, brings in dollars to the country by branding companies such as Samsung and Dell to the gamers in Sri Lanka.
Some of the main international tournaments held for eSports in which Sri Lanka has participated are the International eSports Federation World Championship and the championship held by the Global eSports Federation, with both organisations based in Asia.
Wijayatilake said eSports had become the fastest growing sport in the world as even when the pandemic affected other sports, eSports continued to grow as players could join in from their homes to play games, with the viewership expected to outrun any other sports by 2025.
New players who want to join eSports on a national level can join any of the tournaments and be included in the national ranking by winning them, while players who get to play international tournaments are chosen through national rankings and national qualifiers.
SLeSA has rank titles for 20 different video games, while there are gamewise advisors appointed to help educate the National Selection Committee on all 20 games.
However, Wijayatilake said that the Sports Ministry did not provide any funding to the association and everything was done through private sponsorship, with most of them being telcos.
He said that although the interschool eSports Championship was being conducted with the participation of 150 schools, the Education Ministry was yet to grant approval for eSports to be a school-level sport similar to cricket.
Ministry of Sports Secretary Anuradha Wijekoon told The Sunday Morning Business that the Sports Ministry had given special attention to the development of eSports in Sri Lanka but added that it had not been able to provide financial assistance to SLeSA as the Ministry currently had other priorities.
Further, he said that the Sports Regulations and Sports Act No.25 of 1973 would be amended soon to include provisions to facilitate eSports.
Sri Lanka needs awareness and infrastructure
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Shihab Rizan, a national representative for Pro Evolution Soccer (PES), said that Sri Lanka lacked awareness and infrastructure facilities to produce top-quality gamers who could win international tournaments.
He said Sri Lanka’s infrastructure needed to be developed to encourage and promote more eSports athletes.
Some of the examples of infrastructure unavailability are national qualifiers being played on PlayStation 4 consoles (PS4) while international tournaments are played on PS5 consoles.
He said the younger generation was aware of the opportunities and competition out there in gaming, adding however that having more local tournaments and regional tournaments would help overcome those barriers and create high-quality, international level players.
Rizan said even though he was a professional gamer, he had not started earning a considerable amount of money as he was yet to win international tournaments. He has already participated in four international tournaments for PES, the world championships, and regional qualifiers.
Players need to be playing on a professional level at international tournaments to rake in the rewards; it is not easy for players who are playing at national level in Sri Lanka to earn well.
He said while other countries had dedicated players for games to help their eSports athletes defeat their opponents, Sri Lanka had individuals just going and playing against other countries.
“If we could win a championship, it would be the first milestone where people would recognise us,” he added.