Give gamers a chance to excel

Give gamers a chance to excel
League Of Legends teams facing off at a competition.

In October last year, 27 million people around the world tuned in to watch a fight.

It was not Pacquiao-Mayweather or a Manchester derby, but two five-man teams - Samsung White and Royal Club - playing the video game League Of Legends and duking it out for a US$2.1 million (S$2.77 million) bounty at the world championship in South Korea.

Gaming is no longer the domain of a loose enclave of players. It is increasingly becoming a cultural and commercial juggernaut, one which is gathering steam by the second.

Just like professional sports teams, their eSports counterparts also employ managers and coaches - jobs which were virtually non- existent a decade ago - to handle a team's scheduling and day-to-day needs.

Established teams board their squads in team houses, with strict training schedules and constant drilling, to prepare for a gruelling schedule of seasonal tournaments, where they go head-to-head in match-ups for money and fame.

And all this rigour translates into cold, hard cash.

A study this year by research firm SuperData estimated that in North America alone, corporate sponsorships for eSports amount to US$111 million a year in total, from companies including Red Bull, Samsung and Nissan.

The total prize pool for The International 5, the biggest Dota 2 (Defence Of The Ancients) competition, currently stands at US$8.2 million and is growing by the day with contributions from fans.

The competition, to be held in August, will see the top 16 five-man teams from around the world compete to outmanoeuvre one another and destroy the opponent's base with superior character selection and strategies.

The top earner from such competitions is Chinese Dota 2 player Chen "Hao" Zhihao, who has amassed US$1.2 million in prize money.

The highest-ranked Singaporean on the list at No. 22 is Daryl "iceiceice" Koh, 24, who now plays for Chinese team Vici Gaming, with total winnings of US$470,000.

Such tournaments, as well as the advent of live streaming and social media, have spawned a spectator culture, turning professional players from anonymous keyboard warriors into personalities.

In South Korea, top Starcraft players such as Lim "SlayerS_BoxeR" Yo Hwan regularly appear on TV variety shows and magazine covers.

The finals of Starcraft competitions can be extravagant, over-the-top affairs, with players making an entrance in massive jumbo jets and screaming fans who are zealot-like in their fanaticism.

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