THEY might not be athletes in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t mean professional video gaming isn’t big business.

The world’s best video gamers battling for millions of dollars in prizes in packed out arenas might sound like a joke, but it’s a very real competition known as eSports.

This year alone, the sport has managed to reach new heights, generating staggering amounts of money from ticket sales, broadcasts and sponsorship deals.

The lucrative world of exports has become so large that 334 million people watched a broadcast of the League of Legends World Championships, while The InternationalDefence of the Ancients 2 Tournament gave away more than $A25.8m in prizes.

This sum really gets put into perspective when compared to the prize pools offered in some of the world’s most popular sporting events.

DOTA’s $A25.8m prize pool surpassed the $A14m offered for golf’s FedEx Cup, the $A12m offered for the NFL Super Bowl and the $A11m offered for the Baseball World Series.

Not bad considering it was just one of many tournaments held around the globe this year.

According to eSports Earnings,a staggering total of $A86.8m in prizes has been awarded this year, with the top 10 players staking claim to $A16.4m of that amount.

In terms of the top earners by country, China and the United States dominate with each collecting $A18.6m and $A17.8m respectively.

While Australia is ranked 18th worldwide, the 308 players representing our country have collected a cheeky $A680,000.

A graph demonstrating the prize money won by different countries.

Longtime eSports broadcaster Rod Breslau said 2015 has been the biggest year on record for the evolving sport.

“This has been the year of money flowing into the industry now that all the games and the infrastructure are there,” he told Sporting News.

“There’s a lot more venture capital coming in and now most of the companies that have been in the eSports business the past few years are finding their way to profitability.

“There are so many successful entities coming into the space that weren’t here before.”

Mr Breslau said with so much money coming into the sport, players are getting paid more than ever before.

“There has been more prize money. The salaries are higher than they ever have been, so players are able to make really good money where before only a select few were able to do so,” he said.

“Now there is quite a number that are making into a million-plus range of salary and other revenue streams per year.”

While League of Legends and DOTA 2 are still the most profitable games on the eSports circuit, Mr Breslau said 2015 saw a number of games emerging as challengers for the crown.

“This was the year for Counter-Strike,” he said.

League of Legends and DOTA 2 have been No. 1 and No. 2 respectively for the past two years or so, but Counter-Strike has now come in — a huge historic game with a long history — with a lot of players that have been playing forever.

“Broadcasters, producers, and players that have been in the industry for a while have been able to rally around this game and its recent rise. It’s huge.”

A graph showing total prize money for last two months for individual games.

The lucrative world of eSports might have had an unprecedented year, but it is far from reaching its peak.

While DOTA 2 and League of Legends are expected to dominate the sport once more, there will be a number of big changes coming to eSports in the New Year.

Of all these changes, none are as exciting as the ones coming to Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

The longstanding eSport game previously saw gamers competing three times a year for prize pools of $A350,000.

While these tournaments will remain in 2016, there will also be the introduction of newly created eSports competition for Counter Strike called ELEAGUE.

Not only will it offer a prize pool of $A1.6 million to winning teams, but it will be broadcast on cable and satellite broadcaster TBS, along with a number of different mediums.

With no expenses spared, the organisers have promised the broadcast of the tournament will be produced and promoted in a similar fashion to the NFL and NBA.

President of TBS Kevin Reilly said the broadcaster was happy to be involved in eSports.

“The level of rabid fandom and engagement that we see in this world is extraordinary and we aim to up the experience for both the players and fans alike and provide a cutting-edge live experience on both linear and digital TBS platforms,” he toldForbes.

While it’s still to early to fully grasp what 2016 will hold for eSports, the forecast is looking bright. Watch this space.


By Adam