UK gaming powers up with $50K e-sports tournament

Spectators sat clapping, cheering on their favourite teams on the big screen in London over the weekend. No, it wasn't a soccer match, but a video gaming tournament with $50,000 up for grabs.

Held at the U.K.'s first permanent e-sports arena, fans came to watch live and over the internet teams of gamers battle it out in popular fantasy titles for the $50,000 prize money.

Traditionally, e-sports enthusiasts would watch on streaming websites such as Twitch – the most popular viewing platform that Amazon bought for $970 million last year. Major tournaments around the world, such as the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland, this month are held at physical venues, but only over the few days that the matches are played. But the Gfinity Arena, housed in a branch of one of Britain's biggest cinema chains in south-west London, could mark the start of a trend of a growing number of permanent e-sports viewing locations.

"We want to provide the Wembley of e-sports," Neville Upton, CEO of tournament organizer Gfinity, told CNBC, referring to one of the U.K.'s biggest sporting arenas.

"I think you're going to see some really big substantial, dedicated e-sports arenas in the future. If you look at the attendance, it's massive. People are already filling stadiums with forty fifty thousand spectators and that's just going to become more regular."

'Absolutely massive'

The industry is experiencing rapid growth with global e-sports revenues set to hit $465 million in 2017 from $194 million last year, according to games market research firm Newzoo.

Over the weekend, gamers were battling it out in a shooting game known as Counterstrike: Global Offensive. During Gfinity's season, which ends on September 13, games including popular soccer title FIFA will be played for different amounts of prize money.


E-sports is becoming increasingly professionalized. Teams are paying players salaries, managers are striking sponsorship deals, and teams are buying players from rivals. A top gamers' salary could hit around $3,000 a month and that's without sponsorship and prize money, according to Neil Murphy, a member of Team Infused.

Major U.S. technology companies such as Intel have invested in the new sport. Upton said the 16-30 year-old male demographic his company's tournament draws in is "very attractive" for brands to advertise to.

"A lot of brands that are really keen to have access to that demographic profile," he said.

Gfinity listed on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market in December to fund its expansion and Upton is bullish that the company can continue its expansion.

"We are taking a long-term view on this, we think this is going to be absolutely massive. It's already enormous and it's just going to get bigger and bigger," the CEO told CNBC.