It's nowhere near close to replacing NHL hockey or NFL football as a fan favourite, but professional electronic gaming isn't exactly small ball either.
Analysts say the spectator sport — which features mostly millennial guys waging war in cyberspace — is expected to generate more than half a billion dollars in revenue this year.
"That's not counting all the people who go to these events and then go out and buy upgraded computers and software and gaming peripherals. That's a knock-on effect," says Deloitte Canada's Duncan Stewart.
Deloitte's annual technology trend forecast for 2016, released Wednesday, estimates global eSports revenue this year will be $500 million, up 25 per cent from 2014.
About one-quarter of that money will be generated in North America, including Canada, where eSports is beginning to catch on — and catch up to an industry largely dominated by South Korean professional players.
Some research groups have estimated an even higher value for eSports but Stewart says the industry's numbers aren't as reliable or precise as with professional hockey, football, basketball or baseball — each worth billions of dollars annually.
"Media measurement in traditional sports is extremely precise and extremely accurate. The measurement on eSports is all over the place. . . ." he said.
Stewart says the latest available figures show that 82 per cent of eSports revenue comes from men and 75 per cent comes from the millennial age group between 18 and 34.
'Bigger and smaller' than public perception
Many people in the boomer age group are unaware that professional game players and leagues even exist but the millennial generation may be surprised that eSports is still small compared with mainstream sports — leading Deloitte to conclude that eSports is both "bigger and smaller" than perceived by the public.
In Canada, the country's largest chain of movie theatres is co-sponsoring its first national eSports tournament in collaboration with Sony. The Japanese company makes PlayStation gaming consoles, one of the sport's main platforms along with Microsoft's Xbox, as well as personal computers or laptops with advanced graphics and processing speeds.
Cineplex announced Monday that it will offer $50,000 in prizes — including a top prize of $20,000 — after a series of online, regional and national one-on-one matchups of Call of Duty: Black Ops III on PlayStation 4 consoles.
Cineplex is just one of a number of theatre chains in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany that are getting into eSports as they diversify their offerings to become less dependent on movie ticket sales.
"They are attempting to drive more from concessions (snacks and arcades games), more from private rentals, more from operas and more from eSports," Stewart says.
"If you can pull in 18 to 34-year-old young males on a regular basis, that's a good thing."