1 Nov 2017

Professional video gaming: 'It's bigger than the NFL'

1:45 pm on 1 November 2017

Local video gamers who are hoping to get public funding to help them compete internationally say New Zealand is getting left behind on the eSports scene.

Professional video gamers compete in huge events across the world, like this one in Poland.

Professional video gamers compete in huge events across the world, like this one in Poland. Photo: AFP

ESports - or professional computer gaming - is expected to make almost $700 million globally this year and six times more people play video games than rugby in New Zealand.

ESports events involve video games, like the popular League of Legends, being played in front of sports stadiums full of people.

The growing popularity of the sport in New Zealand prompted the creation of an eSports federation last year.

Federation president Ben Lenihan said they were now hoping to grow the sport with government funding and to encourage New Zealand players to get professional sponsorships.

With talks of Olympic participation and inclusion in the Asian Games next year, New Zealand could not afford to be left behind, he said.

"Right now worldwide it's bigger than the NFL, in terms of money and reach. It could be a flash in the pan, but I doubt it."

New Zealand 'E-Black' player Thomas Choi said although e-sports were not yet at a professional level in this country, it would only be a matter of time.

"I think it will come eventually, when eSports is considered no longer just playing games, it's actually considered something that someone can do professionally just like regular sports."

Mr Choi will travel to Busan in South Korea next week to compete in a tournament for the fighting game Tekken.

But in order to get government funding, eSports must first be classified as a sport, which it currently was not.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin said being affiliated with a national organisation and agreeing to anti-doping policy were some of the criteria required to be recognised.

He said the potential of eSports was great, and any application for funding would be considered after the group had gained sporting recognition.

"I think everyone should be embracing this change and welcome it. I think e-sports is certainly here to stay and I wish them all the best."