Rooney, Ronaldo, Zlatan… and Dragonn? Can eSports complete move from 'joke' to star turn?

'The way we were doing eSports then wasn't quite right', the UK's first professional gamer reflects on the changes to eSports

eSports has surged in popularity since UK's first pro gamer started out

Friday, June 10, 2016

With the group stages of Euro 2016 about to begin, the focus is very much on football, with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to grace the pitches of France over the next few weeks. 

But some of the continent's leading football clubs are turning their attention off the pitch, where big-name signings are being made from the world of eSports.

Premier League club West Ham United hit the headlines in May when they snapped up professional gamer Sean 'Dragonn' Allen to represent the team at FIFA video-game tournaments. Allen was a runner-up - from 1.2 million entrants - at the FIFA 2016 Interactive World Cup. 

Spanish side Valencia CF, and Germany's FC Schalke 04 have also invested in eSports players, while recent rumours have linked Manchester United with a move into the eSports arena. 

With such high-profile names becoming associated with gaming, the UK's first professional gamer, Sujoy Roy, told talkRADIO how the industry has progressed over the last 20 years. 

"I called it from the beginning, when it really was a joke to everybody," Roy, who turned pro in 2000, told Jonny Gould and Ash. 

"[In the past] the way we were doing eSports wasn't quite right. Back then we always thought that if we wanted it to be recognised as a real activity it needed to be [recognised as] a sport."

So what has attracted the big-money world of professional football clubs to the stars of online gaming? 

The explosion of the internet, and the advent of video channels such as YouTube, gave eSports its opportunity to move into the mainstream, with live streams regularly attracting more than 100,000 viewers online. Experts estimate that, in 2014, more than 200 million watched or took part in eSports worldwide.  

"We thought you've got to go on TV to get money," Roy said. "We were in our little world, playing our video games. 

"What's changed is that the internet has unlocked the ability for anyone to watch what they want."