THE Irish people have always enjoyed competition in all of its many forms from the annual Six Nations tournament to that spring-time celebration of cheesy entertainment, the Eurovision Song Contest. So it’s hardly any surprise that they have also taken video gaming very much to their hearts, especially the now booming sector of e-sports.
For those not in the know, e-sports is the huge global industry in which the world’s best video games players can compete for huge prizes, watched by millions of fans. The figures are staggering: the global revue raised by e-sports is projected to reach $3 billion by 2022. The global audience for it is estimated to be over 440 million people, 79 % of whom are aged under 35. The growth of e-sports in Ireland has been so phenomenal that an official body has been established to oversee its growth.
The explosion of e-sports
And growing it is, with around 22% of Irish adults saying that they either watch or participate in online tournaments. They also seem to take things very seriously indeed, saying that they would be prepared to pay more to their internet providers if this would ensure a faster, more reliable service through which to watch and play.
In total, around 36% of adults play games of various kinds of games online, and this is a figure that is very likely to continue growing throughout this year and beyond.
Back in 2018, the very first all-Ireland e-sports tournament was held. Called Ireland’s EStars and won by a team from Sligo, it’s more than likely that it helped to propel the sport even more into the public consciousness.
The online casino boom
And it’s not just traditional video games that are on an upward trajectory in Ireland. More and more online casino fans are enjoying this particular form of entertainment too. Ever since the Betting Act of 2015, operators have been able to offer their services in Ireland. Today, there are around 15 of them and, in the last year, they have seen a particular surge in interest with an estimated 38% increase in the number of players registering.
The online casino is a very different experience from when it first appeared a couple of decades ago. Increasingly sophisticated technology has continued to make it more and more like the real casino experience with most sites even offering “live” games run by real dealers with the action being streamed to the player’s PC or mobile device.
By far the most favourite game for Irish players are the slots games – and it’s no coincidence that so many of these feature lucky leprechauns chasing pots of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Companies mean business
Online casino operators aren’t the only businesses who are thriving in Ireland, games companies are too. It in 2018 when there was a major breakthrough for the domestic games industry when the country’s first ever AAA-rated game was released by a company called Digit. The game was Star Trek Fleet Command and it soon featured on best-seller lists
worldwide. This led to a Los Angeles-based games developer called Scopely buying up Digit but vowing to keep the Irish operation open.
Other global names including EA Sports, Activision and Riot Gall all also have studios in Ireland and have recently been joined by a start-up called Vela Games in Dublin. Run by a number of industry veterans with previous experience at EA and Riot, great things are expected of them.
The biggest names in the games
If they do make a name for themselves, the principals running Vega Games will join a list of the rising, and established, stars of the Irish gaming firmament. In terms of players, the biggest names among these must surely be the gamer twins Ryan and Scott Fitsimons. The 29-year-old pair, from County Meath are estimated to have had a joint income of €7.4 million over the last five years thanks to their mastery of the video building game, Minecraft.
Their main earnings come from the game’s YouTube channel where their humorous voiceovers that accompany their game-play have attracted 1.7 million subscribers.
A less high-profile name is Steve Collins who, along with partner, Hugh Reynolds, created a gaming software program called Havok which went on to be used in over 150 games and attracted the attention of Intel who bought their company for €76 million.
Collins has since gone on to be an associate professor of computer graphics at trinity College Dublin and it’s in the higher education sector that the next generation of games developers are being trained.
Looking to the future
There are now an increasing number of degree courses in Ireland solely focused on games with two of the leading ones being a BSc honours degree in Computing in Games Development at Dundalk and a BA degree in Creative Digital Media at the Cork Institute of technology.
So, looking to the future, it would seem that there will be a steady stream of graduates ready to take the gaming industry to even greater heights.
In terms of e-sports this is likely to become even bigger business and attract even more interested participants, perhaps even broadening out the age range. With more “traditional” kinds of video game contests like the ePremier League Invitational Tournament being broadcast on Sky last year it is sure to draw in more fans.
It all adds up to a very bright outlook for games and gaming in Ireland which, in turn, will be very welcome news for the economy.