Although most people looking from the outside in might view esports or professional gaming as something teenagers get up to, it's a serious business.
This weekend sees The International, an esports tournament for Dota 2, take place in the KeyArena in Seattle, Washington. The total prize pool up for grabs is $23,833,592 - with $10,443,254 going to the first place winner, $3,797,547 for second, and $2,492,140 for third. Overall, it's an increase of little over $3,000,000 from last year's prize pool and represents the largest prize pool ever assembled for an esports tournament.
While the figures are nowhere near the level of, say, McGregor V. Mayweather, it still represents a huge amount of money and is indicative of just how popular professional gaming has become in recent years. The game in question, Dota 2, is a MOBA - which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena - and is published by Valve, who also run The International. Valve is responsible for Steam, the largest digital distribution platform for PC gaming, with close to 75% of the market share.
According to esportsearnings.com, the highest-paid player in the world is Saahil Arora, better known as UNiVeRsE. A Dota 2 player, Saahil has made $2,826,896 from competing in 67 tournaments and he hasn't even turned 30. That's not counting the money he's made from sponsorships, either. Saahil is part of Evil Geniuses, an esports team that fields players in games such as Call Of Duty, Super Smash Bros., Halo, and most recently Overwatch. Evil Geniuses lists brands such as Monster Energy, SanDisk, AMD, and Xfinity as partners.
Needless to say, it's serious business for everyone playing - and, sure enough, Evil Genius have entered The International this weekend.
While you might think that it's simply hosted online like any other game, there's a huge live show attached to the event as well. As mentioned, the event takes place in the KeyArena in Seattle, which holds a maximum capacity of 17,459. Tickets for the final, taking place next Saturday, are close to selling out already, at a price of $200 per ticket.
While there are no Irish players taking part in the tournament this year, there's a small number of Dota 2 players and casters, the most well-known of these is Shane "Shaneomad" Clarke. However, Shane is quick to point out that he's "miles away" from being a professional player. Shane runs a Twitch channel, with a new stream set up exclusively to help players starting out in Dota 2. However, he admits there's a small number of players in Ireland - and certainly ones who'd be willing to travel to The International.
"When I was at last year's tournament (The International 6, or TI6), there were two Irish people who travelled all the way there," explains Shane. "That was the first time I meet anyone from Ireland at an event outside the country." When asked as to why Dota 2, or PC gaming in general, hasn't taken hold in Ireland the way it has in other countries, Shane has no real answer. "Maybe we're more outgoing? It's never been seen as cool to play PC games."
When it comes to esports and Dota 2, Shane agrees that "Ireland is definitely far behind other countries, that's for sure." Still, with the ever-growing popularity of online gaming and esports, and the increasingly lucrative prize monies out there to be won, it won't be much longer before Irish players begins to make an impact in the professional arena.