In the past, sports tournaments like the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup were some of the only chances that competitors had to perform on a global stage. Prior to these sports events, few competitions truly spanned the globe. But that’s all changing today. Thanks to the advent of technology, dozens of hobbies and pursuits now take place on an international stage.
This is especially true for virtual hobbies. Unlike in-person activities, virtual hobbies take place solely in a digital realm. This means that participants can link up with other like-minded people to collaborate and/or compete—even if they’re from the other side of Planet Earth. Unsurprisingly, this has led to highly complex and fully virtual operations centered around major industries, especially big-money sectors like eSports.
But what do these massive and international competitions actually look like? Let’s dive into a few examples, saving the obvious choice (eSports) for last.
Poker is one of our world’s most popular and storied games. Some even believe it stretches back to Persia’s medieval card game of As-Nas, which would make the game around five hundred years old. But today, most people recognize terms from the industry like big blind and hole cards thanks to the poker boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
As poker platforms took off, so did participation. It’s not uncommon for top pros to cut their teeth playing in online tournaments. In some cases, these tournaments can even qualify players for live events like the EPT and WSOP. Estimates put the global number of players around 100 million, while the number of tournament participants can number up to 60,000 per event.
Around the same time that poker was exploding online, robotics challenges were also hitting the mainstream. Major TV networks were highlighting the competitions, which pit teams of techies against one another to create the ultimate robot. Many challenges pitted robots against one another in cage fights, including the famous 2000 show Battle Bots.
Today, some of the largest competitions are fully virtual. Roboduel and Robocup, for example, let teams create simulated robots. Rather than work in a lab to create a fighting bot, they work on a virtual platform to create a robot to perform a specific challenge and then battle against other creators in a simulated environment.
Those with a need for speed often face challenges in enjoying their favorite activities, like rally racing or NASCAR. That’s because, no matter how proficient they are at the wheel, they won’t likely have the chance to experience driving in a professional race. That’s where the iRacing platform comes in.
This platform creates highly specialized leagues and races that emulate real-life tournaments for a variety of competitions, including F1, NASCAR, and rally driving. The platform even offers hobbyist options, letting drivers man a big-rig or another unique vehicle. The goal is to closely emulate what it’s like to drive one of these cars.
To make the experience even more realistic, iRacing allows for customization. This means that players can create a setup that includes a steering wheel, pedals, shift gears, and much more. It’s estimated that there are over 160,000 active users, around 87,000 of which log on daily. Some of the largest competitions are co-hosted by actual leagues, including the eNASCAR racing series.
Online poker, robotics challenges, and the iRacing platform are all great examples of highly developed virtual competitions. However, none hold a candle to the development and revenue behind modern eSports. The stats behind the industry are simply astounding.
As of 2023, there are over a dozen professional leagues that span multiple countries—if not continents. These include leagues for League of Legends, CS: GO, Apex Legends, Dota 2, Fortnite, and Valorant, to name a few. Dozens of eSports players are earning hundreds of thousands a year for their performance, while the average salary has risen to around $40,000 for qualified players. By 2025, analysts estimate that the number of eSports viewers will grow to around 640 million.