Cinema becomes war zone for 'Call of Duty' eSports fans

Mon May 11, 2015 1:05pm EDT
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By Lionel Laurent

LONDON (Reuters) - On a bright Sunday afternoon in central London, in a low-lit converted wing of a shopping-mall cinema, hundreds of fans cheer as two teams of 20-somethings riddle each other with bullets during a big-screen game for a $25,000 reward.

The game is "Call of Duty", a hugely popular first-person shooter that demands hair-trigger "twitch" reflexes, teamwork and hours of daily training to beat the best in the fast-growing world of competitive gaming tournaments.

So-called "eSports" are set to generate almost $500 million a year in revenues globally by 2017, according to research firm Newzoo.

The weekend tournament is just one of two dozen events this year at London's "Gfinity Arena", billed as the only dedicated eSports venue in the country, seating 600 people across two screening rooms. That may not seem much next to a 40,000-capacity football stadium, but millions also tune in online.

"'Call of Duty' is a very important game for us," said Neville Upton, head of the British eSports firm Gfinity that launched the venue this year. Citing 2.5 million views for previous tournaments, he added: "(Most) people who watch are young males...sponsors are keen to hit that demographic."

The atmosphere veers from the quiet tension of a chess match to the quick-fire highs and lows of a Formula One race.

Commentators make sense of the on-screen chaos; the blink-and-you'll-miss-it kills average at one every 1.5 seconds.

The players, many of whom have attained celebrity status, sit hunched over screens in transparent booths and barely register any emotion as the on-screen body count racks up.   Continued...