Marcos Ochoa has just landed the dream job for many young Europeans: he is being paid to play video games. The 27-year-old Spaniard, whose internet nickname is "Aeroz", is a rising star of the Esports, or video games competitions that are played online or even in sports arenas. With championships watched by crowds of fans similar to traditional events like the NBA basketball finals or soccer World Cup, telecoms firms see Esports as a way to lure younger clients and brand themselves as digital companies rather than merely providers of phone services.
In April, Ochoa and four teammates signed a deal to become Vodafone's official squad in Counter Strike, a game where the player can tackle terrorists trying to take hostages or carry out a bombing. Vodafone, along with European rivals Telefonica and Orange, are investing in building up the industry by creating teams, TV channels or leagues.
With global revenues of $500 million in 2016, Esports remain financially tiny compared with the combined $450 billion income of the film, television series and sports industries in which those firms already compete for the best distribution rights. Ochoa earns in a month what a top soccer player might make in an hour, and the telecom firms still need to build a business model able to bring in significant revenue from young people accustomed to consuming online products largely for free. But according to data compiled by JP Morgan, the number of Esports fans is forecast to grow more than 50 percent by 2019 to 500 million people globally, generating revenues of $1 billion. Industry experts see a potential for a $10-20 billion market eventually.