I recently found myself in a pub drawn to a big screen showing Spurs playing Arsenal.

That, in itself, is not particularly unusual, it's a big game by anyone's standards, whether a cup tie or a Premier League match.

But this was neither. It was two random people battling it out on a PS4 version of FIFA 18. It was a decent game and it drew me in.

Save for a few periods of late teen and early-adult addiction to football-based games such as Championship Manager, Sensible Soccer or the above-mentioned FIFA, I've never been much of a gamer.

And, aside from childhood memories of kids cramming around an arcade version of Street Fighter in a chip shop, I never imagined it could be a spectator sport.

But it is. Thousands upon thousands of people watch live streams of the best esports athletes (yes, athletes) in the world taking each other on for pot prizes of millions of pounds.

 

 

Take the event coming up at Wembley Arena in September when 10,000 esports fans will watch teams battle for the in the Counter Strike: Global Offensive Major.

Football teams such as Man City and West Ham even have FIFA playing stars on their books to represent them at global events.

It may sound barmy but esports is growing into a multi-billion-pound industry - and pubs may be able to get a piece of the pie.

I was watching the North London derby at Meltdown in Islington. The bar is one of 30 Meltdowns across Europe and Canada where gamers go not only to play on the PS4s, Wiis and PCs but also to watch the top leagues across the globe.

 

 

The reason, and this was the revealed to me by Meltdown London's GM Duncan Morrison, is that gaming is actually a very social activity.

For outsiders such as myself it is easy to pigeon-hole gamers in the category of 'social misfits who spend days cooped-up up in a bedroom'. And while this may be true in some cases it is also true that esports normally involve people competing against each other, whether physically in a room together or online.

As Duncan said: "Most of those people are social but there was nowhere to go. They would chat online but now they can meet in real life, so it was something people were waiting for."

If you think about it, gaming brings people together. It does so in a similar way to traditional board games, which have found a place of their own in contemporary pub culture.

Playing a computer game is more interactive than live sport so for those involved it is potentially more social than watching a match together. The big difference of course is that with major sports events you can get the entire pub full of people hoping for the same outcome and going through a very similar experience.

The growing number of esports fans indicates that there is also an audience who could join you to watch joypad tapping athletes compete.

So, whether streaming the best or providing playing opportunities for hobbyists, it could be that gaming and the gaming community could be a market for you to tap into yourselves.

And, in case you were wondering, Spurs won 2-1, after extra-time.

 

• For more on esports see the April edition of Inapub magazine.

 

Images courtesy of Meltdown London