I'm in a pub in north London and Spurs v Arsenal is on the big screen. Weirdly, though, I'm the only person who is watching the game.

It's a half-decent match as well. Harry Kane's already grabbed the opener and he's bullying the Gunners' back line for fun.

I turn to have a sip of drink. When I look back Arsenal have equalised. I feel irritated at missing the goal, but get over it quickly when I equate my annoyance with the fact that I'm actually just watching a couple of people I've never even spoken to playing each other at Fifa 18.

And it's not just these two. All around the periphery of Meltdown on Caledonian Road, gamers are playing against friends in the venue or are wired up to PCs or PS4s to play others online. Meanwhile, big screens around the bar show some of the best gamers in the world battling it out.

It may seem bizarre now but e-sports might not just be an opportunity for participation in pubs — it could also grow into a huge spectator event in this country.

Duncan Morrison is the co-owner of the business, which is one of a growing number in the UK dedicated to e-sports. He says: "The industry is growing all the time. The growth in the past five or six years has been exponential."

Meltdown itself is an example of this. It launched in Paris in 2012 and now has 30 franchises across Canada and Europe.




A global game

This reflects the incredible increase in the popularity of e-sports. Various sources suggest global revenues from e-sports are heading north of £1bn a year and, says Goldman Sachs, this is growing at a rate of 22 per cent per year.

"Athletes", as the best players are known, compete in a range of games, with fans packing arenas to watch them. The prize pot for the International Dota 2 Championship — an online battle arena game — stood at more than £20m last year. In September 10,000 e-sports fans will head to Wembley Arena to watch teams battle for the Counter Strike: Global Offensive Major.

Are we likely to see e-sports hitting mainstream pubs any time soon? "I expect the crossover will be pubs showing the major tournaments," Duncan says. "We stream it all the time and when teams from the UK are competing it can feel like a traditional sports bar."

Meltdown is fairly traditional in the sense that it has your usual beers and spirits on display, and events throughout the week — in this case gaming tournaments — are a big driver of trade. The money comes in from traditional revenue streams, with private venue hire another source.



Game for a laugh

Naturally, the majority of customers are gamers or fans of gaming, but some just enjoy the casual and friendly atmosphere.

Duncan continues: "The gaming is an ice-breaker for conversation, which isn't always easy in a pub or bar. Most people come here initially because of the gaming but we have regulars who just come in for a drink and the social side."

And he adds gamers are more sociable than the stereotype of teens who never leave their bedroom would suggest. "With e-sports it isn't like you have to play for 12 hours — most games last half-an-hour to 40 minutes. By necessity you are playing against other people and most are team games, so you are playing with other people.

"Most of those people are sociable 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."

This is why companies such as nightclub operator Deltic have been closely monitoring the e-sports world. In October it held an event at Birmingham nightclub Pryzm dedicated to gaming, which featured gaming rigs all over the venue. More events are planned this year.



Tim Howard, Deltic marketing director, says e-sports represent a big opportunity for venues, particularly on quieter days of the week — the firm held its first event on a Sunday.

"We used the entire venue and provided people with different experiences and game areas. The market is interesting because gamers can be aged from five to 65, so you can segment this in a number of ways. My feeling is it starts with social gaming and the student market and builds from there.

"It has a long way to run and I am sure we will adapt what we do along the way."

Which means it's a case of game on, rather than game over, for pubs looking to tap into this potentially lucrative market.



E-sports by numbers

League of Legends players worldwide

People watched e-sports once a month in 2017

People in UK have watched e-sports

Estimated UK e-sports ticket sales to events by 2021

Of US male millennials watch e-sports

Of UK e-sport fans are aged between 21 and 35

Stats from Newzoo, YouGov and the Association of UK Interactive Gaming