Professional gamers who play EA Sports' Fifa franchise are now earning more money than a quarter of professional footballers in the top four divisions of English football, a new study has revealed.
No longer just a hobby, the eSports industry has experienced an enormous boom in recent years, with competitive gaming currently being considered for the 2024 Olympic Games.
Fifa, the most popular football video game on the market, is among the most-watched esports, with prize money totalling tens of thousands of dollars up for grabs.
Pro gamer Spencer Ealing took home $200,000 (£140,000) after winning the Grand Finals of the Fifa Interactive World Cup in London last year.
Such figures are only expected to grow, with lucrative endorsements and sponsorship deals now as prevalent as they are in the real game.
A study by iGaming site Casumo, using data collected from the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), reveals the best professional Fifa players are earning more money than 25% of professional footballers in the English Football League system, made up of the Premier League, the Championship, League One and League Two.
The data reveals the average annual salary for a League Two player is currently £47,372, a figure eclipsed by the average of £56,870 in prize money earned by the top 10 Fifa gamers in 2017.
With 2,501 professional footballers in the Premier League and English Football League, and 661 of those playing in League Two, it means that the top FIFA gamers are earning more than 25% of all professional players.
While that average is a fraction of the average earnings in the Premier League, it is growing all the time.
Esports as an industry is already valued at $696m and is expected to rise to over $1.5bn by 2020. The prize money claimed by 2016's Fifa competition winner was $20,000 - rising by $180,000 within a year. If the average earnings of the top 10 Fifa players increase at same rate then that would be at just short of half a million by 2020 – more than the average salary for a player plying their trade in the Championship.
Football clubs across the planet have already recognised the value of the esports industry, with Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax, Schalke and West Ham United among those to have already created their own egaming franchise – the latter being the first club in the UK to sign an esports player.
Esports is an increasingly popular profession among young people, and for those at the very top, the money is well earned, according to pro player Kurt0411.
"Millions play this game and it's only fair that the very top are rewarded for their efforts, it isn't easy playing this game at the top top level. It is already a career choice for some people... when I was getting offers of more money per month than I was getting at my workplace I realised I have to have a go at this full time."