Published: 06:00, 10 February 2021
In the summer of 2019, it was announced that esports could become a recognised event at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
For some Kent residents, the pandemic has been the perfect time to revisit a childhood console or delve into the high-tech world of modern-day gaming to get a taste of what all the hype is about.
Since last March, Japanese gaming-giant Nintendo saw global sales for its popular Nintendo Switch console top £7.6 billion per month.
Without the ability to socialise in person, many have taken to virtual worlds to meet up and chat with friends – a welcomed alternative to another Zoom quiz.
Elliot Bond, schools and colleges liaison officer for British Esports, has seen an increase across the board in the interest in gaming over the past year.
He said: "The interest among our main target audience of schools and colleges has risen across the UK - even during the closures.
"We have also seen many other independent organisations looking to get involved, such as sports clubs, youth clubs, public service departments, among others.
"Given the many day-to-day activities have been restricted through Covid, esports and gaming in general has seen a huge rise in activity."
Last year, across both physical and digital platforms, 42.7 million games were bought in the UK, which is a 34% increase on 2019.
The majority of the games, 24.5 million, were downloaded, which was up 74%, a likely result of shops having to close their doors for large parts of 2020.
FIFA 21 was the best-selling game of the year, with almost 2.2 million copies sold.
Second place went to the latest addition in the popular Call of Duty franchise with their 2020 release of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which achieved 1.42 million.
Not only is playing games fun and a nice break from the day-to-day, it also has far reaching positive effects on an individual's mental wellbeing.
Elliot, who is from Faversham, believes the role of games in keeping a positive outlook during these trying times is incredibly important.
He added: "Having a way to communicate and socialise safely is paramount in the current climate.
"The sheer amount of regular activities that have been shut down has really shone a light on esports and gaming - an activity that continues on a regular basis as it is naturally remote, and is also extremely engaging.
"Not to mention the traditional and transferable skills you can learn from playing games, such as communication, confidence, leadership, teamwork, dexterity, digital skills, and many career pathways."
With the increased interest in casual gaming, there had also been a significant rise in the professional sphere of the digital world.
The esports industry, organized competitive play of video and computer games, was projected to generate revenues of $1.1 billion in 2020, a year-on-year growth of 16%, with the total esports audience set to rise 11.7% to 495 million individuals, according to Newzoo.
In 2016, the chief executive officer of Kent Esports, Chester King, founded the eGames – an international medal-based esports tournament which ran its showcase alongside the Rio Olympics.
At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, esports featured alongside the main games with events including popular titles such as Starcraft II and Steep: Road to the Olympics.
Elliot said: "Esports was also expected to be at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, although not as a formal event.
"The Intel World Open was to be held in the week prior to the Olympics, as part of the build up to the event – hosted in Tokyo, it was to feature popular esports titles Rocket League and Street Fighter V.
"The IOC is currently exploring its relationship with esports further, and it will be interesting to follow to see how this will play out in 2021 given the current delay on the Olympics event."
Elliot, who has been building PCs and playing games from a young age, is currently a high-ranked Grand Champion Rocket League player.
He also helps out with British Esports Twitch streams - live streamed events - both in terms of hosting and producing many of them.
He said: "We have to look behind to predict what the future looks like.
"Prior to the pandemic, our numbers of participating grassroots educational involvement has been doubling season by season, which is fantastic.
"We are hoping to turn the UK esports scene into a global presence, and to do that, our CEO Chester King is very proud to sit on a number of influential boards/positions to help us achieve this.
"There is no reason to expect this huge growth to stop, I imagine the UK scene will become much more a household name, and much more widely accepted across the nation over the next few years."
The University of Kent's esport team are currently rank 11th out of 91 teams in the British University Esports Championship.
They compete in a range of games, including Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Dota 2 and League of Legends.
For those who have dreamt of becoming a full-time, qualified gamer, British Esports partnered with global learning company Pearson last April to launch a BTEC in esports.
The course opened in September 2020 and is available at London South East College's Bromley, Orpington and Erith campuses.
The Level 3 qualification consists of 20 units, including enterprise and entrepreneurship, strategy and analysis, events management, live-streamed broadcasting, video production, shoutcasting, coaching, health and wellbeing, the law and legislation, computer networking and more.
Students participating in the course can go on to a career in professional gaming, streaming, coaching or social media management.
Chairman of the British Esports Association, Andy Payne OBE, said: "Esports is a growing, exciting industry that many young people are looking at with interest and it's important they have the opportunity to unlock their potential and be the leaders of tomorrow.
"The industry is still finding its feet, but with big names like Pearson coming on board to bring learning and curriculum design expertise, this bodes well for the future workforce.
"These qualifications are a unique development that can elevate esports education in the UK and around the world.
"We have taken our time to ensure the qualifications are as comprehensive and high quality as possible, in order to provide students with a valuable qualification that will give them the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a career in esports, video games, tech or other related sectors."
Budding gaming enthusiasts can also take a course in game design at Canterbury Christ Church University.
Principal lecturer of the course, Dr Alan Meades, has witnessed the impact the pandemic has had on gaming first-hand.
He said: "I've noticed an increased interest in gaming over the past year, and in ways that seem quite different to before.
"We've seen a lot of different things happen over the last twelve months in gaming, and these have been entirely re-defined by Covid.
"The arrival of a new generation of console gaming systems, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X/S, an event that would normally have pretty wide public recognition.
"While this has occurred within gaming and technology circles, and I'm sure many readers out there will have secured systems, the supply-chain issues are so acute that the new machines are almost invisible."
Rather than the next generation of console taking off during the extended period of isolation, Dr Meades has seen more of an interest from his students in the Nintendo Switch.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons, an open world creativity game, is one of the most popular purchases on the platform.
'They show us how important play is, no matter how old we are...'
Dr Meades added: "I think it is important for people to have a way of getting rest and separation from the challenges and frustrations of lockdown life, and for many gaming can be an excellent choice.
"Gaming, whether on PC, console, mobile phone, whatever, is an important way that many of us interact with each other, relax, communicate, and play.
"Some of us use games as the equivalent of meeting mates down the pub, others use them as ways to craft intricate stories, and sure, some people use them to blank out a few hours.
"I think the point is that games aren't a distraction from everyday life, but they're a feature of everyday life. They also show us how important play is, no matter how old we are."
However, even though the relaxing and social side of gaming has taken a huge step forward over the last year, Dr Meades isn't entirely convinced it can reach levels such as the Olympics.
He said: "Despite esports' enormous popularity, growth, and the astounding skills that some of these people do, my gut feeling is that it's just a step too far at the moment for it to become part of the Olympic games.
"But, if your question is does esports offer the same sense of skill, prowess, refinement, competition, and spectacle as the Olympics? Then my answer is absolutely.
"Perhaps if the Japanese Olympic Committee does decide not to run the 2021 games then perhaps the esports professionals should be called in.
"Of course, as someone who loves amusement arcades, visits them whenever I can, my view of esports is Konami's Track n Field, or a bout or two of Capcom's Street Fighter II."
Coming into 2021, it is more important than ever to look out for your own and others mental wellbeing, and gaming could prove to be the outlet needed to escape to worlds with endless possibilities.
It may also be the perfect time to hone your button-mashing skills, considering the rapid growth of esport across the globe could lead to it becoming the next big event in the sporting calendar.
But could it reach the point where we are all sat watching the opening ceremony of an Olympic games and Mario and Sonic are the ones bearing a flag?
If someone was to pitch the idea 10 years ago, they probably would've been laughed out of the room.
But following a year where gaming reached the next level, and the news that esports could feature in Paris 2024, it seems we are ever-closer to it becoming its own global sporting tradition.