Future

Is This Sport? Video Game 'Athletes' Train For Victory As E-Sports Booms

Video game competitions can attract millions of spectators online. A Swiss "cyber athlete" shares his story as the booming industry sets its sights on real-world credibility.

Mathieu "Maniac" Quiquerez at  ESL One Cologne 2014
Mathieu "Maniac" Quiquerez at ESL One Cologne 2014
Dejan Nikolic

GENEVA — They call themselves Flash, Moon, Admiral Bulldog or even Ferrari_430, and they can bring in annual earnings of more than $500,000. The young professionals of electronic sports (or e-Sports), who stay online for more than 10 hours a day, can be compared with famous athletes, as millions of people watch their exploits.

Mathieu "Maniac" Quiquerez is one of Switzerland's best e-Sports athletes. He ranks in the top 5 for the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), which calls for multi-player strategy and team coordination, and includes killing your adversary and adapting to changes of virtual background.

"This is a first-person shooter FPS," Quiquerez explains. "A set of 5 vs. 5 might take about 45 to 60 minutes." Knife, machine gun, automatic weapon and hand grenade: "Maniac" never skimps on resources in order to win.

This 24-year-old from northwest Switzerland is actually a member of the French team, which is one of the best in the world. Quiquerez just returned from an intensive training camp in Paris and winning first place in a youth tournament in southern France.

E-Sports has seen a major boom over the past two years, as the number of tournaments and prize money have multiplied, while game rules are becoming more and more rigorous. The latest major competition of CS:GO drew crowds of more than 20,000, and was broadcast live. The next tournament in Cologne, Germany includes a prize of $250,000 for the winning team.

"I still couldn't live on my passion for e-Sports," says Quiquerez, who took in about $13,000 last year and has a degree in the psychology of labor and organizations. "Also, the social status of the cyber athlete is not always clear."

After beginning his "training" at the age of 10, he became a professional in 2011.

Big ambitions

This burgeoning online entertainment industry can only get bigger. That's what the business information and analytics software company iHS believes, projecting that the e-Sports sector could reach $300 million in ad revenue alone by 2018. Revenue for another popular game, Dota 2, just reached $10 million, for example.

"There is no precise figure on the international revenue, since it's a new industry," says Heinrich Zetlmayr, director of Turtle Entertainment, the major actor for e-Sports. "We are the FIFA in the e-Sports world."

His company, founded in Cologne, Germany, is the owner of the Electronic Sports League (ESL), which gathers most of the top cyber athletes in the world. Among ESL's key events are l’Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), the biggest worldwide competition.

The fastest growing market for e-Sports is China, followed by the U.S. and South Korea. "We have transformed from niche market to mass market," says Zetlmayer, whose organization doesn't have any direct competitors.

The business model of this emerging industry is based on the traditional sports industry: sponsorships, advertisements, merchandising (selling games), broadcast and ticket sales. They've already attracted top-shelf advertisers such as Intel, IBM, Red Bull and Microsoft.

Live coverage of electronic competitions attracts millions of viewers, which may also help explain why Amazon last month bought Twitch, an industry leader in video game broadcasting. Meanwhile, video platform Dailymotion reports that e-Sports coverage has already supplanted current events as the most-watched videos.

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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