COLOGNE, Germany - Connected devices are challenging consoles at the world's largest online gaming fair, as hundreds of thousands of fans jostle to see top e-sports stars in action and give feedback that can decide whether a new release is a hit or a flop.
The gamescom fair in Cologne, Germany, opens to the general public on Wednesday after a series of sneak-peek events to whet the appetite of a rising generation of enthusiasts who spend more time on gaming than they do watching TV.
Stars of competitive online gaming, known as e-sports, are now making the kind of money earned by professional soccer or tennis players, with US teenager Kyle Giersdorf scooping $3 million at last month's Fortnite World Cup.
Organizers say this year's event will focus on cloud-based gaming, amid a trend towards using a range of connected devices and away from consoles such as the Sony Playstation or Microsoft Xbox.
"Cloud gaming is a very important trend - it's about being able to play the best, newest games on practically every device because the actual account is in the cloud," said gamescom's Felix Falk.
Independent developers will also be in the spotlight, added Falk.
Fans will get an up-close look at their heroes demonstrating forthcoming releases, with developers and industry analysts observing queues and interviewing visitors to assess which might turn out to be hits.
"This starts very early," said Jens Kosche, a developer at the German unit of Electronic Arts, which is behind games such as Anthem and Apex Legends.
"We show games to select players and they tell us what they think could be better, and what they like. With that feedback we can develop the game further."
There are an estimated 2.6 billion e-gamers worldwide who will spend some $148 billion on games and related products this year, according to research from Newzoo cited by Mirabaud Securities.
That figure is forecast to rise to $174 billion by 2021 as e-gaming gains in popularity thanks to faster mobile connectivity and the spread of technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
That makes online gaming – and following e-sports pros on social networks such as Amazon's streaming platform Twitch – a lucrative channel for advertisers and marketers as mainstays like TV stagnate. (Additional reporting and writing by Douglas Busvine, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)