Earlier this summer, more than 10,000 competitive video game players traveled to Las Vegas for the world’s biggest fighting game tournament: Evolution.

The event featured tournaments for 9 different games including Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. WiiU, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tekken 7, Injustice 2, Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Blazblue: Central Fiction, and the King of Fighters XIV. Street Fighter V was aired on ESPN2 and Disney XD; Smash Bros. was aired on Disney XD.

The peak viewer count on the streaming website Twitch hit nearly 200,000 viewers.

Player sponsorships are available, teams provide salaries, and tournaments ensure a lofty sum of money for the winner. It sounds a lot like the same money being thrown into traditional professional sports, and with the same amount of viewers.

But for gamers, there’s no big stadiums or venues to bring in fans custom tailored to the way that people watch video game tournaments, which has thus far made e-sports catching on a slow process.

The concept of being a virtual athlete is becoming more appealing to youth as the paydays for prize money in tournaments increases, and those getting into gaming as more than just a hobby are discovering a new way of living off their passion.

The fighting game side of e-sports recently charmed a handful of Polk County youth, drawing several off to Orlando, Florida earlier in the summer to get involved in a national tournament in hopes of coming home with a big prize.

Earlier in June, Rock­mart citizens Noah Green and Brandon Graham participated in CEO, or the Community Effort Orlando, a large-scale tournament held for fighting game enthusiasts that featured a grand prize for the best in the competition of more than $72,000.

Green is an avid player of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers. He goes by the online alias “JigglyPuffGod,” and often participates in online tournaments.

CEO was the first offline tournament Green had participated in, and he shared that “it was an incredible experience.”

“I got to meet a lot of my favorite players like Nairo, HungryBox and Zero, and they really didn’t cut any corners with the venue,” he said.

These are names that Polk County residents won’t recognize, but in a world online with thousands of global players, they are superstars in much the same way that University of Georgia running back Nick Chubb is a hero for college football fans.

For Graham, CEO meant getting to compete against some of the top-ranked Killer Instinct players — with his main characters he played as “The Arbiter” and “Omen” — and faced such players with online handles like “Hollywood Sleep” and “Rico Suave.”

“Those are two players I really wanted to play,” said Graham. “Playing those two gave me a feel of where I stand in the grand scheme of things and I feel like I learned a thing or two.”

Graham himself competed under the alias, “The DankHaloRing.”

They didn’t come home with thousands of dollars in their pockets or a big prize, but it’s something that has them thinking about what they might be able to achieve in the future. Graham and Green aren’t alone. The e-sports craving has also hit Rockmart’s Ezra Jacobs, who recently ventured to the metro-Atlanta area for Gwinnett Brawl, a monthly fighting game tournament limited exclusively to Georgia players.

“Georgia’s fighting game scene is almost exclusive to the Atlanta area, and I really wanted to compete in Smash Bros. so it was definitely worth the trip,” said Jacobs. “It was only $7 for the venue fee and then $5 per game you competed in.”

Even just competing in one particular game in the tournament for $12 may seem like an insignificant fund, but considering hundreds of Georgians gathered at Gwinnett Brawl, Wasteland Gaming was churning in a pretty penny.

Furthermore, Gwinnett Brawl is a all day long tournament, and participants are likely to spend money at local restaurants or stores at some point during the tournament.

And it’s a growing industry.

For instance in one of gaming’s hardest competitions, a DOTA 2 tournament, the estimated earnings just in tournament winnings for players has totaled more than $126 million since players began to treat it in the same way as a professional sport. A Las Vegas-hosted event known as “The International” was one of the biggest tournaments of the sport, with tickets going for

It’s not just fighting games either. Madden players spend millions playing against one another online and in tournament settings too, and recent reports cited more than 500,000 players participating in the online shooter Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, a first or third person multiplayer shooter.

Considering how big e-sports are growing, Polk County could possibly see the appearance of venues, video game stores, and tournaments sometime in the future.

In a similar fashion to the Perfect Game baseball tournament, a local e-sports tournament could bring in tourists from all over the country who would have their needs met by the county’s numerous restaurants and stores.

With SuperData Research, a gaming market and data research firm predicting e-sports will be worth $1.9 billion in 2018, Polk County just might have electronic athletes as guests sooner or later.