Lero, the Irish Software Research Centre, has opened Ireland's first e-sports research lab.

E-sports are where people play, are watched and paid to play games like Fortnite and Minecraft in teams or alone.

The new lab is located at the University of Limerick.

Lero researchers at UL will conduct studies designed to boost performance of international, amateur and professional e-sports players.

This is a massive growth sector according to Dr Mark Campbell, director of the Lero e-sports research lab.

"Top professional players can earn millions of dollars per annum. However, unlike other professional sports, there has been very little application of sports science to the participants to date."

The research lab will combine health science and computing to identify what makes a great player. "For example, we will work on psychometric software incorporating eye tracking and brain imaging to measure the neural, cognitive and physical attributes of the most effective players."

The research has shown that this is a sport in which female players can compete on equal terms with their male counterparts.

"While playing video games does have a male image there is no physical benefit for either sex unlike many traditional sports such as rugby. In e-sports, although there are far fewer female players, competitions are not organised by gender, so men and women compete against each other on equal terms," he said.

The earnings potential of e-sports was highlighted by last month's Fortnite World Cup in New York where US teenager Kyle 'Bugha' Giersdorf, 16, won $3 million. Dublin teenager Joshua Juliano, 17, took home $50,000 from the same event.

Prize money in 2018 exceeded $160 million, and for one event prize money reached $25 million. Ireland's top e-sports player, Jordan Crowley, earned almost $250,000 in 2018 according to the e-sports earnings website.

Revenues of global e-sports, or competitive video games played for spectators, will grow to $1.1 billion in 2019, a year-on-year growth of 26.7% according to analytics company Newzoo.

The total global e-sports audience will grow to 453.8 million in 2019, a year-on-year growth of 15%.

Professor Mark Ferguson is Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland. He said e-sports represent a rapidly growing billion-dollar global industry which is using innovation to push the boundaries of technology.

"This new Lero SFI Research Centre lab will help bring about greater levels of international visibility to the games industry, solidifying expertise across Irish third level institutions and industry."

Prof Conor Ryan, Lero researcher at UL said: "We will work with both amateur and professional players. The research will include detailed monitoring of numerous functions from mouse grip to players' peripheral vision and aural range. The findings will be of benefit to players, managers and sponsors of professional e-sports teams and could contribute to the design of future computer peripherals."

Lero has already conducted initial research at international events analysing players of the most popular e-sports games including "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" and "League of Legends".