eSports is unknown to many, but it’s an international force. Where, though, does Australia fit in the scene?
eSports (electronic sports, also known as pro-gaming) has made a name for itself across the world in recent years. It caught the eye of mainstream media, and popular sports-centred media outlet ESPN, which then began covering games such as League of Legends and Halo 5.
What is eSports? In essence, it is competitive tournaments for video games. You’ll see ones for various video games across the world, just as you see leagues for sports like Rugby and football. Players and/or teams compete on stage or online for money and glory. Of course that ensures drama and scandal too.
Now eSports didn’t simply pop out of the blue, its history dates back several decades. The very first known eSports tournament was held in Stanford University in 1972. Over the years, eSports has grown in leaps and bounds, gaining popularity as internet speeds and reach grew. By 1990, the craze led to the first world championships for a video game – the Nintendo championships.
South Korea is one of the dominant countries in eSports. KeSPA (Korean eSports Association) is the organisation dedicated to managing e-sports in Korea. They’re associated with the Korean Olympics Committee and 11 corporations including Samsung, SK Telecom and Jin Air Greenwings. KeSPA hosts tournaments such as the KeSPA cup and acts as a governing body. One of KeSPA’s most infamous cases was a match fixing scandal which ended up with 11 players being banned from participating in KeSPA for life, and some facing criminal charges.
The USA is also proving a global player where several e-Sports are considered legitimate professional sports. The US Government has even recognised League of Legends as a sport, allowing foreign players easier access to the USA through the visa process, and to date has attracted players from around the world.
So where does Australia fit into the eSports scene? Daniel Ringland, the eSports and Competitive Manager of Riot Games Oceania, says we have a way to go. “We are 3-5 years behind other regions such as North America and Europe,” he says. Australians have performed respectably in Call of Duty and League of Legends, with Chiefs (an Australian-based team) narrowly missed out on qualifying for the World Finals in 2015.
Perhaps our biggest success has been in the game Call of Duty. Australian teams Exile5.T1, Plantronic.Mindfreak and Integral Nations took part in the 2015 Los Angeles finals with Plantronic.Mindfreak taking 6th place out of 32 teams.
Renegades is arguably Australia’s best team in Counterstrike: Global Offensive. While the team’s Premier League showings aren’t impressive, it’s proved to be a force, taking 3rd place for Intel Extreme Masters Season X.
One of our best eSports players is Andrew Pender (mOOnGLaDe) who managed to reach 4th place in IEM season V – World Championship for Starcraft II along with many other achievements.
But for most games, such as Hearthstone and Dota 2, very few teams are internationally competitive. Daniel argues there just isn’t a big enough talent pool to warrant a league in our own country. Not only is there a lack of players, there’s also a lack of fans and sponsorship money.
Can Australia catch up? We’re now a member of the IeSF (International e-Sports Federation), which promotes e-Sports as a global sport, participating in large titled gaming competition under the IeSF. Australia has also established organisations such as Cybergamer Australia which organise tournaments and act as gateways for teams to compete internationally. While Cybergamer doesn’t provide the same level of support as organisations in other countries, it provides exposure for many Australian amateur teams and players.
In terms of our players, the talent pool is increasing – albeit slowly, partly because of the time needed to devote to eSports, and partly because of a lack of funding for players. “Success in eSports, like any sport, requires hard work, training and dedication, which means time,” explains Daniel. “Our league now runs for 26 weeks per year, including 20 regular season weeks which bring players a constant income. Combine that with prize money and sponsorships, it’s a start, but it needs to keep growing.”
Professional players aren’t as stable when it comes to income earnings. In the US, eSports scene has developed a number of systems that allows many professional (and even non-professional) players to sustain their gaming careers. Some of the most significant star players receive upwards of $A1.3 million per year, the less recognised players will receive about $A33,000 per year (two splits per year) for League of Legends as their basic wage from Riot Games. With Twitch or YouTube and similar platforms, the income varies greatly with some of the most popular players receiving at least $A130 per hour – though that requires the player to make gaming a full-time job.
For Australian players, they don’t receive the luxury of minimum payment and Twitch/Youtube does not provide the same stability as the income is strongly tied to how popular the player is. Sponsorships were more effective with exposed players and doesn’t necessarily provide income, but instead provide gear and equipment such as computer gear. When it comes to YouTube and Twitch, Australian players must also compete with their overseas counterparts, “It kind of puts us at a disadvantage with the rest of the market because why would you watch a low quality stream from Australia when you can watch a high quality stream from the United States or from somewhere else in the world,” said Derek Trang, who plays for e-sports club the Chiefs. Overall, most Australian players could not simply sustain this lifestyle due to the weaker support.
So what is the future of Australian eSports? Daniel seems to think it’s positive.
“If you think of other sports you know like AFL, NRL, etc, it’s the teams that generate excitement and engagement from fans. Fans all have a team and love and support them passionately, wearing the colours the face paint, waving the flag, etc,” says Daniel. “This level of passion is what I’d like to see in Oceanic eSports within the next few years, and it’s starting to happen!” – Roger Lee
Photo by Ben Atkinson-James.