RISING STAR: Zihong Li is one of five QUT students who have been chosen to receive the first Australian university scholarships offered to elite eSports athletes. Photo: Sonja de Sterke, QUT
RISING STAR: Zihong Li is one of five QUT students who have been chosen to receive the first Australian university scholarships offered to elite eSports athletes. Photo: Sonja de Sterke, QUT

Millions on offer as eSports mark the future of competition

WITH 500 million fans worldwide and rising eSports is the way of the future.

As coronavirus swept the globe many traditional sports, including the Virgin Australia Supercar Series moved into the virtual world to offer some form of competition and keep fans engaged.

Proving hugely successful, 230,000 people watched round one of the BP ALL Star Eseries as Supercars seamlessly transitioned online, giving drivers and supporters an entertaining alternative. While the pandemic forced their hands, the eSports movement has been rapidly developing and threatening to take over for sometime. Video games now generate more revenue than the NFL, AFL and NRL combined, and growth in participation is showing no signs of slowing. Superstars akin to Cameron Smith and Tom Brady are emerging, with these players capable of earning astonishing sums of up to $5 million for taking out a single championship.

Down under the Australian eSports League offers formalised structures and platforms to improve access and allow the holding of grassroots tournaments. Now catering to 33 university leagues and countless high school teams, RSLs, Leagues Clubs and other venues, the Australian eSports League is changing the face of sport in the Lucky Country.

Australian eSports League chief executive and producer Darren Kwan said the considerable interest had grown from the enjoyment of playing video games and supply was far from meeting demand.

“The hobby gives the base line for interest,” he said.

“Out of that hobby, you have people who want to go pro, test their skills in competition and be stars on stage. People naturally want to compete against each other. It’s just that drive that we have. There is nothing different about competing but the medium is different. It’s electronic now, not a new type of ball, and demand is well beyond supply.”

Another factor drawing people to eSports is that they really are for everyone.

Kwan said eSports were suited to all ages, with no physicality or fitness required.

“They are truly diverse and non-discriminate,” he said.

“It is wonderful because everybody can play. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.”

There are four main formats for ESports games, including First Person Shooter (Counterstrike), Massive Online Battle Arena (League of Legends), Real Time Strategy (Starcraft) and Sim (NBA2k20). Sim games simulate something real such as sport

Kwan said supporters enjoyed watching their sport live or on TV, so they purchased the game and did both.

He said Sim games were gaining in popularity but they were not expected to reach the same level of participation as MOBA, FPS and RTS because sports fans tended to prefer the real thing whereas the other formats had no equivalent.

“So the big money is in the real sport,” he said.

“As long as the NBA exists, NBA eSport is not going to be as big. But the more realistic and more entertaining it is, the better it does.”

While the most popular eSports are not tied to traditional sports, the increased uptake of Sim eSports since COVID-19 has helped give them legitimacy.

“It has brought it to light and helped to break down the barriers between generations and show the older generation that eSports is something tangible,” Kwan said.

“That it is something real and this is happening. It has promoted acceptance and bridged that gap. People are bored and they want to watch sport. Now, this is all they have to watch, so it has boosted it in that sense.”

Australian eSport is not as advanced as in other parts of the world and continues to trail traditional sports but with 1.5 million fans already it is only a matter of time before the focus shifts.

“We’re still in the early days,” Kwan said.

“We don’t have the level of sophistication as the traditional sports in terms of broadcasting, media rights, sponsorship and marketing but we’re rapidly catching up.

“Expect eSports to overtake traditional sports in the next decade. At the moment we don’t have the resources to supply everybody. As it grows we will be able to better fund ourselves, improve the speed and efficiency of infrastructure and offer more support and better quality competitions for players, and invest in equipment, venues and marketing to get people interested at all levels The technology is incredible. It’s all there ready to use.”

Kwan said social family-friendly Australian eSports clubs can be found in schools, unis and at venues around the country. He said they were a great way to meet friends and offered better players a path to the pros progressing via regional, state and national tournaments.

“It’s all about fun and enjoyment,” he said.

“That’s really how all sports begin and the community grows out of that.”

Visit ael.org.au for more info.