Australia and Esports: The Challenges and Opportunity

Industry Guest Post: Dave Harris has spent over 15 years in traditional sports with his last major role being General Manager at National Rugby League.  Dave is currently the Managing Director of Guinevere Capital Esports & Entertainment with a portfolio including LG Dire Wolves, Supa-Stellar, SCG Esports High Performance Centre and The Next Gamer.


In Part 1, we looked at Australian esports focused on broadcasting partners, live events and Non-Endemic brands. In Part 2, we'll look at the challenges as well as the opportunity ahead.

 

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CHALLENGES

Infrastructure - Australia has a relatively small population (~24 million) spread across the world’s 6th largest country (5% of the world’s land area).  This combination of factors has meant the internet infrastructure has not been developed to the level one would expect for a first world country. 

Isolation - Aside from the infrastructure, the isolation of the country itself from the rest of the world means online completion against other countries (aside from the other main player in the Oceania region, New Zealand) isn’t practical.  This isn’t a technology problem but a “speed of light” problem due to the distances involved.

Developing under the microscope – There are many “developing regions” around the world but Australia is one with English as its native language, meaning that when something goes wrong - it is often pasted and debated in social media across NA, EU and beyond.  Aussie teams and players also sometimes generate international social media exposure by following the Australian tradition of not being intimidated by big name opposition (and making a point of telling them)

 

 Gfinity In Australia (Photo: Joe Brady)

Gfinity In Australia (Photo: Joe Brady)

OPPORTUNITY

While its isolation and sparse population is in many ways a challenge, it means the Australian market is often used as a testing ground for western markets by global technology, sport and entertainment groups.  Twitter has run a number of esports broadcasts and collaborations with organisations such as Riot Oceania.  In traditional sport the country has also managed to “punch above its weight” over the years through innovation and the formation of programs such as the Australian Institute of Sport.  Without the same depth of talent in a small population, there is an imperative to develop and make the most of the talent which is present rather than having a “churn and burn” approach used elsewhere.

Playing Talent – Using Renegades in CS:GO as an example, Australian talent has previously felt the need to relocate overseas to be competitive.  Damien Chok is another example having won approximately $1m in 2017 playing DOTA2 - including winning The International with Chinese team Newbee.  However, with more direct access into global competition being opened up to Oceania, developing and playing domestically has become viable.  Some Australian teams are already managing to break through as top performers on the international stage such as Kanga Esports in Paladins.

Casting – One area Australia does over index in is casting where using League of Legends as an example, many of the biggest names are Australian such as Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith, Julian “Pastrytime” Carr and Max “Atlus” Anderson or cut their teeth in the region such as Indiana “Froskurinn” Black, Matthew “Fish” Stewart and many more.

Research & Education – The recently opened Esports High Performance Centre in the Sydney Cricket Ground precinct is an initiative mirroring the successful traditional sports model for developing talent.  A partnership is in place with the University of Technology Sydney sports science faculty with a number of programs being translated from their work and research from the sports world.  Similar facilities have been proposed by other Australian organisations including Legacy Esports at the Adelaide Crows base. 

Borderless Esports – Australia is a logical base to launch from into other underdeveloped market such as India and South Africa (through strong existing sporting links) or regional neighbours such as Malaysia and Philippines (with considerable internet penetration, English fluency and population).  The pyramid is upside down in esports compared to traditional sports, with amateur play financing professional leagues rather than vice versa.  The Australian population is not going to provide the same player base and opportunities that can be used to develop the scale that can be achieved elsewhere.

Governance – A global challenge of the industry is the perceived fragmentation and lack of governance, particularly when it comes to sponsors and governmental support.  The Esports Games Association Australia launched in late 2017 as a member based body aiming to unify the local industry using best practice principals from traditional sports governance.  Being at an earlier stage of the cycle, the opportunity is available to implement a self-governance system for key stakeholders in Australia.

 

CONCLUSION

While Australia has only just started its esports journey into the mainstream, there is a lot of optimism that the gap with other regions can be closed avoiding the pitfalls that have been experienced elsewhere.  Huge opportunities still remain in the region while people may feel they have missed the boat in other places.  2018 is going to be an exciting year down under and worth keeping an eye on!