For a country that attaches so much self-esteem to how well the national sporting teams do, Australia is a bit of a dead zone for competitive gaming. For those of us who live here and enjoy games like StarCraft, Dota 2, or Counter-Strike, it’s pretty annoying. But why isn’t it bigger? Read on, and find out!
Australia is a country where sport is as important as religion to a great many people. But to those people, the masses who actually watch these sports, the things they like are what they’ve been familiar with for decades. I.e. games where hard men run into each other to transport a ball from one end of a field to another. As you can imagine, it’s a place where sporting heroes are required to become role models for everyone, and judged harshly if they ever fall from grace.
“Mad about sport” is an understatement. This is a country that features among its geography several deserts, yet still competes in the Winter Olympic Games. With gusto. The Summer Olympics? Australia ranks 11th on the all-time medal table. So why isn’t competitive gaming popular? Well it comes down to two key factors.
Firstly, it’s down to promotion. Think of a promo clip for a soccer match, there would be goals saved, goals scored and much more to stir up a potential audience. A competitive gaming clip? What on Earth would you put in there to excite people who’ve never seen the game being played before?
Happily, Valve are here to help, and have made a feature length documentary that follows three professional gamers from around the world as they compete for a million dollar prize in the first Dota 2 International Tournament.
This may be a wonderful step in the right direction, but this is still niche, this won’t get Joe Bloggs in from the street to have a crack at Dota 2, this is mainly for people who are already a) gamers and b) already into the competitive scene. It’s being released on Steam, but that’s going to pull in gamers who likely would have heard of competitive gaming anyway.
What are the odds that the average punter who loves soccer will watch this trailer and get involved? You might right now be thinking “who cares?”. Well here’s why. Games need to be well promoted and marketed to the average person in order for the game to gain mainstream appeal. Without at least some interest from the average person on the street, you’re never going to get mass support for a hobby. Compounding the lack of knowledge is the potential lack of interest.
Australians are known globally for their enthusiasm and participation in “outdoor” pastimes, sure it’s a stereotype, but it’s one that’s based in fact. One of our most famous unofficial mascots was a guy who wrestled crocodiles for fun, for heaven’s sake. What is the likelihood of getting the population similarly enthused about five people sitting quietly in front of computer screens? Even with the usual explanations given, that yes, the games being played involve teamwork, co-ordination, communication, skill, hours and hours of practice and (sometimes) sportsmanship, people are still all too happy to tell you that because there’s no physical exertion involved, it isn’t a sport. This is one of the two critical barriers to get through, and the easier one of two to get past. Advertising is hardly expensive, and there are multiple methods of drawing attention to your activity.
When these methods are undertaken, however, it’s important that gamers take note and support the companies taking the risks. Next week we’ll be seeing the finals of the AEL Summer Cup being held in Sydney. I heartily encourage all of you who may be based in and around Sydney to turn up to have a look. Without the support of the niche audience the scene already has, it’s got no chance at all of attracting more eyeballs from curious passers-by. As I said, this is the easier barrier to break. A thriving niche scene has a much easier time breaking into the mainstream than one that’s incredibly low-key. But,even after the scene in Australia has cracked this particular issue, there’s a much bigger problem waiting for it.
The online infrastructure in Australia is a joke. I still remember exchange students in university from South East Asia laughing about how Youtube videos in this country actually spend so long loading that you can see a progress bar. Internet connectivity in Australia, even in capital cities, is patchy at best, and never what you’d call completely reliable. In a gaming scene where tens of milliseconds of latency can decide your fate, a solid connection is critical to success. Just look at South Korea, the home of competitive gaming after the massive reception to Star Craft in that country. The country boasts the second-fastest average internet speed in the world. Meanwhile, Australia lags in 49th place.
Unfortunately, whilst domestic politics is in it’s current state, there’s no way in the next five to ten years we’ll be able to compete with our neighbours in South East and Eastern Asia with connectivity. This will mean that an entertainment scene which relies on having a stable and fast internet connection is unlikely to flourish to the same degree. Yes, in the next five years there will be a larger eSports scene in Australia than we have now, but compared to the rest of the world? It’s still fledgeling.