Fans of tomorrow: Esports in Australia

Being a fan of sports tomorrow means following more than the AFL; Australia too begins to ride the wave of esports.

Being a sports fan in 2019 might feel like a stranger experience than it once did. Where once, Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne was home to the Australian Open tennis series, now, one can catch flashes of computers and bright lights, controllers and gamers, professional sounding commentary combined with the most hyped up crowds that the new generation sports scene can have to offer. In 2019, your average university student isn’t just likely to be following up on the Australian Football League, but also the Australian Esports League.

In today’s world, the fans are raving for esports.

Older fans of sports will find it confusing: Surely these violent couch-played video games with their inaccessible computer ways and immobile players couldn’t classify as any sports. But these notions are quickly becoming outdated, as the ranks of today’s mental athletes quickly pick up their mice and controllers to join the online leagues.

Today’s university teams are not only comprised of football, basketball, cricket and tennis, but instead university esports teams.

Esports enthusiasts and athletes draw a new circle on the venn diagram between the physical sports we’re so familiar with, and mental sports, more akin to Chess and Poker. These competitors spend hours training, testing, labbing, competing at fast-paced mental games played at rates that leave their Actions Per Second counts often in the double digits, and while the appeal of the college football clubs we used to see so much of was in the accessibility for all young, healthy students to be able to engage in their favourite sport in university team fashion.

But one may not be as knowledgeable that today’s university teams are not only comprised of football, basketball, cricket and tennis, but instead of university esports teams, in line with popular esports titles; League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter Strike, Smash Brothers, titles that you may have heard of or seen in your own home more commonly as destress games to played online during free time, this time with a difference.

Much like the difference between kicking a football in your own backyard and beginning to play with your first university teams, the stakes are much higher. Strategies and communications began to form and forge as the individuals who devote their time into these games begin to hone their skills, becoming faster thinkers, higher aimers, more disciplined athletes that, suddenly, no longer look recognisable from the childish tantrum-wielders we used to associate with the word “gamers”.

Nowadays, these teams even have clear paths forward: esports teams sign up together on the Austalian Esports League (AEL), where university teams compete against each other in the same bracket that top Australian Esports teams compete, such as Athletico esports, Dark Sided and the Order army. Much a mirror to more traditional sports leagues, these teams are sometimes a way to get the higher-tier organisations to notice you and pick you up for team spots, and in this way, play out the competitive dream that most of these gamers have from a young age: To play the high-skill-ceiling game they love on the grandest stage at a professional level.

On the outside looking in, the scene can be daunting; where it feels like anyone can watch Australian Football with a rudimentary knowledge of how the sport works, you can understand and enjoy the game that plays out, whereas esports and its wild commentary can be strange and foreign, with technical terminology and jargon being thrown at the audience’s ears, only able to be deciphered by spectators that have also dabbled in the game themselves. But I think this is a misconception.

The fans of today are a new breed, ones that understand and flow with terms like hitboxes, positioning and aggression, just as the physical sports fans of yesterday understand terms like lay-ups, defense and one-love. These are baseline terms that today, we are very comfortable with using and understanding, and becoming more so every day. Each day we do, esports becomes more accessible to the mass market.

And it’s a beautiful thing to witness for our young university students to find this practice that expresses both discipline and creativity in equally balance measures. For people who love the mental push and fortitude that competitive gaming builds, the teamwork and bonds that it creates; far from an outlet to build and express violence, it teaches vital life lessons in the form of resilience, confidence and creativity.

The incredibly rapid rise of esports worldwide, from its forefathers in Korea to now here in the relatively conservative Australia, is in part due to the low entry barrier: Anyone with a K-mart soccer ball and a nearby field can begin practicing and understanding the fundamentals of footy, and anyone with a mouse and computer, which is available in so many Australian homes today, can download these games and start, some of which are free to play. And this ease of access and the online format allows for something that even traditional sports could rarely ever allow: a pure meritocracy that allows players at the top and bottom to mix.

Esports ripples its way across the surface of the planet, and soon enough, love it or hate it, the global phenomenon will be upon us.

As university teams begin to improve, form, pare off the weaker links and gain new assets, the best of the best will often find themselves competing at higher and higher levels, until suddenly, you’re pitted against Overwatch world cup team member Gunba. The meritocratic system of esports meant that people playing in the same environment over online spaces, brackets or similar, allows the players to play with the best and most famous players in the world, so long as their skills allow them to bring them up to an echelon of play close enough to the heroes they look up to.

Esports ripples its way across the surface of the planet, and soon enough, love it or hate it, the global phenomenon will be upon us. Today, 9Entertainment will host occasional esports coverage, and Network Ten also shares broadcasts of select esports leagues. The advent of new world entertainment is here, and it demands respect. For us university students, the only question is whether you will pick it up and ride the wave.

Way Jien is a third year film student and an esports enthusiast, hoping to help Australia understand and accept the future.

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