Despite IEM Sydney’s recent incredible turnout, eSports in Australia is often overlooked as hobby that’s taken too seriously. Even fans endemic to eSports can’t find a reason to get behind any of the Australian leagues. With retired pros like Chad ‘SPUNJ’ Burchill taking a back seat and letting the new prospects take the reins, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
With potential investment from the Australian Football League and the rise of some interesting characters in Tim ‘Carbon’ Wendell and Brandon ‘Juves’ Defina, Australia has the tools it needs to succeed in competitive League of Legends.
The Oceanic Pro League, the premier Australian & New Zealand League of Legends competition, has had more money invested in it now than in 2 years. In the past, players used to get payed a pittance, so much so that many had to work part time jobs to enable their play in the OPL. Players used to have to play online via the tournament client, but with Riot Games digging deep, the Oceanic scene has more infrastructure than ever before. However, with stream numbers boasting no more than 2000 viewers per game, the investment hasn’t quite hit the mark. Why?
While not on par with the North American and European LCS, the OPL has been equipped with a desk of analysts, a host in Michael ‘Hingers’ Hing, and just about everything a viewer could ask for.
Fans however just aren’t flocking to watch Legacy vs Chiefs, two competitors with a rivalry spanning 3 years in League of Legends, much akin to North America’s CLG and TSM. There are a lot of factors that play into it, but what’s considered to be the biggest factor is that there aren’t any personalities. The analyst desk is informative, but lacks flavour and the players aren’t very charismatic. Australian eSports, at least as far as League of Legends is concerned, just isn’t there yet.
However, with emphasis on the right players, like the aforementioned Tim Wendell and Brandon Defina, the OPL has a very real chance of standing on the podium with sports casts the likes of the NRL and AFL.
To help accomplish this, someone the OPL could learn from is Chad ‘SPUNJ’ Burchill, a retired Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player turned desk analyst. In his prime, Burchill had an audience in the thousands tuning in to his personal stream to watch him cast an amateur Counter-strike match, play a pickup game with other famous pros, or give analysis. This is primarily attributed to the fact that Burchill was an interesting personality on the desk where he was invited between games during his time on the Renegades.
The level of play within Oceania across Counter-Strike and League of Legends alike has been heavily criticised for being unable to keep up with international competitors. Consistently disappointing international results have led to disillusionment among fans in Australia. In League of Legends, Australia has only been able to make it out of the group stage portion of a wildcard qualifier one time. In the 2014 Wildcard Qualifier, the roster of Legacy eSports made it out of group stage winning 3-1 only to fall to the Turkish seed, Dark Passage, 3-0 in the bracket stage. Since then, Australia has been rear of the pack in every international event they’ve performed in.
One likely reason is that in terms of investment, Australian eSports is at least two years behind the rest of the world. Only recently have non-endemic Australian sponsors like LG and Maxibon started taking an interest in eSports here at all. This lends itself to the lack of consistent competition in Australia.
With the OPL and ESL Pro League Australia for League of Legends and Counter-Strike respectively having a weekly schedule, more broadcasters and sponsors are expressing interest in venturing into eSports, namely Darren Birch of the Australian Football League. In an interview with Fairfax, Birch said “eSports is very strong in the millennial area, so for us it is about diverse exposure to that audience. That’s no different to AFLW where we became more relevant to a female audience. Whether that translates into football is somewhat relevant but also not totally relevant. We want AFL, through eSports, to have the ability to generate a broader appeal for clubs and be able to bring more sponsors, revenue and consumption of your brand – whether that’s a live footy event or a live eSports event”.
With the most televised and financially successful football league in Australia expressing an interest in eSports, fans might be on the cusp of receiving a viewing experience to be proud of. If the industry can address all of its issues, the Australian scene might be on an upward swing nothing can stop.
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