I was recently given the opportunity to record a radio segment talking about eSports, which I enjoyed thoroughly considering how nervous I was leading up to it. I spent the days beforehand frantically research a whole load of facts and figures, making sure I was on top of all the community sites, how the scene worked and so on.
But that’s not the direction the discussion took. It was more general and more prophetic, talking about the basics of eSports and where the scene was going. I didn’t get to make this point as emphatically as I would have liked, but my research led me to believe that eSports would only get bigger. But I also realised some problems along the way that demand our attention, lest they become insurmountable.
People are naturally competitive; if more and more people are playing games, then that simply equates to a larger percentage of people that will inevitably find their way to some form of competition
If you haven’t read it already, the annual Digital Australia report – research conducted by Bond University on behalf of the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association lobby – should be required reading for all gamers.
It hammered into me how far things have come over the last twenty years. Take a look at your phone, for example. Mine’s a Samsung Galaxy S3, a piece of hardware twice as powerful with four times as many processors as my desktop computer was in 2002. My family didn’t have a lot of money and a lot of our equipment was older; I didn’t realise at the time, but I was actually still playing the original Starcraft and Heroes of Might and Magic 3 on a Pentium 233mhz ten years ago.
And gaming was a rare thing back then. Owning a Game Boy wasn’t that uncommon, but playing on a PC definitely had the whiff of geek about it. Consoles weren’t cool, and mobiles – well, most people didn’t own one.
Now? 57% of Australians play games either daily or every other day. 95% of homes with children under the age of 18 have some kind of device capable of playing games. The average gamer is 32 years old, but a staggering 43% of 51-year-olds or over play games too. 63% of households have a console; 92% of all homes (up from 88% four years ago) have something that can play a game. 62% of homes use a PC for gaming, while 75% of gamers are aged 18 or older.
Gaming, quite clearly, is not going away anytime soon. Even if there was a shift or a downturn in the popularity of games, a substantial amount of the population would still be playing games either on their tablets, TVs, computers or mobiles.
And the one thing that a lot of humans like to do is win. People are naturally competitive; if more and more people are playing games, then that simply equates to a larger percentage of people that will inevitably find their way to some form of competition.
They might not be dreaming of winning an international or a gold medal at the World Cyber Games, but the raw data is clearly promising.
The sun is shining
Unfortunately, while the data looks good, there’s a particular skew that cannot be forgotten.
One of the problems — if you’re a fan looking at Major League Gaming or the Intel Extreme Masters tour stops and wanting a piece of the action — is that while gaming might be getting more popular, it’s much more likely that it’ll be on Android or iOS than a console or PC.
It’s true that Australia likes games. Hell, even one in ten Australians play an MMO — so eSports has got 90% of the population to work from. But unlike Sweden or South Korea or America or any other country that’s been conducive towards internet culture in general, we’ve been a bit slow on the take-up.
You can probably guess why. Australia’s a big country — it’s almost as large as the United States but without the population, making it difficult for companies to roll-out broadband. Telstra certainly didn’t help, and the fact that we’re marooned from the vast majority of the planet continues to be a problem.
But the biggest issue is that sometimes, it’s really, really nice to go outside. A lot of the time in fact; nearly all year round in some parts of the country. We have fantastic beaches and beautiful landscapes up and down the coastline.
Grandparents would often level a simple question to their nerd offspring: why stay inside when it’s such a nice day? That crutch hits even harder when you realise: why stay inside when you can go outside, enjoy the weather and take your phone – which can double as an emulator and a low-grade gaming PC.
Don’t kid yourself that the acceleration in phones is likely to stop over the next couple of years either. Phones are already saturated throughout the market, and manufacturers will be looking for different angles to convince consumers to drop hundreds of dollars year on year.
Handheld consoles are in trouble. And PCs might be too – because if you think about it, why would you spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade your computer to play games if you could just spend a little bit more on your phone and have just as much fun, but with all the convenience?
Well, that line doesn’t really hold up in reality. But you’re going to being hearing it soon, if you haven’t already.
We’re small, but not united
Australia’s always been praised for the energy and enthusiasm we bring to the table, despite our small numbers. It’s not practical to expect the size of the table to grow too much in the short-term, but we’re not doing ourselves any favours by cutting up the cake.
Take a look at the current crop serving Australia’s competitive gaming needs; Cybergamer; SC2SEA; GTeSports; Pantheon; OZ Fortress; Ozhadou; Shadowloo; Couchwarriors; Gotgames; the Australian Cyber League; the Australian branch of the Electronic Sports League; Stick Addiction; Lansmash; the Sydney Gamers League and the Sydney Online Gaming Community just to start with.
Not everybody wants to play nice and segregation makes sense in some cases. There would be little connection, for example, if OZ Fortress teamed up with Shadowloo from the fighting gaming community. That’s illogical. But having Stick Addiction, Ozhadou and Couchwarriors merge would make a lot more sense.
A combined force is often a stronger force. It gives you a deeper pool of admins, consolidates the costs associated with hosting and the time requirements needed to keep multiple sites alive. Some power sharing is required, and that’s not always been possible or in everyone’s best interest.
But it’s a discussion that needs to be had. There are too many cases where talent – the administrative minds that back-end the majority of operations, people communities could not live without – is spread far too thin for little to no value.
A unified force is a stronger force – and it’s also a stronger argument you can make to sponsors. It might sound anti-competitive, but the reality is that we are small. That’s just the hand we’ve been dealt, and we can’t afford to waste the few good hands we get.
It’s a pretty good guess that gaming will be part of Australia’s make-up in some shape or form. Will that translate to a boon in competitive gaming locally, attracting enough sponsors and marketing dollars to make it a viable career for players?
Nobody knows for sure, of course. But the best we can do to clear the path for the future is by getting rid of the hurdles in the way – and if we can’t do that, the least we can do is to start asking the right questions.