E Sports: Pro Gamer Moves

In the classic Martin and Lewis comedy The Caddy, Dean Martin plays Joe, son of an Italian fisherman who dreams of being a golf pro. His father is outraged that his son wants to do something as frivolous as “hit the little-a ball-a with a stick!”

The appeal of sports is very much in the eye of the beholder. To die-hard Aussie Rules fans, rugby is “choreographed sodomy”; rugby fans sneer at Aussie rules as “aerial ping-pong”. Both of them dismiss soccer as just keepings-off played by duelling teams of crisis actors. Nothing on God’s earth can convince me that Nascar is in any way entertaining.

And almost all traditional sports fans are united in sneering at e-sports.

Yet, it’s a huge and growing sector overseas, which is beginning to get noticed by investors here.

Call it the sporting equivalent of investing in a tech start-up — except in this case it is already making money and is forecasting multi-million-dollar profits within a few years…So goes the pitch by the vendors of Australian e-sports organisation Kindred.

E-sports is essentially professional video-game competitions. E-sport competitions are commonly played in games genres like multiplayer online battle arena, first-person shooter and real-time strategy games, ranging from League of Legends to Super Smash Bros, Overwatch and Starcraft. If anywhere can claim to be the home of e-sports, it’s probably South Korea, but the genre is expanding around the world. Its audience is expected to reach 454 million in 2019 and the IOC has considered including e-sports in future Olympics. Teams are attracting lucrative sponsorships and have followers in the millions.

New Zealand has its own E-Sports Federation, but Kiwi players are still relatively low-ranked globally. NZ’s highest-ranking player is Sean “Gratisfaction” Kaiwai, at #1603. But, while Kaiwai’s earnings are relatively modest, they have increased by an average of 25% each year for the last four years.

Kaiwai plays New Zealand’s most popular e-sports game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. As a first-person-shooter champion, he probably shouldn’t expect to be in a photo-op with Jacinda Ardern any time soon.

E-sports is relatively small in Australia but has experienced huge growth overseas, with a Goldman Sachs study estimating revenue in the sector of $US1 billion ($1.4bn) this year, rising to $US3bn by 2021, by which time it could become the second most watched sport behind the NFL…

In a similar model to that of soccer or basketball, where teams compete in regional leagues and the biggest and most popular competitions are overseas, some of Kindred’s teams are Australian-based but ply their trade in Oceanic leagues and then potentially global championships…The Dire Wolves play League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena game, in the Oceanic Premier League, a competition they have won four times. They have also taken part in the League of Legends world championships where 51 million viewers watched it play against Chinese team EDG in 2018.

Kindred also has the Sydney Drop Bears team in Overwatch, an online team-based shooting game, and N8, which plays the Electronic Arts FIFA soccer game, as well as the Supa-Stellar female gaming organisation.


But, if this grossly bullying example is anything to go by, e-sports has a long way to go to overcome the prejudice of traditional couch potato sports fans. “It’s so unbelievable to listen to professionals acting like giddy high-school girls making fun of the outcasts who watch anime,” says YouTuber Cr1TiKaL. “There’s a man who peaked in high school 70 years ago, and he’s still trying to re-live the days of picking on the nerd.”

But, as the fact that an AFL football club like Essendon sponsors an e-sports team shows, traditional sports are slowly coming to terms with the fact that there’s a new kid on the block. The format might be as different from rugby as motor-racing is from water-polo, but that doesn’t mean that e-sports players aren’t equally dedicated. Professionals practice for at least 50 hours a week. The skills may be different, but the principle is the same.

Sneer as you might, e-sports are just another way for humans to kick back and pass their time doing something objectively pointless – hit the little-a ball-a with a stick! – but which participants and fans nonetheless follow with avid dedication.