Evolution of Esports Is Top of Mind at SVG Australia Summit

Esports is gaining momentum in Australia, with more exposure, new competitions, new venues

The Australian esports movement continues to gain momentum, thanks to greater exposure, new competitions, and even new esports arenas that promise to make it easier for fans to engage with a wide array of games. During a wide-ranging panel discussion at the SVG Australia Summit in Sydney, industry leaders made clear that esports is here to stay.

From left: Matthew Boughen, Mads Brown, Dominic Remond, and Scott Wenkart discussed the esports revolution.

“The basic reality now is that traditional sports and traditional broadcasters can’t ignore esports,” said Mads Brown, sales associate, brand sponsorships, Supanova Pop Culture Industries. “How do we take two different industries and work together to create better content for viewers?”

Matthew Boughen, OPL producer, Riot Games, exemplifies the new reality. His background is in traditional TV production, but now he finds himself applying that expertise to esports, working to put the best team and equipment in place for event coverage.

“The challenge,” he said, “is getting the quality to 1080p at 59.94 frames per second. We need to make sure suppliers and providers understand that that is our expectation.”

Telstra’s Anna Lockwood led the discussion on esports.

Boughen noted that predominantly Riot Games Australia coverage of League of Legends is found on Twitch.tv, YouTube, and, thanks to a new deal, Twitter.

“The ability for our audience to engage on Twitch is so different as a viewer experience [compared with TV] that it is why it is where the audience is,” he added. “The interviews are done in a certain way, and viewers can ask questions.”

And they are watching. Sydney-based Showdown (previously Spiral Media) is the exclusive distributor of Twitch media in Australia and New Zealand, as well as a distributor for Southeast Asia. Showdown Managing Director Scott Wenkart said that the Twitch.tv audience has grown 40% year over year to 2 million unique browsers a month. And the amount of time watching is up 160%, to an average 235 minutes a day.

First-time viewers of Twitch.TV may wonder how someone can watch someone else play videogames, but Wenkart said that, once they see that they can chat and engage with the announcers, they get it.

Added Brown, “When you watch the first time, you’re unable to put into words what it is like not only to watch someone create entertainment but to be able to interact with them. [Fans] commenting and analyzing the game play is hard to do on other platforms.”

The interactive elements are important because the events can last more than six hours. Events that long need fresh elements throughout and are also hard to get into a broadcast slot. That is one reason Australia’s Hyundai A-League’s 10 football clubs are represented in an esports football league whose matches were seen on Fox Sports Australia and Twitch and via Facebook Live streaming.

“FIFA is a natural fit for Fox Sports,” noted Wenkart, adding, “They can tap into an active player base: the game has sold about 400,000 units [in Australia].”

Brown said that the 10 weeks of competition carried on Fox earned both Fox and NEP kudos for bringing their experience to the esports arena.

“They were so receptive to the feedback of the players, and they used the talent team as a sounding board,” she said. “It was very translatable to people who watch traditional sports as it is essentially a massive crossover opportunity that is ready to be capitalized on. It’s a great case study on how real sports and esports can get along and not compete.”

Gfinity Esports Australia CEO Dominic Remond recently joined the company after spending five years with the Sydney Sixers in both the Big Bash League and the Women’s Big Bash League Twenty20 cricket league. He said that, with 1.5 million fanatical esports fans in Australia, Gfinity is in an exciting position to provide context and content. Six city-based clubs are fielding teams to plays CS:GO, Rocket League, and Street Fighter V.

“We are halfway through transitioning a Hoyts movie theater into a Hoyts Gfinity Esports Arena with 220 seats, a full production with five cameras, and Videocraft and Beyond Action as production partners,” Remond pointed out. The plan is for a chain of esports facilities.

He will also leverage his experience at a real-world professional club and his understanding of how city-based teams can drive interest and passion. “The market is there, and people have been picked up and paid to play their passion,” he explained. “Brands want to reach millennials, and, with less than 50% watching terrestrial TV, they are digital natives who are connected via social media. So expectations are high for a quality and challenging audience.”

Brown did caution, however, that the esports community is increasingly aware of being seen as a cash cow and that it is important that those who want to work in esports be genuine.

“It’s really important to those in the esports community that outsiders don’t just come in and ruin it,” he said. “When a lot of people hear that a third party is coming in to run an esports competition, they think it is going to be a disaster because games speak another language. But the past 10 weeks have shown how it can be a success if it is a genuine relationship.”

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