Good Game is one of the biggest names in the Australian gaming scene. It's well respected. Established. The program has history. It has a mainstream audience. And it's also got a sizeable footprint on YouTube. Getting a job with Good Game is like the Holy Grail of the gaming industry. Getting a job as a presenter there? That's a golden career move.
Only recently, Michael "Hingers" Hing, threw that all in. Instead of solidifying himself further as the host of Good Game Pocket, the comedian and triple J host hopped ship to Riot Games to head up the Oceanic Pro League instead. I asked him why he made the transition now, and also what he thought where esports in Australia was headed.
Kotaku: Why did you feel like this year was the right time to join Riot and host the OPL?
Michael "Hingers" Hing: Esports is growing exponentially –- not just globally, but specifically in Australia, and the OPL seemed like a logical and exciting progression for me. I’ve wanted to work in esports ever since I realised I was never going to make it as a pro player, and the well-trodden transition from washed up has-been/never-was to esports host seemed fitting.
League of Legends itself the game is in a really interesting time too. Coming into something that is so complex and so established with such an elaborate and deep meta is something that excites me because it’s dynamic and changing and at no risk of getting boring. The other thing is that Riot are planning some really very exciting things for next year’s OPL, and you can see their commitment to building esports in OCE, which is exciting. So, in many ways, any time would have seemed like the right time to join Riot for me, but I am already pretty hyped about 2017.
New job doing some v. cool nerd shit. Video games are SAF and this is a real dream come true. pic.twitter.com/YeAlvwwFsp
— michael hing (@hingers) July 18, 2016
Kotaku: How would you characterise Australian esports in 2016, against other regions?
Hingers: In terms of raw skill, and it’s different for different games -- and there are exceptions to what I’m about to say, but for the most part we are really hamstrung by our relatively low population and also the distance in between our cities and also from other places. The obvious negative is that it costs so much to send people to places to train or boot camp with their teams, or to compete internationally that it makes it really hard for people to take a chance and commit to this as a career. And on top of that because a lot of games are played on Oceania specific servers we’re often very isolated and don’t always come up against the world elite. So you might make mistakes that go unpunished on Australian servers but then you find yourself in NA or Europe or whatever losing to people who know how to exploit mistakes in a way people in Australia or NZ don’t. That was certainly the case when I was playing StarCraft.
More broadly, I think though that the [Australian] community (in my experience) is very friendly and positive. I think the fact that we’re all the way over here by ourselves, means people kind of band together a bit. When I was at Good Game, every Australian we spoke to for Well Played was so friendly and lovely and excited that esports in Australia was becoming more of ‘a thing’ and that’s been my experience outside of Good Game too, which is really cool. You hear stories of some real egos overseas, and luckily there’s not too much of that in Australia.
Kotaku: What do you think are the most interesting threads or themes in esports right now, outside of the tournament calendar and major events?
Hingers: The gambling stuff I find very interesting. Especially as someone who is not much of a gambler at all - I mean, I’m in an EPL fantasy league with some friends that I basically come last in every year, but that’s about the extent of it. Loads of gambling companies are getting heavily involved in esports and it’s actually kind of scary because of how many young kids are watching these broadcasts and getting influenced.
Riot’s very strict about this kind of thing, which I think is the right call – they don’t allow gambling companies to sponsor teams - but you can see how far it can be pushed within other esports. Just a few weeks ago you had streamers who secretly owned CS:GO skin gambling websites, using their channels to promote the sites as though they were just regular punters, and not, y’know the owners and operators of the site.
In Korea, you also saw earlier this year StarCraft pros throwing matches – it can be pretty full on – and it’s heartbreaking for someone like me who is such a fan of the esports scene, but it’s certainly not limited to just CS:GO and StarCraft. It’ll be interesting to see how various companies and tournament organisers deal with this kind of thing in the future and what they can even do to control it.
Kotaku: Esports in Australia seems to be at the point where people with experience and history in other backgrounds and careers are now actively leaving those positions to take up a role in esports. Would you agree with that, and if so, why do you think that is?
Hingers: I’d make a few points on that. Yes, esports is exciting and growing and it’s just fun – which is the main thing, but I think the nature of the modern economy is that people are just moving between jobs and industries more fluidly in general. I haven’t seen any specific stats on esports in particular, but I’d be surprised if it outpaced the general trend towards people moving into the broader tech sector.
I think a lot of what it is, is that new jobs are being created every day in esports, and so those people are coming from other careers because that just where people are. There’s certainly a lot of room for diverse people in esports as well, which is cool – and certainly not something that you see in like, the majority of terrestrial broadcasts in Australia. And that kind of diversity makes people want to work in this space.
I’ve met a few people who’ve come to esports from traditional sports backgrounds and I think that’s really interesting because they bring expertise about sports broadcasting to esports that nerds like my just wouldn’t know because I haven’t spent my life watching AFL or whatever. I mean, the dream would be getting Les Murray to introduce me on a broadcast. That would be the dream. Can we do that?
To round things off, I also asked Hingers a question about the perception of esports when it came to legislators. This happened before Senator Nick Xenophon decided to light a bonfire under the industry by signalling intentions to move against gambling in video games.
I'm including the answer here because, intriguingly, it proved to be quite prophetic. The media fallout from Xenophon's pronouncement was muddled and lacking detail, even if the intent was good. So with that context firmly established, here's what Hingers had to say.
Kotaku: Esports in Australia is also in an interesting state where it has largely grown without much oversight from the government or regulatory authorities when it comes to its legal status. If a conversation within state or federal Parliament were to begin today about esports, what do you think would happen?
Hingers: It’s complex because there are a lot of different stakeholders and I don’t know that our politicians necessarily understand or are aware of esports, or even that it should be a priority for them given the fact that the world is literally on fire and Donald Trump could be President of the United States by the end of the year. If politicians did want to move towards specific legislation though, I think it would be a very long process. Can you imagine trying to explain to – for example – Pauline Hanson what esports is? She might well just focus on whether or not esports is Halal – which is not necessarily a great starting point.
Maybe Scott Ludlum (certified nerd) might have some awareness, but I don’t know about others. Any attempt at legislation would mean – probably – that politicians would have to reach out to the various stake holders - that is, developers, players, team owners, tournament organizers, fans, parents, etc, just to get a grip on what it is and what they were trying to do and even that process would take ages.
I’d like to see the government reach out to try and learn and be educated about what esports is before legislation. In some respect, legislation would be great because it would allow for better long term planning and coordination as well as greater confidence externally. I think what people would be worried about though would be uninformed legislation, or rushed or knee-jerk legislation. Still, if the government do their homework and broadly engage with the community there’s no reason it wouldn’t be smart, useful legislation.
In the aftermath of Senator Xenophon's legislation, I asked Riot to see whether they had any additional comment on his plans. They declined to comment further, referring me back to the final paragraph of Hingers' answer above.