Most of the people in the esports community know Jake "Spawn" Tiberi for his work in front of the camera, acting as a shoutcaster and colour commentator for League of Legends. But the Australian is increasingly having a bigger influence off-screen, serving as the general manager for ORDER, which recently announced a crowdfunding equity campaign.
Prior to the crowdfunding announcement, I caught up with Tiberi on the phone to ask him about League, broadcasting, and where esports is headed in Australia.
In a first for Australian esports and an intriguing venture for gaming overall, the Melbourne-based esports team ORDER has announced that fans will be able to buy a stake in the club through an equity crowdfunding campaign.
Based down in Melbourne, ORDER is one of the few teams that isn't primarily based in Sydney. Riot's move last year to have all OPL games played out of their bespoke studio saw a lot of teams - and players - relocate interstate.
But the team has thrived, adding a CS:GO squad to their roster despite the expense of regular flights across the border. It's also been a fascinating journey for the players themselves, whom have enjoyed access to the wider high performance infrastructure that Australian League teams are beginning to access.
That backing, at least for the League squad, has paid off so far. While ORDER dropped their set against Dire Wolves 2-1, they're currently sitting second in the OPL having not dropped another map. (They're yet to face the real test however, with games to come against Chiefs, Avant and Legacy Esports.)
One of the interesting facets is that, as Tiberi explained to me, ORDER has largely eschewed the "more is more" model of practice. It's a work ethic that was popularised by team houses in the South Korean Brood War scene. But as more teams learn lessons from real life sports, they've incorporated a greater focus on physical and mental health, limiting in-game practice to more reasonable hours and a more reasonable length of time.
But ORDER's focus is much broader than League, with the club looking to expand by developing their Melbourne headquarters into a multi-storey space containing offices, a broadcast studio and more. And part of that mission also involves dealing with the stereotype, and stigma, around esports.
"You know, when you have a look at what the Adelaide Football Club was able to do, when you look at what Counter-Strike is doing on a global stage as well - there's people like [Virtus.Pro CSGO player] Pasha and stuff," Tiberi said over the phone.
"They just smash all the negative stereotypes. I think the longer we keep doing that, the longer we keep having a positive conversation with mainstream media outlets, as long as we keep educating because it's new and foreign, but it's exciting. As long as we're willing to have all those positive conversations, I think, the awareness will continue to grow."
Over my own 15 years in Australian esports, the industry has never stopped striving for mainstream recognition. It's in a much better position these days, thanks to the efforts of programs like Good Game and the increased acceptance of gaming through the rise of smartphones and good old aging.
But the idea of gamers being on the same level as professional athletes, or being athletes themselves, still hasn't quite found support in mainstream Australia. I asked Tiberi whether that actually mattered though, especially given the rise of crowdfunding models and the propensity of gamers to donate and support players and teams they follow, through in-game stickers and autographs to physical merchandise.
The ORDER general manager took the long view, saying that Australia would get there eventually. "As long as we're willing to have all those positive conversations, I think, the awareness will continue to grow. Twenty years ago - maybe not twenty, maybe twenty-five or thirty years ago - people were foreign to the internet."
"I think that technology changes so rapidly nowadays, and you've got to change with it or you'll slowly get crushed by the inevitability of it and I think that esports is no different from that. I love the picture of the guy sitting at the computer and he's watching esports. The other guy walks up to him and goes, 'Why aren't you playing?' He's like, 'Oh, I'm just watching.' He's like, 'What? You're watching people play a video game? That's stupid.' Then he sits himself on the couch and watches people play football."
"There's absolutely no difference to it and I think people are beginning to realise there's a skill that's in it and with that comes the respect, and the respect the media has shown in the last couple of months has actually been fantastic. I think it will continue to go that way and it will generate fandom."
Another perspective is that by bypassing the question of legitimacy and concentrating on other tangibles - how do players get paid, how does the industry function commercially - the broader conversation has become not only more positive overall, but also more practical.
One of those practical topics is the state of broadcasting. When I spoke to Tiberi, it wasn't long after the gaming public had had its first taste of an ESL event under their exclusive agreement with Facebook. As is the case with firsts, the viewer experience wasn't flawless. But Tiberi was quite open to the idea of more competition in livestreaming, and - perhaps due to his work with Riot over the years - he was also sensitive to the financial realities facing ESL.
"I'm of two minds about this because I can understand commercially why you do that," he explained. "I mean, Facebook's streaming platform isn't horrible, from what I've had experience. I know some people swear it is and some people swear it's amazing but, from my experience, it's an OK streaming platform."
"It doesn't really upset me all that much because I can understand why someone like ESL would be incentivised to do it. However, in the ideal landscape, the fans are the people that created esports."
Tiberi's view: wherever the fans are, there you shall be. And while Twitch makes up the vast majority of eyeballs for the esports industry, that doesn't mean organisations shouldn't be actively investing in smaller or different platforms.
A good example he used was Twitter. It's a great platform for fans to quickly react and respond to the live events of esports, and a lot of players use that more actively over Facebook as a result.
"I am a fan of go to where your player-base wants you to go. Reward them. They're your fans. They're the people that keep the lights on all the time. I think my personal philosophy is do it for the gamers, however that's not a stab at ESL at all. I completely understand why they've done it and I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing because hopefully what happens here is Twitch comes out with an even better offering. They elevate their streaming platform, then Facebook hit back and YouTube hit back."
ORDER's League team will play Sin Gaming from 2000 AEDT tonight, while their CSGO squad is representing Oceania at IEM Katowice in Poland, which starts on February 27.
Update: An earlier version of this story mentioned that ORDER was supported and backed by the Essendon Bombers AFL club. This was incorrect, with the Bombers having their own branded team, and the story has been updated. Apologies for the error.