'There's Absolutely No Difference' Between Sports And Esports: A Chat With ORDER's Jake Tiberi

Image: Riot Games

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.

A Melbourne Esports Team Is Letting Fans Buy Equity

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.

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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.


    There’s one glaring difference - the skill required to perform in sports is readily apparent to anyone.

    Most can’t differentiate between gameplay footage of a professional gamer and their lazy, freeloading cousin that everyone avoids at family gatherings.

      Judging by the amount of arm chair players out there people can't differentiate between footage of a football game and what they do on weekends.

      I dunno, there wasn't much skill apparent in the recent Test series...

      So true, there is nothing like watching Dota 2 TI and then playing some pub matches and just watching how many mistakes you actually make.

    I dunno, I think there are absolutely differences between sports and esports, and treating it as if there aren't any differences may be the wrong approach.

    If Sports & eSports are the same then anyone who excels at eSports should do well in real life sport. Unfortunately there are more cases of eSport experts failing at real life sport than the contrary. There are also many cases of real sports people being beaten by eSport experts. Mythbusters tested golf and eSport training failed in real life. F1 drivers are beaten by eSports in F1 sims. Soccer players, basketball and cricketers can't use eSport skill in real life. I think Sports do not equal eSports.

      There's really not much difference between the spectator element, and there's been some interesting tests done converting iRacing players (and Gran Turismo) into real life drivers.

        We keep talking about Twitch vs FaceEvil vs Twitter vs YouTube as streaming platforms, but mainstream sport internationally far outstrips these. The NFL's GamePlay platform is far far superior in quality and functionality; EPL has something similar, as do the majority of major sporting leagues around the world. eSports relies on their digital delivery, and their current offering simply isn't up to scratch. It works for video game enthusiasts, hunched over their PC, but not for mainstream viewers watching on their home theatre system. It's these "normals' that they need to convert to survive.

        It would also be good if they leveraged off the differences and added options the mainstream sports can't, like the ability to follow your favourite player for the entire match, and listen to their comments (good and bad).. Currently we get the broadcaster's chosen views and commentary which, to date, hasn't been that good.

    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."I feel like there's a big difference in barrier of entry between the two, it's far easier to jump in and participate in a videogame yourself than it is to just spontaneously start up sporting match. Plus there's the whole physical exertion side too, the only times I've been too tired to play a game is when I've been too tired to remain awake at all versus times I've been too tired to partake in physical activity.

    I'm really getting over people trying to promote esports as the same as physical sports. They aren't the same, the only reason people are trying to correlate the two, is sport is where the advertising money is.

    @mrtaco, above, mentioned barrier of entry for players is much lower for videogames, but as a spectator the barrier of entry of esports is so much higher than a regular sport. I don't understand either MOBAs or American Football, but I know that someone could tell me enough that I needed to know about American Football to enjoy it in a much shorter timeframe than LoL. I would be able to recognise an amazing play in American Football with no context whatsoever, games are designed to look amazing even doing rudimentary actions, so I have no idea how good anyone playing is, I just see pretty lights.

    There's also the issue of match focus, with Sports it's easy, either keep the camera on the ball, or on the one person moving. With the exception of fighting games, esports don't have a singular focus, every player in the game is doing something active.

    TLDR: Televised sports have been designed for spectators as much as players. The rules are simple and action is easy to follow. Esports are designed for players, with deep complex mechanics and multiple points of action so no one is bored. They don't really correlate as the same thing. The only thing that ties them together is that they are games of skill played by the best in their field.

      I didn't even think of the spectator side of it. Wholly agree, watching others play I can't tell what's going on at all. Endless articles on here talking about these amazing LoL plays and I have a look but have zero idea what's going on. Or even Overwatch half the time, a game actually play and have some level of understanding with. But no, most footage of that is an indecipherable blur too. Granted I always found most sports I don't understand to be boring to watch too, and it wasn't til I was testing an AFL game that I started to understand the game and actually knew what was going on during the clips in the news or whatever. Those were weird times :P

    well... one of them won't cause you to get deep bone thrombosis ;)

      I was going to go opposite and say concussion.
      Though I'm also yet to hear of any e-sports players needing knew reconstructions.

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