Everything good spawns from grassroots and saplings. Esports across the world has exploded, but Australia’s scene is slowly starting to brew up a storm.
Let’s take a look at recent results. Australia is home to two of the best Rocket League teams in the world in the Chiefs and Ground Zero. Athletico came second at the GLL Grand Slam in Stockholm for PUBG in July. The Renegades just hit the Counter-Strike StarLadder Berlin Major top four over the weekend.
None of this happened overnight. It took over a decade of amateur tournaments, high pings and unfavourable timezones. But the growth of Australian esports is a symbiotic process — as grassroots esports grows, someone breaks through internationally, laying more roots to capture more success.
Melbourne Esports Open showed these roots are slowly starting to sprout into luscious fields, not just patches of brilliance. It manifested in many different ways - the cast of people who came to see some of the best players in Australia, or the teams that dominated on stage and now have a chance against the world’s best.
“Esports in Australia is in the healthiest state it’s ever been,” said ESL’s Ben Green. “You wouldn’t have seen an event like this a couple of years ago. Esports is growing, it takes time, and 2019 has been fantastic.”
High school esports took centre stage at Melbourne Arena with the META High School Esports finals being held on the Sunday for NBA 2K19, Rocket League, and League of Legends. The action on those stages was as thrilling as what was happening in Rod Laver Arena, and droves of supporters came to watch the next generation of professionals.
That’s not to say some of the players aren’t already there. Unley High School is home to Rocket League pro Aiden “delusion” Hendry, who played in the Gfinity Elite Series for the Perth Ground Zero and Sydney Roar.
The inaugural season of Gfinity's Australian city-based esports league wrapped up over the weekend with a southern rout. Having solidified their position in the finals of all three games, Melbourne Order turned the weekend into a whitewash, taking home the trophy in all three matches and the club championship to boot.
Speaking to Pastoral Care coordinator Jeeves Dunn, the Unley High School esports program has enabled stars like delusion to not only improve themselves as players, but also as people too.
“We’ve had a myriad of kids who have worked on their confidence, and worked on who they are,” he said. “Coming from an era of mine when I grew up playing esports competitively and it wasn’t anything - it’s great to see that at the high school level now.”
The future doesn’t lie just in high schools though, esports in Australia is becoming progressively streamlined into universities too. META has a partnership with Torrens University Australia, while QUT, Monash University and University of Queensland have branded teams in professional tournaments.
“It’s definitely the next big place to go,” said Green. “We’ve seen that with META and we’ve seen that with the university esports leagues. For me, that’s the next step in making esports normal to the everyday audience — giving the opportunity to students to get deference for exams to play esports like they would traditional sports, and play the same way as interschool sport.”
17,000 fans descended on Melbourne Olympic Park over the weekend for the second coming of Melbourne’s keystone esports event. It’s Victoria’s answer to IEM Sydney, and while the calibre of teams might not be equivalent to the premier Counter-Strike tournament held in May, the masses turned out for some thrilling action over two days, braving the late Sunday storm front and providing the industry with a much-needed boost of optimism.
Seeing the parents come down to support their kids at these events is spectacular too. It’s like going down to Junior Footy on a balmy Sunday morning, or taking them to training on a weekday night. Esports has helped kids build teamwork skills, leadership, and a sense of belonging in an accepting community.
But from the high school level, all the way up to the professional level, esports in Australia is only improving. Our current pros are looking to up their game when it comes to performing on the international stage and doing the region proud.
Mammoth will have a chance to do Australia proud in Europe for the League World Championship in October, while Josh “RiSky” Hayward will be trekking to IEM Katowice to bring some Oceanic flair to Starcraft II (he’s a British-Kiwi, but we will claim him).
But one man who has been there from the start is James “Yuki” Stanton of Order. The Overwatch pro has been playing esports since 2009, when he joined Team Immunity’s Team Fortress 2 team. 10 years on from his competitive debut, the scene in his eyes has improved drastically.
“Competitive gaming has always been a dream of mine, and TF2 was the first game I put time into. Going to overseas tournaments was cool back then, but the scale of the events is so much bigger now, and that experience has helped me in Overwatch.”
With projects like Fortress Melbourne in the pipeline, there’s a lot to look forward to if you are an esports and gaming fan in Australia. The events are getting bigger and better, and the entry barrier is decreasing. The saplings planted by the likes of Yuki, Green, and Dunn are starting to sprout, and the future's looking brighter than ever.
Andrew Amos is an Australian esports reporter for Dexerto and Snowball Esports. Disclosure: Kotaku Australia and an offshoot of Kotaku Australia's parent company were both sponsors of this year's Melbourne Esports Open.