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.
With over 15 tournaments across the weekend, and plenty of exhibitors, free-play sessions and meet and greet events, MEO had plenty to offer. That’s what makes MEO so special: it’s everything the Australian esports industry needs to reach a wider audience.
“Watching the people come through the door, and it’s very much different to our traditional esports audience,” Ben Green, a commentator over the weekend and head of business development for ESL Australia, said.
Commercially, Melbourne Esports Open is everything IEM Sydney isn’t. You don’t go to IEM Sydney for a family experience into gaming, and you don’t attend the Melbourne Esports Open for world-class competition. But MEO is more palatable for a wider range of Aussies, which makes it great for brands and partners to dip their toe into esports.
“On a commercial level, it makes sense, especially when we have a lot of partners coming to us wanting to get involved into esports and maybe Counter-Strike isn’t their match,” Green said. “There’s not many events like this across the world where you’ve taken all of these games and put them all together and it’s just esports, so it’s a great opportunity to try things out.”
It’s not just for the outside looking in though. It’s for the teams looking to engage with their fans. It’s for the friends who live across the country, who might all love different games, but they all love games. It’s for the kid wanting to show their parents what their world is all about, and the industry needs all of those communities to come together.
“It’s important for all teams to interact with the fans,” Sean Callanan, chief executive of the OPL team Gravitas, said. Gravitas didn’t have the best 2019, but plenty still swarmed their stall for fun matches against the likes of Jackson “Pabu” Pavone, Oceania’s All-Star top laner.
“It’s been great to lock in some Gravitas fans in real life, and the cast is really diverse. The standard thing is that esports fans are 80% male, but we’ve seen a much more diverse crowd than that,” said Callanan.
With the closure of Gfinity and concerns over the scalability of Australian esports in the last two years — Channel Seven's plans for their own esports league were cancelled before it even got off the ground — the MEO turnout can only be a positive. The event caters to the casual audiences through open tournaments and freeplay booths, but draws fans in to the esports spectacle around Australia with the Oceanic Pro League, Six Masters, and the CouchWarriors fighting game community.
“Talking to fans at our booth has been like: Do you play League? Yes. Do you watch the OPL? No. We got a lot of “No’s,” and I asked why they don’t follow. They often say that they play, but they don’t see something is there. So they come in person, see something live, then follow it in the future,” Callanan said.
The family-orientated feel of the event also brings esports and gaming into the household more, and from a young age. Ankle-biters were roaming around with their parents, especially on Father’s Day, immersing themselves into the world of gaming in all of its quirky but wonderful ways.
“[MEO] is much more family-orientated. This could be any sporting event you’d go to in Melbourne, and it’s a very different feel. It’s great to be able to showcase this as an event more appealing to the wider community,” Green said.
Geek Girl Academy chief executive Sarah Moran added that it’s not just about seeing esports either. “It’s been great to see a lot of young girls, women, and families from all across Victoria and inter-state turning up to celebrate esports and also learn about the industry. It’s a new industry, and a broad range of people are now participating in it.”
It's the foundation Australia needs. Sure, the games were exciting and thrilling, and as a diehard esports fan that was more than I could ask for. But what makes this event worthwhile was seeing the amount of people from all walks of life, descending on Melbourne for one common love: gaming.
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.