It’s human nature to compare and contrast ourselves to one another, and to rank people on a scale. Comparisons happen in esports all the time - every time a major international tournament comes around, it’s always a case of has one region progressed to be better than another.
It’s the North America vs. European Counter-Strike debate, or the East vs. West argument that arises in League of Legends every time the Mid-Season Invitational or Worlds rolls around.
Australia is never in these discussions.
There’s a number of factors behind this. In the past, the infrastructure has never been there. Poor timezones and a lack of results encourages fans — and the brands that follow them — to look towards other regions with better track records for rising stars and new strategies. Speaking to the international players who came across for the Melbourne Esports Open, the only time the region really gets a mention is when they bump into each other in matchmaking.
“I know a few of the players, but I don’t follow much Australian Overwatch in general,” said Washington Justice support Nikola “Sleepy” Andrews. “Players like ColourHex obviously came over from Australia to the Overwatch League, and you might see a couple at the Overwatch World Cup and on ladder, but it’s only in passing.”
“Most of the players we see are the ones who play on NA ladder, like August [Chris Norgrove, DPS for Mindfreak]” said DPS player Corey “Corey” Nigra. “Everyone is in their own bubble when it comes to Contenders and the Overwatch League.”
That’s a common theme across all titles, where people around the world might know Australian players from matchmaking, but the region itself isn’t worth the effort to scout. However, the perpetuating stereotype of seeing Australia as a second-tier region can put a dampener on how Australia is perceived as a region across the world.
Esports is a brutal world: there's a lot of gamers and not a lot of positions. But what happens when you have to compete for one of those positions while playing at 200ms at best? That's the unfortunate reality for Australia's Overwatch World Cup members, who have been trialling under some truly crappy circumstances.
“I think we are yet to prove ourselves as serious competitors,” said Mindfreak Overwatch player Joshua 'Bus' Bussell. “A lot of our issues stem from not having the same support and playerbase as other regions, but I’m confident in due time we will be up there.”
Trying to compare Australia to other countries around the world in esports is moot. The difficulties the region faces in terms of geolocation and financial interest means that comparing Australia to North America, Asia, or Europe is like comparing apples and oranges.
The best comparison anyone in Australian esports can draw is how far the region has progressed in the last 2 years. Teams across multiple titles have started moving into team houses, and there’s been an increasing focus on physical health on top of in-game ability. Money is coming in, and LAN events are moving from school gymnasiums to big cultural centres.
“The infrastructure in OCE has definitely improved over the last five years," said Gravitas CEO Sean Callanan. "I remember looking into it and thinking it was really small back then." Now, through these small improvements, the infrastructure is developing, and the region is slowly becoming more relevant on the world stage.
"It's becoming increasingly more developed, and players are now starting to get the chance to compete on the world stage on an equal playing field. There's still a lot of growing room for OCE esports as a whole, but there's been nothing but positives when you think about IEM or MEO."
Players will migrate to the stronger regions. Players like Victor “FBI” Huang moving to North America for the LCS, while Ashley “Trill” Powell went to the Overwatch League and multiple Australians have left our shores to join the Renegades CS:GO team in America. But having these players leave the region for greater things is probably the best indicator of how well Australian esports stacks up against the world for now.
“Having our players do well on the international stage reminds me of the Aussie battler," says Callanan. "Once a player goes international, the entire region gets behind them, and that's something incredibly special. If we can build a larger player and fanbase, we will get the chance to send entire teams out, not just individuals, but it'll take time."
Australia will probably never be the best at a certain game. But, with infrastructure in place, the country can become a hub for some of the world’s best talent.
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.
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.