The disconnect between eSports fans and their local teams

Max Melit Columnist

By Max Melit, Max Melit is a Roar Expert


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    To people who have not grown up in, or fully integrated the globalising elements of the information age, explaining eSports is a tough proposition.

    Especially, in my experience, the lack of region-based fandom that is as much a part of eSports as the computers themselves.

    Everyone understands the nature of competition to some extent ‘X plays Y to the best of their ability and vice versa for a prize’ is not a difficult concept to grasp. Because this is the core foundation of eSports, there are at least some tangential similarities that can be drawn for people to make sense from.

    But, once you escape these concepts of ‘competition’, ‘prize pools’, and the basic structures that go along with it, eSports can become a daunting culture to understand – especially to those that are used to traditional sports models.

    In sports, picking a favourite team can often be boiled down to city, state, or country. Obviously, there are many extenuating factors that can go into which group of players you allot your time and energy into, but, purely based on a very human, tribal, instinct to identify with people in your area, more people than not will find themselves drawn to a relationship with their home side.

    There are more practical reasons for this hometown support as well. You’d obviously be more inclined to get around a team whose live games are more frequently available to you, whose fan base is already pre-existing and nearby, and whose players share your city/state/countries culture.

    In eSports however, this loyalty to a region is largely missing, especially for fans that reside in places where professional gaming and tournaments have yet to take off to the extent that other places in the world have experienced.

    One of the most apparent, but admittedly not major reasons for this lack of close-knit domestic support is that many teams have a mix of nationalities in their player line-up to start with.

    Also, many teams that are the best at their game can all come from on country – most famously, Sweden in Counter-Strike – making nation-based support a messy situation.

    Don’t get me wrong, many people will use the excuse of region to support a team, especially, if a home-team makes a deep run in a tournament on home soil. But for the large part, any on-paper problems concerning nationality and fandom feel like more of an issue for a vexillologist rather than people who have intrinsic ties to that team’s culture.

    I think the majority of this disconnect can be boiled down to the online environment that eSports largely resides in, and the lifespans of the teams themselves.

    Unlike in traditional sports where you can only support your team over the course of the season, and buy that Manchester United jersey, or Brisbane Broncos cap, in safe knowledge that the organisation will be around for years to come, in eSports, everything is fleeting.

    Rosters can come into existence with all the hype in the world and disband entirely months later. Entire organisations can disappear due to a lack of funding or results. This is largely caused to the rabid financial environment that is eSports and also the incredible amount of time that goes into being a professional player.

    The burnout of living in a house with the rest of your team 24/7 and constantly playing in-game, or simply having to sit down and play the same game on repeat for hours makes time in eSports flow much faster.

    As such, the allegiance of fans can constantly change between teams just as fast. The time to build up the stories of rosters, and as a result, build up a team’s fan base is reduced when that team could not exist in its present state in a matter of weeks.

    This effect is further amplified when you get down away from the top international teams and into the domestic region where lesser known players who can’t boast big salaries, if salaries at all, swap players with shocking ease.

    The Australian scene is infamous for this, with rosters and organisations being swapped without warning, overnight. This aspect alone makes it difficult to understand, let alone buckle down and support a team.

    What’s more, most people simply want to watch the highest level of competition possible. They want to know the stories of the best teams and players and spend their time watching the apex of a game they themselves likely play.

    Whilst it might be fun to go to a local soccer game and watch people you may know in it, if there is an EPL game next door that you could watch for free, nearly everyone will choose the latter.

    The domestic scenes might boast the closer-to-home stories traditional sports fans are used to, but the sheer abundance of top-level teams battling it out means that you have to make a concerted effort to go away from this elite competition to support your region’s smaller scenes – something most people aren’t willing to do.

    In other words, the online environment that eSports resides in makes the lifespans of domestic teams/organisations are vastly shorter than normal sports, reducing their chances of sticking around long enough to build up a big fanbase for that roster, and it also makes supporting the elite international sides easier than the local ones.

    This is a problem that has never truly faced traditional sports to my knowledge and is one that therefore can’t be solved by traditional sports models.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • January 21st 2017 @ 8:38am
      Gel said | January 21st 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Difficult problem to solve because (as you rightly observe), player rosters are so fleeting and transient.

      As a matter of interest, what do the professional teams do to engender permanancy with their fanbase? Are they active with social media and websites that fans could subscribe to? Do the teams offer access to the their elite players by way of AMAs or similar the way that traditional sports do via open training sessions and signings?

      Or is that probably too difficult due to most teams not having the time to devote to such endeavours yet?

      Can the “noobs” get a chance to be “wtfpwned” by the elite players in a relaxed setting the way that juniors get to try to catch Quade cooper at open training sessions?

      • January 25th 2017 @ 8:59am
        Josh TM said | January 25th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

        Teams have very well established social media and content driven marketing that brings fans right into the stories and lives of their favourite teams. There are streaming platforms such as Twitch that fans can watch and interact directly with their favourite streamers that can be upto a few hours everyday.

        Esports is a real content rich driven industry and as such fans tend to be able to go deeper into the lives of their favourite players than you would get in a traditional sporting environment.

    • January 21st 2017 @ 2:38pm
      VP said | January 21st 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

      VP will beat Australis at ELeague

    • January 21st 2017 @ 10:46pm
      me too said | January 21st 2017 @ 10:46pm | ! Report

      i can’t see how esports teams can attract a loyal fan base, given the short lifespan. a game will be popular for a year or two, then replaced. there is no permancy to any particular game and as a result, any particular team or individual. i cannot see the attraction as a spectator at all – if the game interests me, i will play it myself. watching others control a digital avatar, or a digital world, that i can do with little effort or cost myself, has no appeal at all. the game publishers may try to drum up audiences and try to legitimise it as a sport, but it’s purely advertising a short lived product to drum up game sales. i can understand people watching it in patches if they are fans of the game itself, but to actively support any particular team or player, unless family or friend, is strange to me.

      • January 23rd 2017 @ 1:57pm
        Andy said | January 23rd 2017 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        I support esport teams based on the individual players i like, which is really weird if i think about it as i have always supported teams first then players when they are in my team. I mainly watch Dota and this maybe different from CS but i think some people may support teams based on favourite heroes too, certain players are known for certain heroes and if you like a certain hero you will then like a certain player.

        I have liked the same couple of players since 2012, thats not that long but its from when i first started watching Dota. I think you are really underestimating the loyalty of people to games and the popularity, which is understandable as you dont watch, its like asking an emo if soccer is interesting. You just dont get it.

    • January 29th 2017 @ 2:46pm
      Johnno said | January 29th 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

      You could almsot say e-sports like Tennis/Golf/boxing no loyalty to country more just your favourite player.
      Tennis only seems to get patriotic at Davis Cup.

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