The AFL has expressed interest in running an esports tournament, and that’s a great thing for Australian esports.
After announcing earlier this week their esports idea, the AFL hopes to sell out Etihad stadium and put their brand in front of a rapidly growing audience hungry for more esports action. It makes sense – it’s another example of the current line blurring between esports and live sports, with international sporting clubs already signing esport teams to stay ahead of the curve.
Be it FIFA, Dota or CSGO, putting this sort of brand power behind esports is a powerful thing.
Internationally investors like Rick Fox and Shaquille O’Neil have jumped at the opportunity, and both their teams and financials are flourishing as a result. Australia is an untapped market in this regard, with completely amateur teams paving the way ahead internationally and domestically.
Over the last year especially – and through the work of Riot Games, the CSGO community and fighting game fans – the rise in popularity of esports has become vastly more publicised here. IEM Sydney feels like a culmination of this rise (the main event kicks off today) and is most definitely a driving force to put Australia on the esports map once and for all. The AFL’s plans could easily be one of the the next steps.
It’s no coincidence that the AFL are expressing this interest now with IEM excitement about. This is proof that investors, sponsors and traditional sporting companies are watching what’s going on and seeing the shift for what it is – an opportunity to either take or be left behind on.
The Australian scene has fallen short in the past due to a variety of factors, some beyond our control like geographic location, but others simply because this hasn’t been seen as a viable investment, with limited prizemoney and opportunity. Organisations have gone down the drain and teams have been left in tough spots.
More importantly, investments and ideas like this build mainstream engagement with esports that it desperately needs.
It’s a step that increases the legitimacy of esports as a hobby, career, and business venture. Exposure through the AFL’s normal delivery methods like sport TV, newspapers and sports sites just like this one can put something totally new in front of another established and passionate audience.
The reception to the announcement alone from AFL fans has been positive, with users writing comments like “Wow it’s cool to see the AFL be progressive about the role of esports and not just see it as something to dismiss,” on the AFL subreddit as opposed to the stereotypical aversion to esports.
Some are even seeing it as an opportunity to share their AFL love with a younger generation who find the esports side more appealing. “This is awesome. Never been interested in esports but I have a 9 year old son who would kick and scream for me to take him to one of these,” commented another user.
Esports events of this magnitude are important for building the skill of the region too. Chiefs Esports Club, one of the strongest clubs in Oceania, narrowly missed out on a main stage finish at IEM. In doing so, however, they performed far better than expected, going so far as to knock out international powerhouses Renegades. They cited their loss as a learning experience, taking to Twitter to highlight that the international competition showed them what their mistakes were and how to work on them.
This and more leagues and tournaments is what the Australian scene desperately needs. Events to keep fans invested in the local rather than purely international, and exposure to larger competitors to stop us slipping behind in skill and technique.
If this newfound AFL interest can piggyback off the hype of IEM it could be onto a winning formula. Even simply to stimulate the region by opening up the floor for new teams to rise, and to create more work for passionate individuals wanting to pursue this as a career.
It’s not all smooth sailing though – there are many pitfalls with just jumping into esports as a traditional sports organisation. Things don’t run the same and there’s a steep learning curve that many an established esport organisation has fallen prey to. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the biggest opportunities Australia has got in a long time.
Any step is a good step for Australian esports. The fans take these opportunities and run with it, such as taking a simple CSGO event and building it into a celebration of grassroots Rocket League, Smite, League of Legends and esports in general. As more plans are announced and the interest becomes tangible, Australian esports could be on to a real winner here.
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