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Australia needs to go harder on esports in 2019

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Expert
2nd January, 2019
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All around the world 2018 was a pretty massive year in esports.

We saw the continuation of popular tournaments and the launch of new ones. Professionally broadcast regular events like the Overwatch League became more commonplace and all sorts competitions continued to grow in size and prestige.

More than that, Australian competition has seen massive growth in the industry locally. We had the Melbourne Esports Open, Hoyts made deals to showcase esports games and some local competitions were even broadcast on free-to-air TV. If you had told me I could turn on my TV to Network 10 and watch Rocket League even a year ago, I’m not sure I’d believe you. Hell, if you told me that now, I probably still wouldn’t, but it happened.

So then, with all this progress, what’s coming for the year ahead in esports? I’m no fortune teller, but I can tell you what I’d like to see.

More like the Overwatch League
It’s no secret that I immensely enjoyed 2018’s inaugural season of the Overwatch League. Being able to follow teams so solidly throughout a long competition was excellent. This was the first time I really felt like I engaged this deeply with any esport. I cared about the team standings beyond just watching mechanical skill. I was excited to see snippets of the teams working behind the scenes to get a feel for what these players were like beyond just the game.

It was also entertaining to watch a game that was constantly shifting in meta. The problem with some more established competitive esports is that things can already be set. Overwatch League gave us all a chance to see almost entirely different games with every change in season and see different teams shine using them.

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This coupled with production values that got better and better every week made it a joy to watch and a great entry point to esports for many new fans. I know tonnes of people who don’t really get into esports but do watch Overwatch League. Some even own jerseys.

If we can cultivate this kind of competition for other games, I’m sure we could garner more interest into esports as a whole. Overwatch has the bonus of being a colourful and relatively easy-to-follow game, but there’s no reason others couldn’t follow suit. We need to be selling more than just the game in esports; we need to be selling players and teams just like regular sports do.

It would also be super cool to see more Australians and New Zealanders make their way into the Overwatch League. We’ve seen several players from Contenders move onto the next step in their career, including Kelsey Birse (Colourhex) being picked up by Boston Uprising, and let’s just have more of this, please.

To do that, though, there’s something we sorely need across all esports in Australia.

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Better local competition
I mentioned previously that 2018 was a massive year for Australian esports, but we can’t stop here. There’s still something a little bit off about watching most of the local productions, and this needs to improve.

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Of course the money required to do this isn’t going to be provided unless people are watching, so this is a bit of a catch 22. The good news is people are watching and things to do seem to be improving, but it could really use a leg-up.

Bigger sponsors getting involved with the competitions is good too. We’ve seen brands like McDonald’s and Dare throw their hats into the ring to support local esports, but we need more. If companies this big want to get involved, there’s definitely money in it for them, so hopefully we’ll see others wanting to jump on board.

It may feel a little soul-crushing to have such blatant and often silly advertising thrown into the games, but it means there’s money available, and this is good if you want more esports production in this country.

To help with this, viewers like us need to be supporting the smaller organisations as well. Folks like CouchWarriors are holding fighting game competitions in Melbourne, and there are plenty of other things happening locally. You can often buy tickets and see these events live as well as watch on stream, so if you want to support esports in Australia, maybe add attending a few competitions to your 2019 list of resolutions.

I’ve been saying it for a while now, but whether or not you like them or consider them sports, esports are here to stay. They’re a lucrative competition with billions of dollars on the line in deals, prizes and sponsorship.

Esports are only going to get bigger and better in 2019, and we as a country need to keep up.