If someone told me ten years ago that people playing video games would generate a bigger audience than the NBA, NHL, and MLB, I would have laughed.
Imagine a world where video games were like sports, professional players were scouted like NBA players, and teams trained in modern facilities as their full-time job. This may seem like a fantasy world for Australians, but in South Korea, this is reality.
Samsung Australia invited The Roar to join them as they took Australian League of Legends team, Legacy (owned by the Adelaide Crows), to Seoul for an experience of a lifetime. The young team were able to meet Korean LOL superstars Gen.G, take a tour of their training facility, and play a series of friendly matches against the Gen.G academy team.
Gen.G’s headquarters are a six-story facility that players commute to and from each day. Players have access to a café, high-end gaming systems, streaming studios, and relaxation rooms available to them at any hour. The resources available to this group of elite players is astounding, and a far cry from what would be considered the norm for a professional gamer in Australia.
The celebrity status of top Korean players became more apparent when Legacy attended the international League of Legends tournament ‘Rift Rivals’. What felt more like a basketball stadium featured a centre stage housing 10 computers, and giant monitors to show gameplay as the two teams battled it out for 45 minutes.
The Seoul crowd roared at in-game events that were completely mysterious to someone who is not familiar with the complexities of the League of Legends gameplay.
Gen.G’s executive team boasts a wealth of experience from traditional sports. Their CEO comes from Major League Baseball, and their head of sales was previously with the Los Angeles Clippers. Players train up to 15 hours per day, and eight hours a day in the League Of Legends off-season. This gaming popularity boom, combined with elite-level training facilities, truly blurs the lines between professional gaming and let’s say… football.
While it’s hard to imagine this level of industry for esports in Australia, Legacy themselves were a part of a first in the professional gaming landscape here when they were acquired by the Adelaide Crows in 2017. Since then, many sporting clubs have acquired their own esports organisations with the foresight of the industry one day resembling South Korea.
Will we see stadiums dedicated to a particular gaming title pop up and host international events to sell-out crowds? One would argue that we already see this with the Intel Extreme Masters CS:GO events in Sydney. But to truly see into the future of professional gaming in Australia, seeing what is happening today in South Korea may give you a very good idea.
Disclaimer: Tom Stevens is a video producer with Australian Radio Network, the publisher of The Roar. He was flown to South Korea at Samsung’s expense.