In the age of the internet, everything is changing and nothing is the same. This has never been a more appropriate, albeit dramatic statement, than when applied to sporting endeavours. eSports are exactly what the name implies: electronic sports (aka video games). It encompasses a ridiculously broad range of games which differ in every way. eSports mirrors the characteristics of traditional sports such as rugby, basketball and football (soccer), which are essentially made up of the same things: a ball, two teams and a goal. What differentiates these sports are the rules, environment and physical/mental techniques of the players, however it’s not just applicable to games that replicate traditional sports. First person shooters such as Counterstrike Global Offense (CSGO), Call of Duty and Halo are all eSports as well, and all compete in leagues and require an individual set of niche skills to compete at a high level. Currently in Australia, eSports is generally one of those subjects you don’t bring up at parties because it’s not “cool” or even well known. Like a lot of things, Australia is yet to catch up with this.
Recently, I was granted the privilege of attending Dreamhack Winter, the world’s biggest eSports festival in Jonkoping, Sweden. I followed the Australian CSGO team around for two weeks on their journey to the Faceit Pro League Finals where a first prize of $250,000USD was up for grabs (we came last). My purpose there was to coach the team and point out any flaws and poor tendencies they might have had. I like to think that the placing of the team wasn’t at all correlated to my coaching ability—but that’s beside the point.
Before we arrived we’d heard that Dreamhack is actually a really big deal in Sweden. It pulls in loads of tourists and is one of their biggest events so everyone knows about it. In fact, the Swedish CSGO teams are actually celebrated there. Ninjas in Pyjamas (who are Sweden’s most celebrated Counter-Strike team) even had their own burger in McDonalds for a while. So, I decided to come out of the pixelated closet, so to speak. The first time I told someone we were gamers, it was a pizza maker at our local pizzeria. He was so thrilled to be hosting the Australian CSGO team he threw in a whole bunch of extras for free and told us all about his time playing computer games as a kid. He had to quit because there just wasn’t money in it at the time… how things have changed.
From this point on, I took my ‘King of The Nerds’ status everywhere and people were just as impressed as the pizza maker, resulting in a plethora of free drinks (which is a big deal to me considering the exorbitant drink prices in Sweden). Throughout the entire event we were treated like celebrities. People were asking us to sign mouse pads and PC cases. It was weird. But it was only weird because Australian gamers are used to being shunned into dark caves where they're told to contain their geekiness, simply because what they excel at and are interested in doesn’t fit into the narrow confines of Australian masculinity.
The backwards attitude that often colours eSports in Australia is just as applicable to other subjects such as gay marriage, food waste, energy use, education, taxes, racism. The list could go on for another article itself. As much as Australians boast inclusiveness, we push anything that's even a little bit unfamiliar under the proverbial rug. Thankfully, Australia is slowly being yanked by the ear into modern society. I for one can’t wait until eSports can be accepted for what it truly is; a real sport. But maybe I’m just biased because I just really want to sign some more mousepads.