Melbourne Esports Open is what video games in Australia need


Although talks of an esports bubble (both at home and worldwide) persist, the heartening news is that events like MEO are being increasingly seen as the new normal, and governments have taken notice.

“Digital game development is a growing opportunity for our creative sector,” says Victorian Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Martin Pakula, “and we’re proud to support this fast-growing industry that is bringing so many enthusiasts together.”

Fortnite being played at the Melbourne Esports Open.

Fortnite being played at the Melbourne Esports Open.Credit:Sarah Cooper

Pakula’s comments hint at the potential for the Australian games industry as a whole to be lifted by the growth of esports. It’s not surprising that governments have been historically resistant towards throwing public funding, tax benefits and grants behind video game developers; we’ve come to expect kneejerk reactions given old stereotypes around violence and hot-button issues like addiction and gambling.

But 17,000 live spectators and a nice bundle of tourism income? That’s tough to ignore. In a way esports (and especially large events like MEO) have served as the vehicle through which governments have come to understand the games industry at large.

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“The Victorian government are behind video games,” says Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, Australia’s peak body for the video games industry.

“They run International Games Week, and they now have a government working group looking at esports.”

Curry and other industry representatives hope that the new view of games will create more opportunities for local developers, broadcasters and, of course, players. As developers take advantage of new monetisation models in online games (such as the free-to-play Fortnite which draws its revenue from small transactions for in-game cosmetic items), development timelines have stretched out almost indefinitely.

Similarly, the developers of the three main esports featuring at MEO haven’t specified an ‘end date’ for their games.

Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, intends for the game to become a “true multi-generational sport”. Blizzard Entertainment has created a league for Overwatch that will soon see teams fly in and out of global cities for their away games. And Ubisoft has stated that “long-term success” and “a stable ecosystem” are part of the vision for Rainbow Six esports.

Fnatic took out Orgless to claim the Six Masters final at MEO.

Fnatic took out Orgless to claim the Six Masters final at MEO.Credit:James Woollacott

2020 is shaping up to be another big year in Australian esports, with Six Masters (the premier Rainbow Six tournament in Australia) already announced for a return. Fortress Melbourne, an ambitious new esports venue in Melbourne’s Emporium shopping centre, began construction over the weekend as well.

Australian investors, brands and broadcasters are already on board for the future of esports. Homegrown companies like JB Hi-Fi and Fairfax Events & Entertainment are now directly involved with events like MEO. For many other organisations, from state governments to major media brands, the question is no longer if, but when.

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