E-sports On The Rise

Gamer story Dream HoN tournament

While thousands of Australians sit in front of their TVs every night to watch traditional sporting teams battle it out, thousands more are glued to their computer screens watching their favourite teams clash for huge prizes and reputation in gaming tournaments across the country.

JCNN caught up with the members of one team to see what impact the rising popularity of online e-sports has had on their lives.

By Joel Preston

Exhausted after a long day of work, making the most of the spare couple of hours before his wife and kids get home, Troy Penhall sits down at his computer and waits as it whirs to life.

He picks up his headset, positions the microphone next to his mouth and clicks on a familiar silver-and-green icon allowing him access to his team’s voice server.

The 34-year-old South Australian man is immediately hit with familiar ‘heys, hellos and g’days’ from an array of voices coming from people all over Australia and New Zealand.

As he begins to load up Call of Duty: Black Ops he sees the usual tags join him on his screen.

He has a stable, long-term job, a loving family and something else – an online team. He is a competitive gamer.

When compared to other nations around the world the Australian e-sports scene is underdeveloped and, to the general public, relatively unheard of.

Video games were once considered a youth trend, but have become an established part of the modern entertainment scene. The statistics about the gaming demographic will most likely shock the average Australian.

Popular Australian gaming site Kotaku.com.au created a pictograph (pictured right) called Video Game Statistics At A Glance.

It showed the average age of a gamer is 32 years old and 49 per cent of players are between the ages of 18 and 49.

In the United States 65 per cent of households shelter a gamer, while figures jump enormously in nations like South Korea where gaming at the professional level is celebrated.

Introduction to the online community

Troy started playing online casually in 2010 before becoming immersed in the competitive gaming world.

“The people you meet through gaming are never the same,” he said.

“I’m from a family background and I’ve got a decent job, whereas some of them don’t work and couldn’t really give a stuff about reality.

“Others you wouldn’t even pick as computer players, you’d think they’d be totally different people in the real world.”

Australia’s adoption of an R18+ classification for video games this year put gaming at the forefront of people’s minds.

The gaming trend was followed closely by electronic sports, or e-sports, where teams are formed to compete in online ladders for prize money, sponsorships and their reputation.

One of Australia’s longest running Heroes of Newerth (HoN) teams, or clans,  is called 1Day and is made up of people who have been playing Personal Computer (PC) games together for up to three years.

COMMUNITY: Clan members unite on the 1Day website

Troy, known in game as HYDE, joined the 1Day clan in February 2010 after noticing they had a strong presence in the PC game Crysis Wars.

“I was new to gaming and I saw the 1Day tags and the 1Day server and I didn’t know if I was quite good enough,” he said.

“I had never been in a clan and wasn’t expecting too much out of it, it was just a fun thing to do and those blokes seemed like pretty decent fellas.

“I got more out of it than I expected – you make pretty good relationships and, even though it may sound strange, you form good bonds with the people in your clan and you get to know them.”

“Even though  you don’t know each others faces over the net, you talk to each other so much that it becomes a pretty close relationship.”

Positive effects of gaming

Another long term member of the 1Day team from Melbourne had an entirely different back story to Troy.

Paul Brunning (Hardstyler) was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and had a difficult time in social situations. But online he shone, often carrying his team to victory in matches against other groups.

Online, Asperger’s meant nothing to Paul. He could laugh, talk and joke along with everyone else.

“The best moments I’ve had is when I’ve been gaming. No one can see me being stupid, I’m just one of the group,” he said.

Paul said his time competing online has improved his speech and confidence in the real world.

Meeting in the real world

Many gamers take the plunge and meet each other at large Australian competitive Local Area Network gaming events.

Several members of the 1Day community have met at various national events like the Sydney Gamers League and the TTesports event in Canberra.

1Day administrator Benny Argaet (Arctic0wl) said meeting the people he had spoken to online was an odd experience.

“Meeting people was a bit weird, some are really loud online but in real life they are really quiet,” he said.

1Day primarily competes in the multi-player online battle arena (MOBA) game Heroes of Newerth (HoN), which held a series of international competitions throughout the year many Australian teams took part in.

PRE-GAME: Both teams attempt to counter each other in the selection phase of the match

Serious competition

Competition in these events is serious business, often with thousands of hours of training put into practice. The team’s bonds are tested when mistakes are made.

The leader of 1Day’s Heroes of Newerth team, Eric Wai (AngelAdvcate) said people need to learn from their mistakes and be good to each other to stay together and be successful.

“There are going to be times when they’re going to make a mistake or people just disagree on what you should have done at a certain point,” he said.

“Sometimes it is good just to sit back and analyse it thoroughly. Communication with your team is key.”

Eric said his team was improving and were on their way to a strong presence in the international HoN community.

“We’ve entered a few national tournaments and we have done pretty well,” he said.

“Recently we came second in  the Cyber Gamer (CGi) tournament. A while back we came second in the DreamHack qualifiers for the Oceania division.

STRONG CONTENDERS: The 1Day team placed second in the oceanic DreamHoN qualifiers

“Right now we are in CGi. So far we have won our first game which is good.”

The CGi is often referred to as the ‘pro league’ of Australian competition where the best go to compete against each other. The website has been described as single-handedly running the Australian competitive e-sports scene.

Cyber Gamer opened in 2007 and now boasts 194,000 registered users with skill-based leagues and competition ladders across several games.

With high monetary prizes on offer, individuals and teams communicate and practise politics with each other on a level akin to real sports teams.

Click here to listen to a commentator follow an e-sport competiton. 

1Day administrator Benny Argaet (Arctic0wl) said the pressure of high level competition can put stress on a team and individuals to perform well.

“HoN is really one of those games where you can tell someone’s character because it really tests you emotionally.”

Benny said Australian e-sports was being held back because most of the organisations involved can’t manage people well.

“Leadership is really, really lacking in the e-sports community,” he said.

“The players we have (in 1Day) are no different from any other, except they have subscribed to a good model because the leaders have pushed it towards them and have said ‘you have to do this if you want to be in the clan’.

“If there were more people like that there would be more substance in clans and a much stronger e-sports community.”

Benny admits that e-sports, while rising in popularity, are still lacking when compared to real sports.

“Real sport encourages interaction, not only the vocal kind but the physical kind as well,” he said.

“Simple things like shaking hands or giving each other a hug, that sort of interaction is not something you can get online.

“You’ll see a lot of people in the future, particularly really good gamers, become so bland.

“They aren’t bad people, they are just lacking something you know?”

Gaming addiction and its consequences

A stereotype exists that implies people who over-indulge in video games have no lives and no social skills.

Many gamers disagree with the stereotype and say they live normal lives. When over half the population classify as gamers it is difficult to argue against their point.

However, Benny said he experienced the all too common negative effects of excessive gaming.

“When you’re confident around people, talking to people, even if it is online you develop a massive co-dependency on them,” he said.

“Sometimes you need alone time and if you have the option to speak to someone online, it accentuates bad habits because there is always someone awake on the internet.”

Benny said he had to forcibly cut down the time he spent playing online.

“Your life tends to get a bit off track, I’ve cut down a lot and I can now wake up at reasonable times,” he said.

“I’m probably a little bit better now than when I was playing all the time, because every game I do play now is that little bit more important.”

Troy (HYDE) also said he came to a realization about his gaming habit and had to stop playing so excessively.

“I felt obligated to play,” he said, “I was playing every day and racking up so many hours, and started thinking ‘jeez it’s been two years where has the time gone?”

“In another four years my eldest daughter will probably be out of the house and gone, and my youngest daughter will be growing up and maybe I should be spending a bit more time with them.”

The players from 1Day celebrate their three-year anniversary on September 30 this year.

Their experiences in the competitive scene have been mirrored by millions of others across the world and, as the popularity of e-sports continues to rise, millions more will experience them in the future.