With the glitz and glamour of overseas pro esport leagues seeing insane amounts of money and massive arenas selling out – this raises the question, where is Australia in this global gaming culture?
Lag, Distance and Competition. This blog post will take a closer look at the unique problems that is currently plaguing Australian esports: slow Internet and being girt by sea many kilometers away from the rest of the world.
The Internet is Not Ok
It’s an election year, and hot on the list of things our politicians are squabbling about is the National Broadband Network – The NBN.
Currently, Australians experience slow and unstable Internet connections in both download and upload speeds. The aging copper networks just can’t handle all the digital traffic that comes with our era of Netflix and chill.
In a recent State of the Internet report, Australia’s peak average broadband speed measured up at 39.3Mbps. This places Australia in 60th place in global speeds, and a long way behind leading esport countries such as South Korea (95.3Mbps) and United States (61.5Mbps).
Besides the bad state of play for gamers who struggle to compete through lag times and mid game disconnections, this slow Internet also affects the growth of the Australian audience.
IRL, the biggest esport crowds are not found behind a television, but rather across streaming sites such as Twitch.
For an audience with slow Internet, no amount of quality production or slick commentary can convince anyone to stick around to wait for their content to buffer.
On the other end, live gaming streams often need to be produced in low quality video and audio to suit slow upload speeds. Again, it’s hard for an audience to watch even the best of ganks in crap quality video.
The Tyranny of Distance
As the popularity of games increases in Oz, developers such as Blizzard (Starcraft), Hi-Rez (SMITE), and Riot (League of Legends) have all created local Australian servers, which is big tick for the infrastructure required to advance the esport industry.
However, despite the ‘always on’ Internet, Australia’s vast distances still resonates Geoff Blainey’s 1966 theory that suggested the country’s isolation would form much of our cultural identity.
Why distance matters, is the availability of competitors for game practice.
The more people there are in the same game, the tougher the competition will be and therefore the better the players. Junglist from Kotaku refers to this mass participation as a ‘larger pyramid of skill’.
The tyranny of distance is problematic in Australia where:
- The long distances to connect a player from Melbourne to a player in say, Kotowice, creates delays long enough to affect games that require fast reaction speeds, such as Starcraft. Therefore players need to be in a similar geographical area to effectively game together.
- Complex games create metagame, which is the strategy that subsists outside of the game itself, like a poker face of sorts. The metagame constructs itself through the gaming community, of which we are too far away from to participate. Without the strategy practice, it’s a hard slog to compete against high level pros.
- We’re also so far away from ourselves that despite the Internet, it is still difficult to sync up times (think Melbourne to Perth) and connect coherently as a competitive community.
This problem of distance has resulted in quality players moving overseas, such as Australia’s world class CS:GO team Renegades who relocated to North America to further their professional gaming careers.
We are the underdogs
If there’s anything that Australians love more than a meat pie at the footy, it’s the story of an underdog.
In 2012, an Australian team entered the ClanBase Nations Cup in a global Battlefield 3 tournament. The competition was played through American servers against mainly European teams.
The Aussie team was faced with all the problems that we discussed; terrible lag, weird time differences and no involvement in the European metagame.
Rather than directly competing against the elite piloting skills of their more rehearsed counterparts, they instead devised an outlandish strategy that turned the game’s jets into missiles.
Despite the Aussies coming from behind with the lag and distance – the Europeans had no answer to the Australian team’s strategy that was formulated so far from the metagame.
Against all odds, they went on to win.
We in Australia, we are the underdogs of the esport world. But as we know it, underdogs create the most epic wins and write the best sporting moments in history.
Think Steven Bradbury’s unlikely 2002 Winter Olympic gold medal, Australia’s fairytale wins against Japan and Croatia in 2006’s FIFA World Cup, or the 1983 America’s Cup victory that we’re still banging on about.
At Digital Bunker, we think the esport community in Australia will look different to what’s going on overseas due to our constraints through infrastructure and distance. And despite the odds, we’re building a community that’s competing with the best of them. Game on!