Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 19, 2022



The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (15:36): With the continued advances in technology, what was once popular can quickly become obsolete, with new products overtaking the old. We went from walkmans to iPods to streaming services such as Spotify, and these technological developments have radically changed how we consume music as a product. This change has been mirrored across all forms of entertainment, and the rise of streaming platforms has exacerbated the decline of traditional media such as free-to-air television.

With this fall, viewership for traditional sports has also fallen. Leading international sports such as the NBA and Major League Baseball have seen TV audiences shrink over the past 10 years, and many Australian sports have gone the same way. While AFL has had steady viewership, rugby league and cricket have seen shrinking demand from audiences. Many of these eyes have not simply turned away from media altogether but have instead shifted towards the new products brought forth by the advance in technologies in areas such as eSports.

eSports is the professionalisation of what used to be a hobby—playing computer games—and demand for professional gaming has risen dramatically in the past few years. With international viewership for championship deciders in games such as League of Legends reaching close to 100 million people, it is time to recognise eSports as a valuable piece of the global recreation puzzle and the economic benefits that come with it.

Beyond the online viewership, the value of the eSports industry has continued to grow rapidly. With an estimated year-on-year growth of 41 per cent, this is no longer something that can be ignored as a fad or as a niche. In 2019, a tournament held in Sydney for the game Counter-Strike was attended by more than 10,000 people and attracted 20 million online viewers as fans watched 16 teams fight it out for a prize pool of over $350,000, and this is barely breaking the surface of the size of the eSports scene.

With prize pools for international tournaments reaching well into the tens of millions of dollars, Dota 2 has awarded more than $250 million over the past 10 years to teams competing in its yearly world championship tournament, and these numbers continue to grow, with prize pools doubling every two years. Other leagues, such as those for the game League of Legends, do not rely on tournament prize pools to incentivise the next generation to become professional players.

Each of the 10 teams in the League of Legends Championship Series pays their players a yearly salary as they compete in a franchise league, playing 45 regular season matches and two finals each year. The salary for these players averages a staggering $650,000 per player per annum, and even these numbers are dwarfed by the value of the teams competing in this franchise league.

Franchises initially cost $10 million for a position and the price of these slots has already increased by $30 million in only two years. Despite the scale of the eSports industry, mainstream support and investment is still lagging and relatively small investments can provide outsized returns. I understand that 67 per cent of Australians report playing video games, and one-third of active video game players watch eSports online.

Australians especially have been neglected by developers and investors, with domestic leagues having received less support than their international counterparts. Despite this, Australian fans have rallied and created their own systems and leagues and secured their own sponsors. When the developer of League of Legends, Riot Games, shut down the Oceanic Professional League, the fan base rallied and created a replacement league with the help of independent tournament organisers ESL. This new league has grown and now outsizes the original league it replaced. The desire is there from the community, it just needs a push to help it grow.

While many of us might find it strange that many young people enjoy watching other people play video games as much as they like playing the games themselves, it really should not be seen as any different to those footy fans who sit down with family and friends to watch the AFL grand final.

With eSports already matching the size of many of the biggest traditional sports leagues in the world, and continuing to grow, I think it is time to consider the benefits of South Australia taking a lead role in developing and supporting the eSports community. With the growth of eSports, South Australia can take a lead role in this burgeoning industry. Already the SA gamers scene is strong, and amazing local companies are creating and developing these games. Why not take the lead?