A longtime staple of Korean television, eSports is set to hit Kiwi television sets with Sky announcing the launch of a pop-up channel on 19 December to screen the inaugural My Republic New Zealand Gaming Championships (NZGC) tournament live.
As part of the tournament six teams of five players will meet at Flametree Studios in Parnell to battle it in the virtual world of online game League of Legends, which is played by millions across the world and often features in eSports tournaments.
NZGC President Dan Wrightson describes the gaming action as a combination of Lord of the Rings and paintball at a darts tournament.
“It’s fast strategic action," Wrightson said in a Sky release. "The local gaming community is spawning its own stars and this event being broadcast on Sky gives them a stage to show how good they are, and how incredible eSports is to watch and play.”
Five of the participating teams have already been selected, with the final wildcard entry set to be chosen at a preliminary tournament on 6 December.
Wrightson says that the official prize pool for the tournament is yet to be finalised, but it will be announced in due course.
"At this stage it will be a mix of cash and prizes in excess of $10,000," he says.
Wrightson was also asked for the names of the five participating teams, but he said these details would also be released at a later stage.
Given the growing interest in eSports, Wrightson hopes to extend competitive gaming in New Zealand beyond League of Legends.
“We are looking at other games for the future and these are DOTA 2 (Defense of the Ancients), Call of Duty and Black Ops,” he says.
Due to the growing popularity of eSports among the younger demographics, it is starting to attract interest from major brands.
Asked whether there would be any advertising opportunities available on the pop-up channel, Sky channels publicity manager Stephanie Holmes said it's still unclear at this stage whether advertisers will be able to buy slots during the programming.
"I’m waiting for confirmation on whether or not this will be an advertising channel," she says. "Pop-ups don’t always carry ads. I can come back to you on this as soon as this has been confirmed."
eSports has turned into a multi-million dollar industry, with the best players in the world walking away from tournaments with massive pay cheques.
According to esportsearnings.com, a website that tracks the amount teams and players across the world earn from professional training, Dota 2, the most lucrative game on the circuit at the moment, resulted in US$26,290,473.02 in prize money being distributed to players across the world. This was followed by League of Legends, which had an accumulated prize pool of $6,872,262.20.
The eSports industry is most developed in the United States, China and Korea, with total player winnings stretching well into the millions of dollars for 2015.
Locally, the stakes are not quite as high, with data from the site showing New Zealand gamers only earned around US$29,000 in total this year.
The vast majority of this has been won by 19-year-old Mackenzie 'Petraeus' Smith, who has earned around US$25,000 this year for exploits on Starcraft II. Smith no longer lives in New Zealand, plying his gaming trade in Switzerland after a stint in the United States.
Much like football players who join clubs across the world, eSports stars also sign affiliation deals with major international groups.
Smith is currently signed to Root Gaming and he trains in the so-called mYinsanity house in Switzerland.
These gaming group houses are located in various countries where eSports are popular and are managed by coaches who often provide strict training regimes for the gamers they accommodate.
An excellent Vice documentary on eSports culture in Korea revealed that those living in some of the more serious gaming houses are known to train for as much as 18 hours a day. Whether professional gaming becomes this extreme in New Zealand is yet to be seen.