‘When I grow up I want to be a pro gamer’: the steady growth of eSports in New Zealand

Kiwi gamers can now tune into mainstream TV to get their fix of local eSport content, with Sky broadcasting the New Zealand Gaming Championships (NZGC) League of Legends Premiership 2016 on Sky Sport 3. We talk to Viva La Dirt League member (and creative producer Blacksand) Adam King about what it means for gaming culture in New Zealand.

The tournament is by Let’s Play Live, New Zealand’s first professional eSports brand that launched earlier this month, and Sky’s coverage of it started last week and will continue every Wednesday night at 7pm until the final event on 12 October.

This is the second time Sky has broadcast eSports locally, after it launched a pop-up channel in December last year to screen the inaugural My Republic New Zealand Gaming Championships tournament live.

eSports, professional and competitive video gaming, has seen a boom around the world in recent years, with its global revenue expected to hit $463 million this year—a 43 percent increase from last year. To support it, South East Asia and the UK have dedicated eSports TV channels and closer to home, King says Sky’s broadcast is a good start to changing the perception of gaming culture in New Zealand.

“If a kid these days said to their parents, ‘I want to be an eSports professional when I grow up’, in New Zealand that would be frowned upon,” he says. “Whereas if they’d said to their parents ‘I want to be a rugby star when I grow up’ they would be told ‘yes, follow your dreams’.”

Any yet, they are both sports and there is no real difference, he says. According to The Business Insider Australia, eSports competitors practise for a minimum of 50 hours per week and play the games far more. Another article by Deutsche Well calls the players “athletes”, and says scientists observed a higher level of strain on their bodies than in any other sport – “not even table-tennis players, who require a high level of hand-eye coordination”.

King is a member of Viva La Dirt League with Alan Morrison and Rowan Bettjeman and together they run a channel dedicated to making gaming-related content. That includes producing the video series Epic NPC Man and Bored as well as streaming their own gameplay videos.

“I feel that gaming culture is not particularly recognised in the mainstream media and neither mainstream culture at the moment. It’s still viewed as ‘very niche’ and ‘very nerdy’ and not a nice kind of activity.”

He says New Zealand has a culture in which gamers are “shunned” and considered “outcasts” despite the fact that 67 percent of New Zealanders play video games and they are playing more than ever.

According to the Digital New Zealand report 2016, in 2010, the average game was played every other day and only an hour at a time, but by 2014 it was a daily activity and played for over an hour.

76 percent of players are 18 or over, with 48 percent being female. 34-year-olds are the average age, and 43 percent of those aged 65 or over play video games.

On top of the time spent playing, 48 percent of New Zealand players have watched walkthroughs or streamed gameplay videos and 28 percent have attended a game event.

Viva La Dirt League began in 2011, and King says back then, gaming wasn’t something that had a big place online. However, with the rise of websites like Twitch, a social video platform and community for gamers, and YouTube Gamers in recent years, global online gaming world has become massive.

Closer to home, Viva La Dirt League has surpassed 26,000 followers on YouTube and has 8,000 on Facebook. But it’s not just about the likes and views, with King adding it has a high engagement level, with comments, repeat views and a high view-to-subscribe ratios. King says this is because gamers spend a lot of time online and that is where their community is.

“That’s where they engage with their friends and where they make their purchases.”

Although New Zealand run, Viva La Dirt League’s audience is predominantly international, says King, with America and Europe seeing its biggest numbers and Australia and New Zealand further down the list.

However, with its number of followers ever growing and Sky’s broadcasts, he reckons we should watch this space.

“The culture thing around it is kind of why we do Viva La Dirt league, because in the global eyes we are a pretty small channel, but in the local eyes we are pretty big and we do have a pretty big influence in gaming circles, which is nice. If we can slowly change the perceptions of the gaming culture in New Zealand, then I think we’ve done a pretty awesome job.”

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