AUSTRALIA’S best Overwatch players are staring down Esports giant South Korea in the Overwatch World Cup quarterfinals today.
The steepness of that uphill battle cannot be overstated, but it’s an impressive feat for the Aussies to stand toe-to-toe with one of the nations most heavily invested in professional gaming.
The team is backed up by Adelaide’s own Scott “Custa” Kennedy on support, and coached by Perth’s Jordan “Gunba” Graham.
Gunba describes today’s competition as “an impossibly difficult match”.
“We were able to narrowly qualify for BlizzCon over Denmark,” Gunba said.
“That was always the largest question mark. Could we develop players from one of the most underdeveloped regions in Overwatch and take them to the biggest stage outside of the League itself?”
Custa said earlier this year that there’s talented players in Australia but it’s hard to prove yourself when disconnected from the rest of Esports.
But as perceptions of the industry change, more training and coaching resources could end up dedicated to pro gaming.
Terry Magias, an Associate Lecturer in Physical Education at Flinders University, said Esports has only received limited attention in research literature so far.
“From a health perspective, available research points to the potential for adverse health consequences of participation in online gaming,” he said.
Extreme training regimens for professional gaming, often comprising full-time hours of online practice, can often run against health warnings.
There isn’t yet a formal qualification for training players to improve despite these side effects.
Players could benefit from the same level of widely researched training that professional athletes receive, Mr Magias said.
“Esport coaches might draw value and relevance from research, practice and models of practice in conventional sport settings.”
Gunba, who also competed for Australia in the 2017 Overwatch World Cup before turning to coaching, said the need for these analytical and instructional roles has always been very prevalent.
“Talented and dedicated coaches are in high demand in my experience, most likely owing to the relatively low maturity of Esports in general.”
He said the biggest difference between traditional and gaming coaches is the complexity and changing rules of the games – and there aren’t many people who have both knowledge of these and the skills of being a coach.
“Too often you see coaches in Esports who have a traditional coaching background, but lack the understanding of the game required to make a real difference – this makes it especially difficult for team management (who are typically business people) to make good hiring decisions,” Gunba said.
Such issues are likely to continue as gaming teams and big business become further entangled.
Mr Magias said even if there isn’t yet consensus on Esport’s recognition in global sport, it has already branched into many of the related fields.
“At face value, it appears Esport titles have begun to adopt several characteristics that mirror the organisation of professional sport leagues or codes including professional club licencing, player contracts and salaries, player trading, development leagues, internationalisation, sponsorship, live broadcasting, and branding,” Mr Magias said.
“In Australia, Overwatch is one Esport title where these characteristics are easily observed.”
He added that regardless of the outcome of today’s World Cup game, support for further training for players is likely to grow.
“Esport organisation the Dire Wolves established a high performance Esports centre in partnership with the Sydney Cricket Ground recently,” he said.
“The Adelaide Crows have previously signalled their intention to build an Esport centre of their own. The Crows have already launched a high school Esports league. It’s a safe bet that more high performance centres and development leagues in Australia will continue to emerge.”
Australia and New Zealand do have a local competition in Overwatch Contenders, won this year by Sydney Drop Bears against Dark Sided, at the Melbourne Esports Open.
Players from both those teams are also in the World Cup lineup.
Two of the three Australians in the Overwatch League, Gunba and Custa took LA Valiant to a number 2 finish in the first season this year.
Gunba has since transferred to Boston Uprising, to become an assistant coach for the second season starting in 2019.
After an amazing season with @LAValiant, I’ve decided to part ways. Big thanks to them for taking a chance on someone with no coaching experience!— Gunba (@GunbaOW)
He noted that there were few opportunities for the Australians to progress following the 2017 World Cup, in which Australia was knocked out by Canada.
Almost every player on the teams they competed against had also made it into the Overwatch League, and at that point the signing window had closed.
“Despite that fact, only one player on the Team Australia roster even got a trial for a team that year,” he said.
“I decided that coaching in the league was a far more achievable goal, and if I succeeded I could help reduce the barriers facing Australian hopefuls from the inside. I’m proud to say that everyone on the Australian World Cup team this year has had many trials for Overwatch League and Contenders teams.”
For now though, Gunba and the team are solely focused on how close they can get to beating the back-to-back champions at BlizzCon.
“If Australia can beat South Korea in the first round, I want to make sure we do everything possible to make that a reality,” he said.
“We can’t control how South Korea perform on the day, but we can make sure we are there to take advantage if they underperform or underprepare.”
They’re counting on the support for the underdogs.
“The players being able to hear an ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ chant from a small group of dedicated fans over the noise of the crowd makes a big difference.”
South Korea are highly tipped to take out their third Overwatch World Cup this weekend, but another of the biggest Esports competitions has just proved no reign lasts forever.
The League of Legends World Championship (“Worlds”) final happens to be on the same weekend – the first final since 2011 without a South Korean team even competing.
European Fnatic and Chinese Invictus Gaming will clash in Busan today, to become the first non-Korean winner since 2012.
Australia will play against South Korea in the Overwatch World Cup quarterfinal at 11.45am Saturday, Adelaide time. The winner will advance to the semifinals, to be held from 3am Sunday, Adelaide time.
Scott “Custa” Kennedy (Los Angeles Valiant)
Ashley “Trill” Powell (Contenders Pacific: Blank Esports)
Leyton “Punk” Gilchrist (Contenders Australia: Dark Sided)
Huseyin “Hus” Sahin (Contenders Pacific: Blank Esports)
Felix “CKM” Murray (Contenders Pacific: Blank Esports)
Dario “Akraken” Falcao-Rassokha (Contenders Australia: Sydney Drop Bears)
James “Yuki” Stanton (Contenders Australia: Dark Sided)
South Korea’s team:
Pan-Seung “Fate” Koo (Los Angeles Valiant)
Jun-Ho “Fury” Kim (London Spitfire)
Byung-Sun “Fleta” Kim (Seoul Dynasty)
Hae-Seong “Libero” Kim (New York Excelsior)
Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang (New York Excelsior)
Tae-Sung “Anamo” Jung (New York Excelsior)
Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee (Philadelphia Fusion)