Heading out into the cold, overcast pre-Spring Melbourne weather, it was like any other day. Traffic, coffee, rain, it was all very Melbourne.
As I made my way to Melbourne & Olympic Parks, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Having spent so much time at Rod Laver Arena in the past, the enormity and significance of the Melbourne Esports Open didn’t really dawn on me until I arrived.
Melbourne’s iconic sports precinct was a hive of activity. It was absolutely buzzing. Organisers were working hard to ensure everything would be perfect for the big opening day.
Inside the Free Play area were screens, consoles and PCs as far as I could see. Fans would get the chance to go head-to-head in NBA 2K, Forza, Splatoon, Fortnite and many, many more. If there was ever a clearer sign that competitive gaming had come up from the basement, I’m not sure what it was.
Melbourne Esports Open
The Melbourne Esports Open is the first ever, major esports event to be held in Melbourne on this scale. Part esports, part festival and part gaming convention, the Melbourne Esports Open is an important step in legitimising esports in the wider community. More importantly, it’s a dream come true for its organisers and competitors.
Speaking with Nick Vanzetti, MD of ESL Asia Pacific, he told me how incredible it was to be staging this event.
We’ve always just loved doing what we’re doing since we were in a university hall with a hundred people. So, we love it for different reasons, but to see it more at a professional level is very special and to see new audiences come through.
I think it’s also, it’s like, “Oh finally we’re accepted!” Mainstream acceptance, you know?
Vanzetti is a charismatic and charming face for esports in Australia. He’s not entirely corporate, not kitted out in a full suit and tie, but he’s not lounging around in t-shirts and cargo pants either. He looks like any number of stylish, young entrepreneurs, slick and confident. And so he should be.
Esports is here to stay
ESL has gone from strength to strength in Australia and the Melbourne Esports Open is just the next logical step in that growth. “I think the cool thing is, I mean this is just the start,” he tells me. “We actually have put this event together in a very short period of time. But the concept has been around for a while.”
“We had the concept to create more of a festival-like experience, so this is a very different show to what’s in Sydney. This is multiple arenas, an expo arena, and over ten different games. It’s got very different content, and the idea there was to have many different gaming fans under one roof. And I think there’s something special about that too.”
Clearly, Esports is Vanzetti’s business and his passion for it is palpable.
These days, you know, the reality is, if you’re two years old and you can operate an iPad, you’re a gamer.
And there is no child in this world now, that won’t grow up and turn nineteen and not know what esports is. You will at least know what it is, whereas we’re still going through a little bit of an education phase where people don’t know what it is.
So, that’s only going show very strong signs of where esports will be in another twenty years. It will just be massive.
A Dream for the Players
Another exciting part of the Melbourne Esports Open is that the players get to take centre-stage in such a huge arena, in front of so many fans. I spoke with Shern ‘Shernfire’ Tai and Calvin ‘k1ng’ Truong of the Direwolves League of Legends team and they both told me very similar things about their excitement.
Tai said that playing in Rod Laver Arena was an absolute dream come true, as was playing at such a scale in Australia.
It’s something I’ve been waiting for a long time. It’s always been my kind of dream, just the thought of playing in front of so many people.
We have our own community and then there’s all these small ponds, like ESL might have that people come to but it’s not on the scale of this.
Truong had similar sentiments.
I’ve travelled to Brazil, Vietnam, Germany, China, and Korea. And none of those places were of the same significance that this tournament will have.
Because I’m a Melbourne local, I grew up here. I always knew about Rod Laver Arena.
But being the person that is up on that stage and everyone in the crowd is there to see you. That’s something that means a lot to me.
Living the Dream
Vanzetti echoes Tai and Truong’s feelings when he tells me that the Melbourne Esports Open is supposed to be about coming together as gamers.
“We want mums and dads who have a twelve-year-old, who maybe plays a bit too many video games, to actually come down and experience something really positive.
“And, if little Jimmy is good enough, he gets to go off and play on stage in front of his mum and dad who can take a photo in Margaret Court Arena. The same venue as some of the world’s best sports stars.”
Obviously, the target audience for this year’s Melbourne Esports Open is the existing video game and esports fans, but Vanzetti thinks that change isn’t far away. He tells me about the “Aha!” moment he sees happen on a regular basis.
When we bring corporates, or brands, or people who are interested in the space, who are doing their research, they don’t really get it until they see five thousand people screaming for their favorite team, and it’s just like a sports match.
Esports as Sports
Vanzetti also thinks competitions like the Overwatch League and the Gfinity Elite Series are key to winning over fans of all walks of life. “I think it gets down to, if you go right down to basics, it’s the tribal nature, right? You want to support someone or a team because it’s your city. That’s why Overwatch is doing well.
Using factors that makes sport such a global phenomenon is one way Vanzetti sees forward for esports.
“Why other people would watch sport, or be a fan of a certain sport is important to understand. Yeah, I want to go down and watch, have a beer, and watch some kind of competitive match, and if my friends are into Overwatch, that’s even better, and we can just enjoy it together.”
Staging the Melbourne Esports Open at Melbourne & Olympic Parks is hugely significant as it’s, arguably, the biggest and most iconic sports precinct in the country. Moving out of the basement and into studios was a massive step forwards. This is the next big step.
Other countries have been staging huge esports events for years, but Australia is finally catching up. Now, along with coffee, laneways and AFL, Melbourne can put its stamp on esports as just another thing the city is famous for.
For the organisers, the players and the fans, the Melbourne Esports Open truly is a dream come true.
The Melbourne Esports Open is on this weekend, September 1 & 2. Tickets are available here.