For a nation of just over twenty million people, Australia has consistently punched above its weight in international sporting fixtures. Cricket, rugby, polo, football, surfing, skiing and swimming are just some of the sports that Australian athletes have excelled in over the years. eSports, however, has had a rocky history in the sunburnt country. Poor internet infrastructure and geographical distance have inhibited its growth despite casual gaming being an extremely common pastime in the Oceania region. Last year Riot made a timely move into Oceania by commissioning a locally hosted League of Legends server and establishing an official regional tournament series.
Oceania is a geopolitical collective of Island nations in the South Pacific with a total population of approximately forty million. Australia and New Zealand account for two thirds of the overall population and almost all eSports teams and organisations in Oceania are based in Australia. People from other countries in the region also play on Riot’s OCE servers, which are hosted on the east coast of Australia. OCE maintains a ranked population of over one hundred thousand active solo queue players and the winner of this season’s Winter Championship will earn a place in the wildcard qualifier tournament. Oceania has a small but growing pool of professional League of Legends teams, all of which are based in Australia.
While it is true that top-tier competitive play in Oceania is generally of a lower standard than it is in North America there is a silver lining in that the scene is very accessible to aspiring players. Regular community-run and official Riot tournaments provide plenty of opportunities for newcomers to play against the better-established teams in the region.
Meet the Teams
At the recent Oceanic Autumn Playoffs only one of four teams that competed in the Season Three Oceanic Championship was present; the rest of the teams have since split up or become inactive. This is a testament to the extremely fluid nature of the Oceania scene and the healthy pool of skilled amateur players in the region, but it also speaks to a lack of stability. When the Season Three Oceanic Championship took place there were very few Oceania-based teams and many of the region’s top players were still better known as high-Elo NA solo queue players. It is thus unsurprising that the one team that was present at both finished first at both. The following teams represent some of the big names in Australian and Oceanic eSports.
AD Carry: raydere
Team Immunity are the reigning season three champions for the OCE region and the undoubted “team to beat”. As an organization, Immunity proper has been one of, if not the biggest, names in Australian eSports for quite some time. Over the past few years the League of Legends team has dominated tournaments in Oceania and, despite numerous roster changes, consistently maintained their position at the top of the region. There are two very salient reasons for this, the first of which is sponsorship. Immunity proper is the oldest esports organization in Australia and they have acquired an impressive list of backers over the years. Few other League of Legends teams in the Oceania region have enjoyed the support that Immunity’s has. Consequently, since its inception in 2012, Immunity’s League of Legends team has finished first in nearly every local premiership they have entered.
The second factor underpinning immunity’s dominance is pedigree. The Immunity brand itself carries a certain cachet in Australian gaming circles and the “iM intel” tag has adorned the names of many of Australia’s best cyberathletes over the years. The combined result of these two factors is that Immunity has consistently been able to attract quality players and coaches.
Immunity has not, however, performed to the same level in international tournaments. They were defeated 2-0 by the Lithuanian team GamingGear.eu in the semi-finals of the Season 3 International Wildcard Tournament despite some strong performances in the group stage. Immunity also failed to move past the group stage in the 2013 World Cyber Games, however they were placed in an extremely difficult group.
AD Carry: UberGiantsBro
Formerly known as Frenetic Array, Dignitas’ OCE squad is a team with a significant degree of history in the Australian scene. The Uebergang brothers, LittleUberGiant and UberGiantsBro have played together for many years. The team lost a lot of support after a run of poor tournament performances but showed that they are still a strong unit in the lead up to the Autumn Regionals. Dignitas has a trophy cabinet filled with silver medals that no doubt hides in the shadow of Team Immunity but their recent form shows that they are determined to change this situation. With the support of an international gaming powerhouse behind them, the stage is set for the JKSmithy to lead his team into a new era of Australian eSports.
AD Carry: Perfection
Curse OCE, formerly known as Little Wraith, are the rising stars of the OCE region. They boast two very significant achievements. The first is their status as one of only two Australian teams to have competed in a major international tournament to date. Little Wraith’s second major achievement is the title they have earned for themselves as “the Immunity killers”. In 2013, Little Wraith became the first Australian team to defeat Immunity when they pulled out a surprise victory over them in a Go4LoL final.
Little Wraith then blitzed their way through to the Regional Invitational round of IEM Singapore. They defeated the Philippino 2013 World Championship competitors Mineski before being gatekept from the main stage by the Kuala Lumpur Hunters. Little Wraith genuinely looked as though they were set to challenge Immunity’s title as the champions of Oceania. They ran into troubled waters, however, when they lost their mid-laner and support.
The team was rebuilt with players of an extremely high caliber. Keane, a former AD Carry player for CJ Entus Frost and top-15 player on the Korean solo queue ladder, took over mid lane and Charlie stepped in to fill the empty support role. With the support of Curse and a dedicated management team behind them, the former Little Wraith has all the tools that it needs to turn their victories from upsets into safe wins.
Top: Pekka Kokko
AD Carry: FirstMate
Team Nv is a name that many might recognize from the South-East Asian StarCraft scene. Their League of Legends squad was established in September 2013 and is home to HeavenzCurse, one of the original members of Team Immunity and part of the pantheon of talented OCE mid laners. Nv have struggled against Immunity, however, despite strong performances in weekly tournaments and against other teams in the Autumn Regionals. They are still a relatively new team and are carving out their place in Australian eSports. Despite their lack of time together, Plantronics Nv have shown fantastic ability to gel as a team and will surely cement their spot as a formidable opponent to any of the other big names in the region.
AD Carry: Cadrid
Avant Gaming acquired Ascension after they qualified for the Autumn Regionals under their old name, Mindfreak eSports. Mindfreak qualified through Cybergamer’s ladder system, a feat that requires no small amount of perseverance and consistency. If any team was to qualify in this way, however, it was Mindfreak. They have been consistent performers in the Australian scene for quite some time but they have struggled to take any big wins. The current lineup is a redoubtable collection of some of the region’s best players, however, and may yet achieve the podium results for which they have worked so hard.
xOptIc5nIp3rzx (Optic Snipers)
Top: Cool Mog
Support: ice Cold
Australians love an underdog and Optic Snipers epitomize the paradigm. Unlike the rest of the teams in this list they do not have the backing of established organisations, nor do they have any history in eSports, domestically or internationally. Nobody knew who they were until they defeated Avant Redemption 2-1 in the Autumn Regional Challenger Qualifier in an unlikely turnaround. The Optic Snipers are not only impressive on the basis of their own achievement; they are also noteworthy because they represent an entire server full of unknown players waiting to make a name themselves in eSports.
Since Riot Games established an office in Sydney and subsequently opened their OCE servers to the public there has been a marked increase in competitive activity in the region. Riot Benji is eSports coordinator for Oceania and overseer of the event calendar. For the 2014 season Riot will be running an Autumn Regional, a Winter Regional and the Season Four Oceanic Championship. The winner of the Winter regional will go on to compete at the 2014 Wildcard Qualifier.
The finals of the Autumn Regional took place through March and April and the Winter Regional is set to begin in May. Teams are able to qualify for the Regional Rounds of Eight through a number of means, including weekly tournaments and specific qualifier events hosted by Riot’s Oceania partners.
The “OCE Weekly” is a fixture that has replaced the now defunct Go4LoL. It is a series of online mini-tournaments held every Sunday that allows teams of all skill levels to battle it out in an informal competitive setting. It is a far cry from the fanfare of the North American LCS or the bombast of Korea’s OGN fixtures but it provides teams in Oceania with a crucial opportunity for regular competition.
Although the result of the 2014 Autumn Regional final represented a continuation of the monopolist trend that has defined oceanic tournaments lately, there is great solace to be taken in what is happening behind the scenes. Riot emphasised the fact that they were “here to stay” at the Season 3 Oceanic Championship. This message was repeated during the presentation ceremony at the Autumn Regional and Riot is certainly not the only organisation investing in the oceanic scene. The presence of international brands like Curse and Dignitas is a big step forward for the oceanic competitive scene and, if they are able to nurture oceanic teams capable of threatening the status quo, then their involvement will be unequivocally beneficial.
Australia boasts the world’s twelfth largest economy, fifth-highest income per capita and second highest Human Development Index (HDI). It also, however, has a rather small population spread across a very large area. This is true not only of Australia, but also of the oceanic region in general. It is a collection of island nations with low population density and travelling between population centres, even within Australian borders, can involve considerable distance and expense. Despite being a wealthy country, Australia has historically had rather poor Internet infrastructure. This is due in part to the anti-competitive commercial landscape of the Australian telecommunications industry as well as the sheer physical challenges associated with providing services to a huge island that is sparsely populated.
It is something of a cruel tragedy for oceanic teams that many of the world’s best players are practicing in gaming houses throughout Asia – so close, yet so far away. Online scrims between Australian and Asian teams are all but unplayable at this stage and are yet another prospect contingent upon upgraded telecommunications infrastructure. The oceanic metagame still follows North America very closely and most OCE squads simply have not had the opportunity to play against international teams yet.
Before Riot commissioned their Oceanic servers there were a number of problems faced by players in the region. Most current OCE players played on the North American servers, despite having 200+ ping and, although some servers in Asian countries offered slightly lower latency, English was not widely spoken on them and most of them required different game clients. Some were still able to play solo queue at high Elo despite the ping deficit, however. HeavenzCurse, current mid laner for Team Nv, reached 2700 Elo in Season 2 on NA.
Another major issue for eSports in the Oceania region is the lack of streaming culture. In North America, Europe and Korea players not only receive weekly exposure at LCS or OGN fixtures; they also have the opportunity to stream in between competitive matches. This cultivates interest amongst the League of Legends fanbase and allows professional players to forge greater community connections with their viewers. Live streaming has become a key facet of the eSports scene in most parts of the world yet it is all but absent in Oceania and the reason is simple. Even in Australian capital cities most domestic Internet connections are simply not up to the task of streaming. Upload bandwidth is scarce and expensive; it is rare to see an Australian household with more than one megabit per second thereof.
This lack of stream culture combined with geographical isolation has severely stunted the growth of gaming and eSports communities in the region but there is hope in this regard. Both of Australia’s major political parties have plans to improve telecommunications infrastructure and, although the issue has been heavily editorialized, it will need to be addressed at some stage in the near future for the sake of Australia’s continued economic development. When it is, professional players will undoubtedly have more of an opportunity to stream and build a following for themselves.
The lack of investment in eSports combined with the abovementioned absence of stream culture means that most of Oceania’s top League of Legends players are far from full-time gamers. The majority study or work in addition to playing solo queue and practicing with their respective teams. There are many talented players in Oceania but they cannot be expected to compete with teams that train together on a daily basis and play the game for a living. Michael O’Dell, Managing Director of Dignitas, had the following to say about his organisation’s move into OCE:
“We have a lot of fans in Australia and we have watched the scene for several years. Last year we decided that being a part of it would be good for us and give back to the people that have supported us for years in OCE. I think now is a good time to help push the development [of the OCE scene] and we are happy to use our weight to help it grow.”
Australian LoL players have in the past, by virtue of their use of the North American servers, been exposed primarily to the North American competitive scene. Dignitas is still a household name amongst Australian players, however it remains to be seen whether their OCE squad will attract a following of similar repute.
Australia’s success in international sporting fixtures, as a country of just over twenty million people, has never been the result of a statistically implausible amount of freakishly talented athletes. Rather, it has been cultivated by the investment of significant amounts of capital and the development of highly competitive domestic fixtures. The oceanic region will struggle to produce teams that are capable of standing toe-to-toe with professional teams from Europe, Asia and North America as long as there is a lack of competition on a similar level at home.
At present, Immunity and Curse are the only teams in the region with any degree of international tournament experience. It remains to be seen how Oceania will grow and what Riot will do with it, however there is no doubt that OCE teams need more opportunities to play against teams from other regions. This will have the effect of both defining and testing the Oceania meta as well as helping recognized local players to adapt to global competition.
The rapid proliferation of League of Legends eSports in Oceania is indicative of the sheer scale of the game. Football is often described as “the world game”; League of Legends is truly moving towards status as “the world eSport”. Although LoL eSports in Oceania is still very much in its infancy, there are many signs that point to a promising future, for both the region and the game in general. One hopes that Curse and Dignitas are able to bring some stability to Oceania and help grow it into a globally competitive constituency. In saying this, however, there is a definite romanticism to the scene at present. This is a decisive point in the development of eSports in Oceania and all who participate have the opportunity to nurture something wonderful.