28 Sep 2019

Esports: How far could it go in New Zealand?

11:13 am on 28 September 2019

The University of Waikato's brand-new Omen Esports Arena signals the shift toward professional gaming going mainstream, but can gamers in New Zealand make a viable career out of it?

People play video games at the newly launched OS NYC, a fully equipped gaming lounge on September 19, 2019 in New York City.

Esports is touted as the fastest growing entertainment sector in the world with massive prize pools at esports world championships. Photo: AFP

More New Zealand universities are set to open a dedicated esports space for competitive gaming on campus, and more scholarships targeting gamers could follow.

Esports has been touted as the fastest growing entertainment sector in the world, and you feel it's only scratching the surface of its potential.

Numbers show that 67 percent of New Zealanders play videogames so having a professional pathway is welcome news for 'gamers', but as is the case at the University of Waikato's new dedicated space, building a community around esports is another goal as the scene continues to grow.

The esports industry as a whole earned an estimated $US900 million last year ($NZ13,811,656) and by 2024, it's estimated to be worth even more.

Sounds big doesn't it? The rewards seem glorious, but how good do you have to be and how much are you getting paid?

Currently, if a kiwi gamer were to reach the absolute pinnacle of esports, they'd be winning prize dollars that significantly outweigh even what some of our best rugby, basketball, football, and cricket players earn in a single victory royale.

The winner of the recent Fortnite World Cup (a 16-year old going by the online name of Bugha) took home $US3m for his victory. The lowest ranked competitors at that tournament earned $US50,000 and above.

Lets Play Live, Australasia's home for competitive esports, has almost 400,000 registered players and hosts a range of high profile tournaments, including the Rocket League Oceanic Championship with a $US55,500 prize pool.

At the Armageddon Expo this year, PlayStation will partner with LPL to host the Playstation Plus Friendlies with a $NZ3,300 prize pool.

Kyle Bugha Giersdorf celebrates after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo final at Arthur Ashe Stadium on July 28, 2019 in New York City.

16-year-old Kyle 'Bugha' Giersdorf celebrates winning the Fortnite World Cup. Photo: AFP

Furthermore, prize money in esports is often crowd funded in one way or another. Most commonly by the purchase of in game items (referred to as loot or microtransactions where gamers can unlock special items), online subscriptions and the developers themselves putting in money for tournament winnings.

All this suggests that the short answer to esports becoming a viable career path in the future is yes, but there is uncertainty on how the other 99 percent of pro gamers can support themselves.

Compare this to New Zealand Rugby who currently sets aside around $NZ63m for their entire player payment pool, what most rugby players earn is guaranteed whether they win or lose, and that is the big difference between accepted mainstream sporting codes when you compare to esports.

Comparisons aside, the esports space is one that has many eyes on it, including the big money advertisers, and you feel that as it becomes more accepted in the mainstream, its potential for professional pathways will only increase.

*Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton and covers rugby, cricket, social issues and esports.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.