Last Monday night saw the Skycity Theatre filled out with a rambunctious crowd of eSports and fighting game enthusiasts as New Zealand’s top Tekken 7 players duked it out at the Let’s Play Live Tekken 7 NZ Championship Grand Final, with a special guest appearance by the current Tekken 7 world champion, Saint from the Echo Fox eSports team.
ESports is a fast growing industry and has long been a popular form of entertainment, however, in recent years, eSports has quickly dominated the world as one of the most attended and watched events, with over 173,000 attendees present at the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship this year and more than 46 million unique viewers tuning in to watch the event online.
While eSports continues to grow and dominate the rest of the world, New Zealand, unfortunately has a ways to go. According to the panelists speaking about eSports opportunities in New Zealand at the 2017 New Zealand Game Developers Conference, the ‘stay at home’ culture is partly to blame as well as the fact that New Zealand has not yet laid proper groundwork to build a solid foundation for eSports.
One of the key takeaways from the panel is that for eSports to rise in New Zealand, more Kiwis need to be aware about the events being held and make the effort to attend. The growth in attendee numbers will give rise to not only more interest in the events, but also a rise in conversations being had about eSports, allowing for word to spread via word of mouth.
With grassroots communities such as Standing Fierce, one of New Zealand’s leading fighting game communities, Ping Zero, who annually hosts a fairly large scale LAN tournament event and Aspect of Gaming, a local community who promote gaming and eSports in New Zealand, small steps are being taken, however, these communities predominantly cater to those who are already interested in gaming and eSports. The challenge is far greater, which is to reach the wider New Zealand audience and to change the perceptions that a large number of Kiwis have regarding video games and gamers.
Let’s Play Live, an organisation which considers itself as Australasia’s home of eSports, aims to do just that and its Tekken 7 NZ Championship is just the beginning. With the Grand Final being hosted at one of New Zealand’s largest venues as well as being televised to Sky Sport, a largely popular television channel watched by thousands of sporting enthusiasts nationwide, the foundations are slowly being placed to generate more buzz for New Zealand eSports.
At the Grand Final event, I found it disheartening that for the first part of the tournament, only pockets of fans turned up to watch the show and support their fellow Kiwi fighting players. For a good hour, much of the theatre was empty, with only fans, journalists and PR professionals in attendance. This changed, however, in the second part of the tournament, as the seats began to fill up and the crowd grew wild, cheering on Saint, who travelled from South Korea to participate.
Bringing such a widely renowned star in the eSports space to New Zealand to compete in the tournament was a huge draw-card and showcased the fact that international talent brought more viewers and sparked more interest in the events such as this.
The audience were gobsmacked by Saint’s talent and the crowd became increasingly more boisterous as the top New Zealand player, Thomas “Kor_Nnova” Choi, showed himself off as a skilled player worthy of challenging Saint. It was in that moment, of watching the crowd sit on the edge of their seat, cheering their favourite players on, that I saw the immense potential New Zealand has to incorporate eSports and showcase true gaming talent, especially when the country is home to many talented gamers across various platforms and games.
The Let’s Play Live Tekken 7 NZ Championship Grand Final turned out to be a successful and entertaining event which acts as a small stepping stone toward laying the groundwork for bringing eSports into New Zealand. With more events like these and more international talent being invited over to participate, eventually a mind shift will change. Here’s hoping that future events are carried out with more live attendees to help spread the word.