• Australian eSports World Championship Qualifiers Grand Final (SBS)Source: SBS
Don't worry, we'll explain it.
Shane Cubis

2 Sep 2016 - 1:27 PM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2016 - 6:13 PM

Coverage of the Australian eSports World Championship Qualifiers Grand Final - the biggest event on the national calendar - is coming to SBS 2 for the first time in 2016. But if the NBN hasn’t hit your place yet and the Wi-Fi's not up to scratch, you might not know what we’re talking about when we throw around words like “eSports”.

So here’s your official introduction to the exciting clashes that take place between the world’s top video-gamers for glory, trophies and money.


What are you talking about?

Video games are serious business these days, my friend. Having become firmly established in the entertainment canon, they attract a broad range of amateur and elite players to compete, the latter of which are like Olympians to weekend warriors.

eSports - short for electronic sports - are the next step, broadcasting the top-level matches between superhumanly talented gamers as they strive to defeat their opponents on a range of digital battlefields.

They're far from being a fringe event: The amount of money involved has shot up to $700 million globally, with an audience of 150 million people - fast growing - who watch events on cable or online.

And now, for the first time, we’ll see an official national tournament screened on free-to-air TV in Australia.


What do they play? That Pac-Man Go thing?

Uhhhh, no. It probably first got really big with real-time strategy title StarCraft, which was a massive hit in South Korea due to the combination of new broadband networks and large unemployment after the Asian financial crash. By 2000, that nation had established a government eSports Association to regulate these games.

That’s when things started getting serious, and before long South Korea had 24-hour channels dedicated to covering StarCraft and Warcraft III competitions. These days there are plenty of games that lend themselves to the elite tournament format, whether you want to show off your skill at first-person shooting, defending and destroying bases or even building decks for bespoke card games.

Once you get up to the big leagues in the US and Asia, there are massive cash prizes (as in, millions of dollars) to be won for excelling at the activities your parents thought were time-wasting diversions.


OK, this Australian tournament. Who are the contenders?

Having shot their way through a pool of 26 Aussie teams in the group stages, and smashed the top eight in the semifinals, two sides have emerged: SYF Gaming and Athletico. With five players on each team, they’ll be going head-to-head in a best-of-three Counter-Strike: Global Offensive series that will determine the Australian champions for 2016.


What else is at stake?

Thirty-five nations, three games – the aforementioned Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone and League of Legends – and three days of full-on play. That’s what awaits the Australian champions at the Eighth eSports World Championship in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 6-9.

There, they’ll face off against the cream of the planet’s electronic athletes – and hopefully emerge victorious in green’n’gold. Last year there were 250 players - and 40,000 spectators watching the action!


Hang on, we played Counter-Strike at high school. Is it really a sport?

The mental agility and physical reflexes of these gamers rival conventional athletes – they produce the same amount of cortisol as professional racecar drivers and their pulses hit 180 beats per minute, the same as marathon runners. It’s a stressful and adrenaline-pumping experience, with the thrill of competition and thirst for victory rivalling any footy match.

Oh, and ESL, the world's biggest eSports league, began testing players last year for performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall. So yes, at this elite level, it is really a sport.


How's the coverage looking?

Hosted by the Australian eSports League’s Maddie Searle, Danny Kim and Australian eSports Association president Darren Kwan, you’ll see an informed panel giving incisive commentary on every clutch, choke, wallbang and headshot. But what you may not know is that these events tend to draw a crowd, so be prepared for screaming fans, too!


Check out the electronic sporting action on Friday,2  September at 9.25pm (AEST) on SBS 2 - and after broadcast on SBS On Demand.

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