Professional gaming isn't exactly a spectator sport. People who don't "get" gaming aren't interested, and the seriousness of tournaments can turn off casual gamers. For those lucky enough to fight their way through the ranks, there's not a lot of glamour. Even the champions face a career with no safety net or retirement fund. Most people - especially the parents of the competitors - considered professional gaming a joke, a fad destined to wear out in a few years.
For better or worse, the combination of the internet and our competitive spirit have led to the rise of professional gaming around the world, particularly in South Korea. Most readers will know Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, with his superstar status and multiple media appearances including an interview on 60 Minutes. Occasionally the digital accomplishments get out of hand: The Chinese multi-gaming organization, Wisdom Nerve Victory, became so successful that their Counter-Strike team began appearing on boxes of ice cream cones in French supermarkets.
While the rest of the world explores the competitive side of the internet, however, Australia lags behind, listening for results via dial-up. Forget professional gaming - people struggle to get quality broadband. If you are lucky enough to find a decent service, you'd better hope it holds up during peak hours for your online fragging fix. And don't get me started on those who live in the bush.
If internet in the Lucky Country needed several crates of dynamite to get started, then it might take a disaster of epic proportions for professional gaming to gain a foothold. Aspiring competitors need several thousand dollars to attend a single overseas event if they want to make real money. Limiting oneself to Australian events won't do - there are very few of them, and in most cases the prizes aren't worth the registration fee. Last year, one national tournament was so dry on funds that the winning team walked away with mice and keyboards. They would have done better to bribe the administrators for the MVP prize, an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and some DDR2 RAM.
Representing Australia is even more expensive. Major international competitions like the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup require an enormous outlay before tournament organizers can run an event, with one internet cafe owner reporting that it cost AU $15,000 to purchase the ESWC license. That doesn't include the costs of hiring of internet cafes to run the qualifiers in various states, providing flights and accommodations for the winners of the qualifiers or renting out the venue for the finals, which can total over AU $30,000 with little to no return on the investment.
The former head organizer for WCG Australia, Jacob Gardiner, agrees. "Venues need to be booked, PCs, servers, consoles and monitors need to be acquired and set up along with sufficient power. Then there's the actual registration process along with organizing the teams and players into the specified format and schedule of the event. ... The amount of money required to run an event on this scale, including flights of players (national and internationally), hire of venues and also to use all of the equipment at these events is enormous. Without the help from sponsors, there would be no WCG in Australia."