Paid to Play

Paid to Play
Fragging in the (Un)Lucky Country

Alex Walker | 22 Jul 2008 09:06
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So when sponsors fall through, it can have catastrophic results. While the World Cyber Games receives good media exposure in Australia, other major events are ignored. In 2005, the Electronic Sports World Cup was held in Brisbane. Due to a lack of media exposure and reluctant - ultimately nonexistent - sponsors, however, there was no money left over to send the winners overseas to Paris for the finals. In the end, the owner of an Australian computer peripherals distributor donated money from his business to send the winners overseas. It's just one of many tales in an infant industry that is sorely lacking regulation, enforceable contracts or any sort of safeguards. The problem is no one thinks it's worth it.

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David Kaye, the most successful Counter-Strike competitor in Australia, admits that sponsors get no value for their money. "The community is not evolved enough, and the players I don't think have the commitment to fulfill what is necessary to be considered professional. ... If you were a corporate sponsor directly related to e-sports, perhaps you could justify spending a little bit of money sponsoring events and whatnot, but teams, in general, I would avoid. That said, professional gaming in other parts of the world is growing rapidly, and hopefully someone in Australia will take the step forward and help push us into the scene."

One of those organizations fighting for mainstream recognition is the Championship Gaming Series, who contract players to one of 18 franchises worldwide to compete for a prize pool of one million dollars. While members are paid to play, professional gaming comes with other benefits. "Its given me a lot more freedom and spare time to do things with my girlfriend and just pursue other areas of life without having to worry about a 9-to-5. It's actually a really good talking point when meeting new people," says Oliver Johnson-Barrett, one of the ten players of Sydney Underground. And who'd disagree when a CGS contract is worth around $30,000 US, not including tournament winnings?

That's not to say high-level gaming doesn't requires a significant time investment. Johnson-Barrett spends up to 16 hours a week improving his skills, and many gamers will double or even triple that amount leading up to major competitions. For all those competitors, David Kaye says that the main prize is enough of an incentive. "I've spent upwards of five hours a night from Sunday to Thursday practicing, not only individually, but with my teammates. In the build-up to national or international competitions, I play weekends also, because to me it's worth sacrificing some things to gain the opportunity to travel again." He should know - Kaye has earned 10 trips overseas through competitive gaming.

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