Roam is an eSports consultancy, designing initiatives for companies that want to tap into the large, engaged Generation Z eSports audiences. Roam has an investment in one of the eight Australian eSports teams in the League of Legends competition, Sin Gaming.

Drew Skinner
Managing Director, Roam

Mark Richardson
Strategy Director, Roam

Tell us about eSports...

Drew: It’s like an underground movement. No-one over 45 seems to know anything about it. There are huge numbers involved. Forty-three million people watched the last League of Legends final (2016), 100 million play that game online every month, the prize pool goes up to US$20 million for the big finals. It’s a marketer’s dream but hardly anyone knows about it.

Why is that?

Mark: It’s played in bedrooms by eight to 25 year olds. It’s not as visible as watching a football match broadcast from the MCG.

Tell us about Sin Gaming...

Mark: They compete in the League of Legends competition from a gaming house in Sydney funded by Riot Games [which owns League of Legends; Riot in turn is owned by China’s TenCent]. They train during the week and compete on the weekend. It’s a group of young guys, 18 to 23 years old, living together like in a college dorm with computers in the living room. It’s full of odours.

Drew: But they’re very professional. They have a chess coach living with them who teaches them strategy. They need to learn ‘look-ahead-ability’. Their captain is a former professional soccer player who got injured. This is his competitive outlet now.

Do you expect we will see girls in the teams in future?

Mark: Yes, because the games are more mental than physical. You need fast reaction times and there’s no difference between men and women there. What we saw in surfing, skating boarding and BMX biking will happen in eSports. It skewed male to start then became inclusive over time.

Drew: And half of Australia’s gamers now are women.

Which games are the biggest in eSports?

Drew: The publishers who have built professional competitions and infrastructure around their titles are the biggest. In Australia, Riot Games has invested in League of Legends by subsidizing teams, supporting gaming houses and building a studio with 25 production staff including casters and analysts. CS:GO (Counter Strike Global Offensive) is probably number two. Valve is heavily invested and they use a franchise model so people can run their own tournaments.

The biggest tournament, Intel Extreme Masters, was in Australia in May and booked the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, holding 20,000 people.

How is Australia positioned in eSports?

Mark: Well. We have a high degree of tech adoption, we have the NBN and we’re well positioned in relation to Asia. This is why Riot sees us as uniquely positioned and we are the second market in the world where they invested heavily. Our smaller scale works to our advantage too. If you are an Australian team you have a good chance of getting into the World Championship whereas in America, with more teams, it’s much harder. Good players in America will come to Australia and play for us. They see us a way to get into the World Cup and they enjoy the lifestyle here.

What are the constraints in Australia?

Drew: Broadband needs to continue to improve. Key to the gaming experience is ‘ping time’, which is the time it takes to get the message back and forth. If the ping time is too high then it disadvantages that team. That’s why our team’s house is in an NBN area.

Mark: One of the greatest ways of promoting a network’s technological advantage is to engage with eSports; it demonstrates superior quality.

We’re seeing increasing investment from diverse sources – e-commerce, private equity, traditional sports leagues, games publishers. Why is that?

Drew: Publishers develop and invest in eSports games to be global straight off and market them worldwide. For example FCSchalk, a traditional German soccer team, has a League of Legends team now. They want to open up a new segment for their sponsors. The NBA has an online NBA 2K game and they’ve commissioned an eSports league for their terrestrial players.

What’s the difference between managing a sports team and an eSports team?

Mark: Not much. They both need a degree of skill and application, the ability to train. They need well-being mentally and physically. We focus on that in the house with healthy diet, exercise and day trips out. Well-being is one of our philosophies in the house.

We expect to see the development of more eSports teams amongst traditional sports. I predict there will be an eSports team attached to every professional sports team – cricket, soccer, football or archery. This allows people with a wider range of abilities to be involved, people with less physical ability for example.

How does Roam make Sin Gaming sponsorable?

Mark: We’re trying to break down the stereotype of what a gamer is, the uncommunicative type locked in a room. In reality, these are athletes who have influence in their community; they have many fans who watch them play. So how the players present themselves on and off the game is as important as it is for any sports star. We also encourage them to have other interests, to be well rounded so they can have broader appeal. One of our players loves to cook. Our captain is still very into physical health. This is part of their well-being.

What are the interesting new revenue streams in eSports?

Mark: Microtransactions now occur between the audience and players who have become celebrities. For example, players develop their own ‘skins’, an item of virtual clothing or merchandise that the audience can pay for and download for their own character.

Drew: Selling passes to watch a championship online (pay-per-view) raised over US$65 million for DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients) recently, 25 percent of which went towards the prize pool (US$17 million). Riot Games made US$1.5 billion last year, mostly from the 100 million players of League of Legends buying additional items for their characters, like ‘skins’. These are only one or two dollars, but they add up!