This weekend saw the first season of the inaugural Gfinity Elite Series Australia reach its conclusion, with Melbourne Order walking away with the lion’s share of the $225,000 Season 1 prize pool.
To begin with, the Melbourne Order surpassed the Sydney Chiefs in a bitterly-fought but largely one-sided match of CS:GO. Then, they came off the better against local rivals Melbourne Avant Gaming when it came to Rocket League. Closing things out, they completed the set by defeating Perth Ground Zero’s finest Street Fighter V players in a fierce best-of-seven showdown.
This trio of victories saw Melbourne Order net themselves the Club Championship prize of $30,000. Added to their already sizable winnings, the club walked away with a total of $100,000 in prize money.
Launched earlier this year, the Gfinity Elite Series Australia is unique among local esports events for several reasons. Firstly, its a tournament populated by city-based teams rather than independent or brand-owned organizations.
Secondly, unlike esports events like the recent Intel Extreme Masters Sydney 2018 or Rift Rivals, Gfinity isn’t based around a single title. In its current incarnation, each team has to field players across three titles: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League and Street Fighter V.
Thirdly, Gfinity’s Elite Series Australia currently the only local esports event that’s regularly made its way onto terrestrial airwaves through a partnership with Network Ten. The partnership, which marks Network Ten’s first entry into the esports space, saw live broadcasts for of all the Elite Series’ Rocket League matches on Ten ONE.
All of those points of difference were on our minds, as we caught up with Dominic Remond, CEO of Gfinity Australia, to recap the finale of the inaugural Elite Series' first season.
“We had a really good live experience this weekend. The crowds were exceptional and there was some entertainment gameplay. As an entertainment spectacle, it was probably the best we’ve had during the tournament,” he says.
“I actually think that we’ve delivered a concept that there was a little bit of cynicism about. That’s probably what we’re most proud of. We’ve come into the market with something that’s very new and different: this concept of city-based clubs and having three teams within each club. It’s a format that has never been done in Australia and people were wondering how it would work.”
“I also think we’ve delivered an exceptional quality arena. Without doubt, the comments we’ve had from everyone coming through [have reflected] that it is the premiere arena with live audience capabilities in Australia and we’re very proud of that. That was certainly a tricky piece within the build and the approval process leading into the series, so very proud of that.”
“My feeling is that we’ve got great sentiment from the community. Ultimately, as the major stakeholders, it’s very important to get feedback and the feedback has been very consistent and positive across the board.”
Remond says that building the Gfinity Arena was actually one of the project’s biggest challenges. “Australia’s regulations are significantly more complex than both the UK and the US. So when we [did] a lot of the planning process around the build, there [were] certain occupational health and safety issues that hadn't been taken into consideration.
According to him, “they were a big hurdle to overcome” and resulted in Gfinity delaying the start of the inaugural Elite Series season by two weeks.
"That was probably the most complex piece of the whole business: building an arena from scratch based on international specs,” Remond says.
Thankfully - while Season 2 of the first Gfinity Elite Series Australia isn’t due until November, that doesn’t mean that the Gfinity Arena itself will remain dormant until then.
Remond says that “we consider ourselves to be a provider of esports and entertaining gaming solutions to the community here.”
“The Elite Series is the core to our business - that runs two seven-week seasons each year - but then what we’ll do is work with publishers and brands to run bespoke events utilising our arena.”
“There will be fourteen weeks of the year that Elite Series will be on, and then our goal is to utilise the venue for the other weeks of the year.”
“That could be across a whole lots of things. It could be esports related. It could be gaming related. It could be product launches. Using the studio for other live opportunities. We’ve got the ability to broadcast and we’ve got a permanent structure in there so we don’t have the variable cost of having to bump in and bump out equipment etc. So that’s going to be the focus of our business until the commencement of season 2.”
“But having said that, the ecosystem of the Elite Series starts with the Challenger Series and then goes into the Draft and then into the Elite Series. So the Challenger series will “commence in mid-to-late August, so we actually don’t have that much free time [before then].”
Another event that’s due to happen before the inaugural Gfinity Elite Series Australia returns is the upcoming Melbourne Esports Open. The Victorian government say they’re looking to position Melbourne as the home of esports within Australia and with Melbourne Order taking home the gold across all three Gfinity titles, a question was on our minds.
Is Gfinity likely to stay exclusive to Sydney? The answer, it turns out, is not necessarily. Remond says that the resources that Gfinity have invested thus in building up the profile of their Sydney-based stadium don’t preclude them from expanding elsewhere.
“The aim when we commenced our partnership with Hoyts was to get this venue up and running and then look at opportunities with them to expand into other states as well.”
“Our emphasis is probably more on the league structure, so we’ve got continuity over a longer period of time rather than the Melbourne Open.”
“That’s why we came into the market. We saw an opportunity for both clubs and brands to have this longevity. If you’re involved with the Elite Series, you’re going to be involved for minimum fourteen weeks of the year - which gives you greater exposure for your brand, for your club and, for our broadcast partners, it gives them content over a longer period of time.”
Speaking of broadcast partners, the first season of Gfinity’s Elite Series Australia was one of a growing handful of local esports events to make their way onto terrestrial airwaves. We asked Remond he believes that collaborations like this between new and old media are likely to become more common.
“Definitely,” he says, “If you look at the bigger picture internationally, a combination of online streaming and free-to-air commercial broadcasting is something that will continue. Obviously, we have a fantastic partnership with Twitch. We had over 3.2 million views over the Twitch platform, which is interesting. On Rocket League, we had a reach of 1.5 million.”
“I think it’s an interesting space for broadcasters to be in now. Obviously, we’ve just seen with the Overwatch League in the US that they’ve got a significant partnership with Twitch but they’ve also announced they’re entering into partnership with Disney and ESPN and a few of the other channels. There’s definitely an opportunity to reach the audience across multiple platforms, I’d say.”
This opportunity feels like it’s aided by the unique structure of the Gfinity Elite Series. One of the enduring concerns around esports is the fact that the games that people want to play and watch tend to change over time. In addition to giving the Elite Series a different vibe to other local esports events, this roster-based approach allows Gfinity to neatly side-step this issue.
“I think that having another point of reference to support a club is important for us. If you look at the traditional sports market, you have passion for your state, for your local area club etc - and that’s why we were quite dedicated to having this city-based club concept. It offers a reference point which no other league in the country has.
Remond notes that “having multiple teams within each club means that we can draw a slightly different audience. Each game has a different skew. Rocket League being a G-rated game means it skews a little younger. Street Fighter, being a game that’s been around for a long time, has a slightly older audience, as does CS:GO.”
“The idea of the three games is that we can attract a slightly different audience for each of them. They’re also games that are fairly easily understood from the general public’s perspective.”
“Our goal is the grow the esports community. We want more people to be involved either as players or spectators for esports. And If we want to engage people who haven’t traditionally been involved with esports, understanding the game is pretty critical and that’s why we’ve chosen the three titles that we have at the present stage.”
Asked if the Elite Series current configuration makes it more marketable or appealing to advertisers, Remond’s answer was a confident one.
“We think so. I mean, being out in the market and talking to a lot of brands, they certainly have a knowledge of esports but they really haven’t been able to see a tangible opportunity.”
“The fact that they can look at the Elite Series and say ‘right, well that’s not too dissimilar to how the Big Bash runs or the AFL or NRL’. There are seasons. Our teams play each week. They are broadcast each week. They know there’s a set pattern and an opportunity for longevity within the market. I think that has definitely resonated with our commercial partners”
Remond was adamant that the current configuration would continue to the end of Season 2 at the very least when asked whether the Gfinity format would be changing or expanding anytime soon to capitalise on the rapid popularity of battle royale titles like Fortnite,
“I think that the challenge with something like Fortnite though is that ‘is it really an esport? That’s the question’ Ultimately, you’ve got to be able to broadcast this to spectators. I guess there are hybrid versions of Fortnite but we’re committed to the games that we have at the moment for Season 2.”
“Part of our agreement with the clubs is that we sit down and see how the series is going. They’re partners with us, so we certainly don’t rule out changing games for future series but for Season 2 we’re moving ahead with the three games we had for Season 1.”
Season 2 of the Gfinity Elite Series Australia commences in November.