Ahead of an international conference on the growing phenomenon of e-sport this month, Gamer Aaron Fletcher talks to Populous

E-sport is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The figures are huge. Up to 180 million people regularly watch or play e-sport, that number doubling year on year since 2010. This is expected to rise to 300+ million people playing and watching e-sport in the next two years.

The League of Legends World Championship in 2014 had 40,000 live fans attend its finals held at South Korea’s Sangam Stadium, with 27 million spectators globally watching the finals – attracting more viewers than the NBA finals. E-sports is taking over spectatorship and in terms of revenue – sales in the gaming industry have surpassed both the music and the movie industry combined since 2012.

This year’s PAX Aus, being held in Melbourne at the end of this month, will include a purpose built arena to house Australia’s largest ever eSports tournament during Melbourne International Games Week 2015. The ESL Arena will see three full days of eSport competition. In the lead up to the Tournament we caught up with one of Australia’s best known e-sport experts and former professional gamer, Aaron Fletcher to talk about all things e-sport including training, sponsorship and how to increase the fan experience at live events.

Populous: With so many amateur e-sport players how did you transition to playing professionally?

Aaron Fletcher: I have been playing since I was four years old. But I only started taking it seriously after I got a bad injury playing basketball when I was 18. I then wanted to take that competitive side that I displayed playing basketball and put it into something that I could perform at 100% in. I started playing in competition after competition and kept getting beat, but you only ever improve from playing someone better than you, so I just kept showing up ready to hit the ground running.

It took me about 2 years until I was playing professionally. I was working at a net café at the time and was hosting some of the biggest competitions in Australia with 200-300+ people playing in the games plus the people spectating online so I was already ingrained in the community and that gave me a bit of a leg up.

 P: What did you compete in?

 AF: I competed in multiple genres and games at a top level, which is rare and I think I am one of very few people who have played multiple game genres at a top level.

The last genre I competed in was racing games, Track Mania and F1 2011 & 2012. I was top 5 in the world for those with my racing team, DriftN. With FPS games I made it to top 5 in Australia for Counter Strike and Call of Duty. I was also top 5 in the world for Combat Arms and Ava. Then with ePeen we made it to #1 in the world in several different MMO’s including Global Agenda, Tera, Swotor and more.

P: Are professional e-sports players similar to other athletes?

 AF: There actually isn’t a lot of difference. E-sports players have to train and they have to focus. A good comparison would be a racing car driver. The mental exertion is enormous and you need to be fit. In Star Craft 2, for example, the top players are doing anywhere between 220-300 actions per minute, sometimes more. This means an average of 3-5 actions per second and some matches can last two hours each, with each game being best of 5. So it is very strenuous, muscles can cramp in your fingers, hands and elbows, and it’s mentally tiring; mathematics on the fly figuring out the next move. There is a lot of physical and mental strain.

A lot of top level players have personal trainers and will exercise for at least an hour every day. Korean e-sports players take it to the extreme. When they are practicing they actually place weights on their fingers and hands, then take them off so they are lighter and faster.

P: How are the teams and players funded?

AF: In most cases an overarching organisation is funded. An organisation might have a number of different teams and the money is distributed to the players on a salary basis. On some occasions where they have a flagship team, the team itself will be sponsored directly. This is normally from endorsements from sponsors for the players to where their branding on their clothing at competitions to having the sponsor’s name in the team name.

P: How much does the genre of the game influence the setup of a tournament?

AF: It depends on how much you are willing to spend but in general the setup of the spectator area is usually the same no matter what the genre. However the stage setup will change depending on whether it is a PC game or Console game, a team game or an individual game or whether people are playing on their iPad etc.

P: How do you think the fan experience can be enhanced at tournaments?

AF: Fans want to be involved in the action. With technology now you can use your own phone for virtual reality so it would be great to introduce Google Cardboard or similar into the tournament experience. The fans at the back of the stadium could set up as if they were in the front row, your friends are still around you and you can take it off and switch between the two views but it still gives you that front row experience.

I would also like to see some form of interactivity introduced such as a voting system where people vote for the round win on their phone. You could get sponsors involved by pushing prizes such as in game items to spectators who voted correctly. This would be inexpensive for sponsors but would offer an incentive to play and would give fans bragging rights.

P: What are you doing now that you have retired as a professional gamer?

AF: I am trying to give back to the gaming community because I know how difficult it is to rise in gaming, and I want to see gamers get paid. I am founder and CEO of XY Gaming and we’re building an economy for gamers where they can legally challenge each other for cash. We support all the major consoles including PC, Xbox and PlayStation with multiple titles and we’ve built the technology around these games to automatically get the match results, handle the transfers of money as well as any disputes that arise. XY Gaming is starting its beta stages this week, so come check us out at xygaming.com.

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