Footy and tennis clubs might not be the only paths to the sporting big-leagues, with Perth internet-provider Pentanet working to build pro-gaming in WA from the grassroots up.
Professional esports tournaments have taken off globally with the League of Legends World Championship in 2019 drawing more than 100 million viewers, including 44 million simultaneously, and the champions winning more than $800,000 in prize money.
Pentanet, founded in 2017, took the leap into professional esports last year in buying the licence for a team in the League of Legends Oceanic Pro League and capped off its first season last month.
League of Legends is a multiplayer arena game where players each control a champion with magical powers and abilities and have to work together to destroy a structure, the ‘Nexus’, at the centre of the enemy team’s base while also defending their own.
In its first season the team of five players, recruited from Perth, made it all the way to the playoffs and finished the season in fourth.
Despite being Perth-grown, the Pentanet-GG team with its coach and team manager had to be based in Sydney for the infrastructure to take part in the pro-league matches, but Pentanet Managing Director Stephen Cornish is looking to change that.
“Perth has been kind of left on the wayside with pro-gamers as they all move over East, so it was actually hard to find the talent here in Perth,” he said.
“It was a new endeavour, but obviously there’s bigger plans for it in the future.”
Mr Cornish said Pentanet aims to build competitive gaming in WA from the grassroots level, not only to find homegrown talent but create a viable path for them to go Pro.
“What also came to rise [this year] was our other arm of Pentanet GG Rise, which is like an Auskick of sorts, in the OCS or the Oceanic Challenger Series. Those are our up and coming recruits.”
“If we act now, probably within a year or two we want to see a trend where we can actually retain players here in Perth, and they don’t all have to go over east to play.”
Mr Cornish said he also wants to elevate the image of esports through barring toxic behaviour and encouraging sportsmanship code of conduct as with any other sport.
“We want to break that [toxic image] down by saying ‘if you want to play for us, we’ll carve out a path for you to go pro but if you want to play, it’s by our rules’ and our rules are trying to elevate esports as a credible thing to go do,” he said.
“We want the parents to get behind it as well.”
WA has a unique benefit through its proximity to Asia, Mr Cornish said, that gives it such potential to grow here but it has been let down by the lack of infrastructure.
In competitive gaming, teams need to be based close to a server for “low latency,” so that there are no delays or ‘lag’ in their reactions during play.
“WA and Perth have always been left on the downside of that because all the servers are over East, but what we are doing is expanding our network to Singapore and across to Sydney,” he said.
“So if you’re playing here in Perth, your traffic doesn’t leave our network, it doesn’t go out to the internet, and our network will connect directly to the server where your game is being hosted.”
“Theoretically you can play in Perth against Asia and against the Eastern States on the same latency, meaning a whole esports region can be built out of Perth.”
While it’s start was forged in League of Legends, Mr Cornish said he wants to build WA pro-gaming towards Perth-based servers for a number of titles.
“What we want to cultivate, which is a bigger thing to bite off, is to actually create that Austral-Asian region that’s hosted here in Perth and we want that region supporting all games,” he said.