Kiwi esport athletes punch above their weight

The New Zealand sports world is known for punching above its weight when it comes to competing on the global stage. It turns out esports – competitive video gaming – is much the same. Breakaway Esports general manager Freddie Tresidder talks to the AMC about the scene on New Zealand and Asia.

How would you describe esports?

The biggest thing is obviously the participation in video games is massive, right? It's such a great pastime and people are switching more and more to. With video games you're engaged, you've got a vested interest in what happens, especially competitive ones where you're playing against other people.

Esports is kind of like casual sports in a way: there are a lot of people that kick around a football but don't watch the A league. But then there’s the hypercompetitive version of it, where people compete internationally for crazy money at the higher levels.

I think the coolest thing about esports is regardless of who you are, if you're in a wheelchair, or if you're fully able bodied, it doesn't matter. It's a total level playing field.

Esports NZ DanBanterEsports competitor Daniel Saedian, known as DanBanter, has represented New Zealand, playing Tekken. Photo: Breakaway Esports

So what’s the background of Breakaway Esports and its competitive side of the business Black Sheep?

I connected with [Breakers CEO] Matt Walsh who said 'Hey, I want to start an esports team.' We shared the same vision of what an esports team should look like, especially under a brand like Breakers.

He's a competitor, so something competitive for him dig his teeth into was just a lot more fun.

That, and esports is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Kids are watching Rocket League and Counter-Strike instead of Super Rugby.

The cool crossover between the Breakers is ‘Let's take everything that we've learned from running a basketball team: high performance, strength and conditioning, nutrition and apply that to esports.'

And that's kind of where Breakaway Esports and now Black Sheep was born.

Can you tell me a bit about the esports scene in Asia and how it compares to New Zealand?

I'd say since the early 2000s, in Asia and South Korea specifically, esports has been a major, major sport.

The people on the billboards aren't the football players, it's the League of Legends players and the esports players. It's on national television, they have an esports channel, and these guys are world famous superstars.

Whereas in New Zealand and Australia, you get guys that have 400,000 social media followers and they've won $20 million competitions. But they walk down the street and no one knows who they are.

The biggest hurdle we're facing - we call it the West versus the East – is that esports has only really picked up in the West since 2010 – 2012 but it was massive in Korea and China in 2000. So there's 10 years of advancements that we're trying to catch up on, so we're trying to carbon copy what those guys have been doing. 

Esports NZ LoLPracticeMembers of Breakaway Esports practice League of Legends. Photo: Breakaway Esports

Can you talk me through the most recent trip that you took through Asia?

In November last year Black Sheep sponsored Team New Zealand to go to the World Championships for Tekken.

That was in Seoul, run through the International Esports Federation - they’re kind of like the IOC for esports - and that was their annual World Championship. 

We went to Taiwan for a week beforehand and trained against some Asian players, which was a massive opportunity. [Players] in New Zealand and Australia don't have the opportunity to train against someone based in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. 

So, they have opportunity to get the most out of their time when they're there, to get the most experience and bring that back and teach it to people here. 

What’s the routine like for somebody competing in a competition like that?

The preparation starts about two weeks before we fly out and the first thing we do is change timezones. So an athlete will start operating on Seoul time, for example.

We've got contact players who are overseas already and we say, 'Hey, can we schedule some training time with you?'. So with Tekken, we’ll find players in Seoul who will prepare a player best for the competition.

Once we get in, it's a late start, and they'll train for about three hours. They’ll take a break – lunch, a workout – then an hour video review to look at mistakes made from that previous session or look at game tape from players they’re up against.

Then it's training for the rest of the day in about five to six-hour sessions, with breaks every two to three hours. Not only for the health aspect, but also to look at, 'okay, how do I separate myself mentally from the game? If I've had a bad game, what caused that?’.”

In a stadium, what does a game look like?  

The number of players depends on the game. So Tekken, for example, as a fighting game is one on one, so they'll usually sit across from each other.

Counter-Strike is five on five, so they usually sit in a V, so they'll sit in booths on each side, and then they project what's happening in game on two big screens. 

If you look up the League of Legends World Championship in Beijing, they have the two teams on stage, with three massive screens against the back of the stadium. People watch that and that's just a live feed of exactly what's happening again in real time.

This Q and A has been edited for brevity and clarity

- Asia Media Centre