A new gaming initiative in the heart of Auckland has been designed to help Kiwi players rise to the top by staying at home. Chris Schulz reports.

Zac Woodham has been playing games like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike for years.

The 20-year-old is quite good at his gaming. In fact, from his New Plymouth home, he's starting to earn some decent money.

Now, he's jettisoned part-time employment and gaming is his full-time job.


Through streaming, competitions and sponsorship, and by playing "eight to 10 hours a day," he's earning "enough to live".

But to make that next step up to the international stage and compete in major tournaments, Woodham thought he'd have to move to Australia.

"Every other event I've been to has been in Australia," he says. He estimates gamers there earn "$10,000 to $20,000 a month" through salaries, streaming and sponsorship.

Now, he might not have to move.

That's thanks to a new e-sports initiative between Sky City and e-sports company LetPlay.Live.

The two companies are behind a new e-sports broadcasting centre set up on Sky Tower's first floor, with gaming rooms set up with high-performance PCs for teams to play each other, as well as high-tech broadcasting equipment for livestreaming.

Dubbed "The Studio", the venue has been designed to help Kiwi gamers train properly so they can compete on an international level, says LetPlay.Live director Duane Mutu.

"[To keep] the best players, you want a place where they have the best facilities for them to train and play. That's what they get overseas, that's why it has to be first class," he says.

The idea for a full-time e-sports broadcasting studio came to Mutu when he was putting on e-sports events and saw unprepared Kiwi teams coming in to play together.

Often, it was the first time they'd met each other.

"A lot would come in and they were so unused to the cameras and playing as a team. Some had never been together, they'd just been playing remotely," says Mutu.

"You can't go overseas like that. You're playing in front of 40,000 or 50,000 viewers, even more."

Mutu's goal is to be able to bring New Zealand teams up to a professional level without having to relocate overseas.

To do that, there'll be weekly tournaments, competitions and league-based play. Games are being broadcast on Twitch and on Sky TV. Two full-time commentators are on site.

"Going back a couple of years, Kiwis sitting at home had no real ability [to turn gaming into a career]. A couple tried to do it and thought, 'This is a big wide world and I'm out of here'," he says.

"Now the ability is here for them to come and do it. The top-tier teams can play all year round."

Woodham hopes to be at the LetPlay.Live Studios as often as he can.

"This is a really cool place," he says during a break. "All the gear's top-of-the-line stuff compared with some of the places I've been to."

As for that move to Australia, Woodham's put it on hold - for now.

"I've been thinking about moving to Australia, but now that this is here, this is just as good.

"It's exciting. It's big for New Zealand."

What: LetPlay.Live's e-sport gaming Studio
Where and when: Streaming on Twitch and Sky Sport from today