I am sitting in front of a stage today, watching an international sporting spectacle that boasts a magnitude rarely seen in the quiet corner of Oceania. The opponents have been screaming in both the ecstasy of victory, and agony of defeat, and tens of millions of viewers have tuned in from around the world to watch.
No, this is not Joseph Parker vs Razvan Cojanu fighting for the WBO world title, this is Esport's Intel Extreme Masters XII in Sydney.
Over 10,000 esports fans have filled out Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, many of which are Kiwi, to watch the world's best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) teams play on a stage usually reserved for the likes of Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, and The Olympic Basketball Finals.
CS:GO is a first-person shooter video game that essentially involves two teams of five battling on a virtual field where one side is 'attacking' and the other 'defending'. Each match consists of a series of rounds, each of which goes for a couple of minutes. In this short space of time, the 'attacking' side needs to destroy the 'defending' side's objective, while the 'defending' side wants to delay this attack until the time runs out. If one team can eliminate the other before the other's win conditions is met, they win the round. 16 rounds wins the game, there are 30 rounds in regulation time.
Just like in every sport, CS:GO is filled will competitive drama, gripping stories, and individual stars.
The most pressing story at IEM Sydney, will be the recently manifested Astralis and FaZe rivalry. The Danish side Astralis are currently ranked number one in the world, and are set to become one of the greatest teams in the history of the game. However, they recently showed signs of weakness where they lost to the multi-national mix side of FaZe. FaZe, is led by former captain of Astralis, Finn 'Karrigan' Anderson, who will look to take the proverbial CS:GO crown from the same team that kicked him months prior.
Narratives like these, at events like IEM Sydney further supports the notion of esports as a major disrupting force in traditional sports and media. The rapid adoption of fibre and advances in computer performance led by companies like Intel, is changing the way millennials consume media and expanding the ways they can actively participate in their new sport of choice.
This years' internationally televised CS:GO ELEAGUE Major boasted 60 million plus video streams, most of which belong to the 18-49 demographic, across all platforms. That's more viewers than the NBA and MLB World Series finals.
Independent research by GEMBA in New Zealand found in a comparison with rugby that there are 610,000 gaming fanatics' vs 820,000 in rugby union; with nearly six times more people participating in gaming than rugby.
Recently, it was also announced that esports will be included in the Asian Games, an event organised by the Olympic Council of Asia. The E-Blacks, New Zealand's national esports side, will head to Busan, South Korea later this year to represent New Zealand on the international stage.
When you consider the rubber stamp of a regional Olympic Council, the fact that twenty-two countries have formally recognised esports as a sport, and the staggering amount of players and viewers, it seems the next logical steps for esports will be the Commonwealth and Olympic games.
Auckland CS:GO fans can watch the Intel Extreme Masters finals for free at the official Viewing Party at Bar 21, SKYCITY Auckland on Sunday from 4:30pm.
Or watch the Intel Extreme Master at home at: www.letsplay.live
John McRae is managing director of Letsplay.live, vice president of the New Zealand Esports Federation and a former owner of Duco Events.