Los Angeles. Berlin. Seoul.
Certain places are synonymous with esports, acting either as event hotspots or business hubs that are home to some of the largest companies in the field. But while the US, Germany, and South Korea might be frequently associated with the burgeoning growth of esports, New Zealand has never been recognised as the epicentre of the industry.
And there’s plenty of reasons why. Geographically isolated and with a national population that’s eight times smaller than the state of California, the country was never likely to be an esports frontrunner. That’s why, when a huge series of announcements from Oceanic esports organisation Dire Wolves and investment and advisory firm Guinevere Capital recently culminated in the reveal of a new esports facility at Eden Park, the news was not just eye-catching—for Auckland locals, it promises to be truly groundbreaking.
We spoke about the investment (and what it will mean for New Zealand esports) with Jason Spiller, Owner of Dire Wolves, which will practice and stream from the new facility, with further insight from David Harris, Managing Director of Guinevere Capital.
Spiller’s appointment as the head of a new management team was the first of many significant announcements made by the Dire Wolves. For him, the mission is clear: provide budding players with a path to glory.
“I wanted to show New Zealanders that there is a path to international success in esports,” Spiller said, noting that he’s happy for Dire Wolves to be “a stepping stone” for talented gamers to achieve greatness elsewhere across the globe.
“To have a presence at those esports high performance centres and begin to really build our talent funnel in New Zealand were really important parts of the strategy from my perspective,” Spiller added. “I don’t think there’s any challenges there. Kiwis are massive gamers. The grassroots movement is there, and there are outfits that have been pushing esports forward.
“And so it’s really just about continuing that journey and linking New Zealand to the international scene more and more.”
The focus on local talent is echoed by Harris. “When you’ve got a very small population, you can’t afford to churn-and-burn, you need to develop and make the most of the talent you’ve got. And I think that’s a philosophy that’s gone through several generations of sport. And now we’re really trying to apply it to esports, trying to be innovative and smarter because when we try to go up against somebody like China with over a billion people, you’re never going to have a level playing field.”
The Eden Park Esports High Performance Centre will provide a totally new environment that’s designed to allow players to shine. But that’s only one aspect of the new venue’s capabilities: it is also built to attract the attention of the local gaming community. And Spiller knows that in order for Dire Wolves to truly succeed, they’ll have to focus on forging stronger links with fans from across both Australia and New Zealand.
“For 2020, obviously there’s a lot of work to do,” Spiller explained. “For us, it’s really about building out all of the basics. What we tend to find in ANZ is there’s a lot of room for growth, in making sure that fan engagement piece is there, it’s consistent, the quality is there.”
Naturally, creating compelling content and community activations is core to Dire Wolves’ strategy heading forward. “If I was to sum it up, I would say that the next six months for us are all about really building fan engagement, solidifying our players as real leaders and personalities in the esports space, and then working on building our performance structure and supporting those players,” Spiller said.
“In 2021, further along, we’re looking at very exciting things: merch drops, the next games we want to enter. There’s a whole lot of exciting stuff down the line. There may or may not even be a music video in our future, so definitely keep your eye out for that!”
While Guinevere’s investment into the new facility is sure to spark excitement among nearby gamers, there’s no doubting that it’s still something of a gamble. Although Guinevere was involved with the launch of similar venues at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Twickenham Stadium, this project is the first of its kind in Auckland. And as the companies involved break new ground in the pursuit of progress, they will inevitably shoulder the burden of levelling up the entire region’s esports scene.
It’s a responsibility not lost on Spiller; in fact, it’s savoured, as a point of national pride.
“The beauty of esports is that it’s a globalised activity, it’s a globalised pursuit,” he said. “And that provides challenges, sure, from a regional perspective; but it also provides so much scope for growth. Really, what I see as a success is continuing to build up the entire region through showcasing strong competition here and showcasing unique and exciting content that not only really engages the local audience, but intrigues the global one. And to be honest mate, that’s the Kiwi way.
“There are numerous examples in every medium where we look to make an impact on a global perspective, whether that’s some of the amazing films that come out of New Zealand, whether that’s the All-Blacks as an international brand, whether that’s our fruit and vegetable exports. Everything we do is all about connecting to a global market. And esports is no different for us.”