The competitive gaming scene in Australia has been on a high lately. Riot Games continue to host their Oceanic Pro League, the Oceanic instalment of their league series, Cybergamer recently held a large LAN finals for CS:GO and SMITE, and ESL Australia just landed a huge deal with St. George Bank for their Season 2 of the ANZ Championships.

The continuing success of the Australian scene has been the result of hard working individuals who have grown the scene up from a very grassroots origin. One such person is Nick Vanzetti, currently Managing Director of ESL Australia. Having played competitively in the early 2000s before moving onto hosting events, Vanzetti has been actively involved in the Australian eSports scene from its earliest moments.

The grassroots days

As one might expect, eSports haven’t always been as prominent as they are today. In fact, very far from it. Vanzetti started really entering the world of competitive gaming in 2002, and played at his most serious in 2004 in the FPS title ‘Halo’ on the Xbox. Vanzetti says that there was “not much of a scene” at the time, and he would ultimately vanish from the world of eSports briefly before returning in the late 2000s. When he returned, Vanzetti had mixed feelings on the state of Australian competitive gaming:

“While the scene was definitely growing, the organisation of it was not fantastic. Each state had their own events, but they were often isolated from each other each with different organisers.”

These observations would ultimately spur Vanzetti into action, as he set out to organise his own tournaments. Vanzetti talked fondly of how he bought a number of screens and Xbox consoles and used to travel up and down the East Coast of Australia hosting eSports tournaments. He aimed to run a minimum of one major LAN in each state every year, to establish a national brand that transcended the previous state-based organisations which hosted tournaments. This brand would be known as the Australian Cyber League.

Sacrifices for success

In order to succeed, sacrifices need to be made to get there. You can’t just waltz in and make everything happen with a click of the fingers, you need to work long and hard. This is a nice summary of the work that individuals such as Vanzetti and the ACL team put in during the early days of their presence in the Australian eSports scene.

Vanzetti talked in length about how strict time management was for him and his team early into their endeavours as tournament organisers. One such trip to Adelaide in 2010 highlights this:

“We were down in Adelaide hosting a LAN back in 2010 that weekend, and we needed to be back in Brisbane by Monday for work. So we packed up real quick Sunday arvo, then jumped in the van and drove through long stretches of desert to make it back in time. We only got a few hours of sleep, all of which were in the van.”

Mad dashes like this would be commonplace for Vanzetti and his team. Work five days a week, take the rostered days off to host tournaments, and then make it back just in time for another five days of work. “It was much easier for us when we got to run tournaments in Brisbane” joked Vanzetti, who was based in Queensland for most of his time hosting.

ACL also did more than just host tournaments. They would work with game publishers such as Activision at EB Expo and other events. Not quite competitive gaming all the time, but it built up their reputation in the gaming industry. They also did day to day tasks such as IT work and consultation. Vanzetti described it best as “working for bits and pieces over the years” while chasing their passion of building and establish the competitive gaming scene in Australia.

Vanzetti was part of a small few who believed in Australian eSports, and his hard work and sacrifice has contributed to the continued growth as success that we are witnessing and experiencing today.

Present day and what the future holds

Vanzetti and ACL would go on to greater heights at the turn of a new decade. Over the past few years they have worked with major publishers Blizzard, Activision, and Riot Games to host World Championship Qualifiers for a wide selection of eSports. It would be this hard work which would attract the attention of ESL, the largest video game event company in the world famous for their successful eSports events. A partnership would come to fruition in 2015 when ESL partnered with ACL, giving birth to the ESL Australia we have come to know in the past year.

The momentum would carry on into 2016 when ESL Australia secured a sponsorship with St. George Bank for the Season 2 ANZ Championships, a moment Vanzetti says that Australian eSports “owes a lot to St. George for jumping in and investing early in the scene.” Vanzetti knows all too well about the sacrifices and risks involved in investing in competitive gaming, and St. George diving right into the thick of it mirrors his early days where he spent his time trying to make Australian eSports bigger and more successful.

As for the future of eSports in Australia, Vanzetti is extremely optimistic:

“A lot of hard work is required to get there, but growing Australian eSports to the next level is a lot closer than you might think.”

The end game goal, at least for now, is to grow the Oceanic scene to a size proportionate to the success of competitive gaming in the USA and Europe. “There’s no way we can have 3,000 teams constantly fighting for top spots, because we simply don’t have those numbers and population” says Vanzetti, “but we can easily achieve 10% of that, even more by proportion. That sort of growth is absolutely possible.”

Nick Vanzetti and ESL Australia have grown Australian eSports to new heights in 2016, and will no doubt continue to be successful due to their hard work and dedication. His successes and sacrifices over the past 10 years embody the Shine+ principles of working hard, loving the grind, and thinking brightly.

Shine+ will be working in partnership with Vanzetti and ESL Australia with the ESPORTS ARENA at the EB Games Expo from September 30 to October 2. Find out more about the expo here, and come stop by the Shine+ booth to say hi and try out the drink!


Image of Nick Vanzetti: ACLPro Facebook page