The new elite athletes
Connie Ko studies a Master of Sports Management by day and trains by night, but she’s not your average athlete.
Connie is part of a team representing Australia at the World Electronic Sports Games Asia-Pacific Qualifier in Qingdao, China.
In what sport, you ask?
That would be the multiplayer first-person shooter Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) which sees two opposing teams duke it out in a ‘terrorists v counter-terrorists’ scenario.
Where traditional sports have enjoyed televised broadcast, sponsorships and filled arenas for decades, esports leagues and tournaments are exploding onto the scene, with prize pools reaching over $1 million USD in 2016 and spectatorship eclipsing that of the NBA finals.
Says Connie, “I’m surprised that your average Joe doesn’t know about esports in Australia. It seems like quite an underground thing and I didn’t expect it to be like that.
“I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember but I only started playing competitively in 2016 and really getting into it.”
Connie played her first season in the WPGI Women’s Esports League with just a laptop and “didn’t too badly”, so upgraded to a PC to continue her success.
“Your equipment is important as it can affect your performance,” she says.
“The difference between a laptop and PC is just night and day. It’s like comparing a wooden tennis racket to a modern day carbon fibre racket – you just can’t compete!”
Now Connie plays on the world stage, with the Asia-Pacific Qualifier hopefully leading to the global finals (and the $175K prize pool) for her and her teammates.
“During the day it’s just normal life, then at night we practice from about 7pm to 11pm,” explains Connie. “Our goal is not just to compete in women’s leagues but to compete with the guys as well.”
With an undergrad degree in sports science, Connie admits she didn’t see herself becoming a personal trainer, like many graduates. She was more interested in the business side of sports.
“I could really see the parallels between sports management and esports.”
With subjects like Sport Business, led by sports management expert Associate Professor Daryl Adair, Connie has been able to bring her esports expertise to her assessments tasks and class discussion.
“I feel like if you don’t play video games you might not know about it, but even a lot of traditional sporting organisations are buying into esports,” she says. “It’s a business opportunity that’s only going to grow – and Australia is catching up!
“There’s no physical barrier to participation in esports. You can be the shortest kid and it won't matter. And there are more and more females getting into it too; at Intel Extreme Masters Sydney there was a good demographic and a great community."
While some still see gaming as a casual activity for weekends, the rapidly developing leagues, sponsorships, training programs and media coverage say otherwise.
So how do you get in on the fun?
"You've got to find people to play with, obviously!” says Connie. “And you've got to play with people with the same mentality and same goals, like to be positive and improve together as a team.
“Everyone starts from the bottom and then they climb the ladder to the top."