It’s rare that I leave the house before 11am on a chilly Sunday morning, but this was one such a day! I was off to the Gfinity Elite Series and despite being loathe to leave my bed, the lure of some live esports was too hard to resist.

 

In the off chance that you haven’t heard about the Gfinity Elite Series, I should probably explain why I was excited!  It’s a new high level esports tournament that’s landed on our shores. Gfinity are not new to esports and are an English organisation that have been running successful tournaments on the other side of the pond for a while already.

 

(Front row at Gfinity Australia)

 

It’s Australia’s first city based esports league, with clubs assigned to different cities throughout Australia, much the same as the Big Bash League. These clubs are a mixture of professional and up and coming players that emerged on the other side of a challenging qualification tournament. The games that are being played are CS:GO, Rocket League and Street Fighter V.

 

The tournament has a meaty $450,000 prize pool split across two seasons. It’s then broken up into a 4 pieces each season, with 1 going to the club with the highest overall ranking, and the rest going to each individual game. No matter how you slice it up though, that’s one of, if not the largest war chest for any domestic esports tournament.

 

A beefy war chest isn’t the only thing that Gfinity have to offer. I really like the Gfinity Challenger Series, that gave aspiring professionals like Dominic Wilson (read this!) a shot at playing in a pro team. I was lucky enough to meet Dom after IEM randomly and he’s a great guy. I’m glad that the Gfinity tournament is giving someone like him a chance to shine.

 

The team for Gfinity Australia really need to be commended for their marketing and their attempt at taking esports mainstream in Australia. Getting a national broadcast slot for the Rocket League portion of the tournament on Sunday morning is a huge feat.

 

(The setup is very similar to the London setup and is about as good as an esports studio is going to get)

 

What’s more, they’ve converted a cinema into one of the most comfortable esports viewing experiences you can possibly get. Now it needs to be said that calling the space an arena is a bit of a stretch… it’s a broadcast studio. It’s also not the first place you can watch regular live esports in Australia. It is however close to the city, has very comfy seats, and has more Dare Iced Coffee than you can could ever want.

 

But enough about that… back to my chilly Sunday morning… I stopped off for an emergency ham and cheese croissant and about as much espresso and ice as I could fill in a cup. I had to at least pretend to be awake! I then jumped into an Uber to whisk me away to the Hoyts at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park.

 

(The setup is very similar to the London setup and is about as good as an esports studio is going to get)

 

Shortly after arriving, found my way inside and was just in time to catch the start of a Rocket League match between Melbourne Avant and Perth Ground Zero. I found a comfy seat, which was surprisingly easy. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to complain about having the best seat in the house to watch Hysterics and Yumi-Cheeseman, the two regular casters for the Throwdown OCE Championships live in person.

 

(Look how comfy I am. Yes. Very comfy.)

 

A few goals later and I realised that I was in fact watching the Legacy Rocket League roster, which are the third best team in Australia, playing for Ground Zero. This is a trend across the competition, with players and rosters loaned from teams that are not competing. Masterminds Street Fighter V roster playing for ORDER is a good example.

 

The endemic teams that are competing in the Gfinity Elite Series are the Chiefs, ORDER, Ground Zero and Avant. Two new teams were created by Gfinity in the form of Sydney ROAR and Brisbane Deceptors. The endemics have a mixture of their existing lineups and drafted players competing in the tournament, whereas ROAR and the Deceptors teams are built of drafted players that qualified through the Challenger Series.

 

There’s a noteworthy lack of representation from some of the largest endemic esports organisations in Australia. Tainted Minds, Mindfreak, Legacy, Corvidae and Dark Sided aren’t competing. With limited space, we were never going to see all of these represented, but as a fan, I wish at the very least we’d filled out all the spots with endemic teams.

 

An Australian Rocket League tournament without CJCJ, Kamii and Julz from Tainted Minds (ranked 2nd after the Chiefs) isn’t really showcasing the best Australia has to offer… especially when the Rocket League is being aired on national television. Given the prize money on offer, I can only imagine that it’s a hefty buy in, or a similar monetary barrier, that’s stopped these teams from competing.

 

(CJCJ from Tainted Minds stealing the show at the recent Rocket League World Championships)

 

Teams and Rosters aside, the setup is really top notch and I like what Gfinity have added to the Australian esports scene. They’ve hired a great broadcast crew to keep the ship afloat, with are a few veterans mixed in with some newcomers that were voted in by the community through a competition not unlike their Challenger Series.

 

Luke Joseph Ryan is a great host and despite the few early bumps in the road, I’m confident that by season 2, they’ll have ironed out all the kinks… like the awkward and forced pre-match player interactions.

 

In much the same way that Dave Harris and the High Performance Centre have done a great job at raising the bar when it comes to work / living arrangements for esports players, Gfinity are raising the bar for what’s expected of a small scale, live esports venue. Aside from a rogue creaky stage door, I could get used to esports and cinema seats.

 

I feel like the Rocket League broadcasts are the peak of the current setup. It doesn’t take much to see why, with play like this. The high flying antics, buzzer beating goals and heart stopping overtime offer high entertainment value. On top of the frenetic play, the passionate casting by Hysterics and Yumi, not to mention the odd wise crack by Jim adds great colour to the broadcast.

 

 

Here’s a few photos of the broadcast team in action:

 

(Get you a man who looks at you the way JimNeso looks at Hysterics.)

 

(Can we take a moment to appreciate yumi cheeseman and Luke Joseph Ryan‘s hand gestures… Are you not entertained!?)

 

 

Despite Rocket League stealing the show, the Street Fighter V portion of the tournament is a close second. It’s a great opportunity to get some insight into the fighting game community, which is by far one of the most tight-knit and quirky parts of Australia’s gaming community. I threw some shade at the pre-match antics, but the Street Fighter gang are an example of how to do it well.

 

You have a player like ROF who can both win in game through a collection of well timed dodges, dips, dives, ducks and dodges; and steal the limelight from the presenters themselves when he shares the screen with them. He’s arguably the biggest on screen persona in the entire tournament.

 

(ROF of Melbourne ORDER & Masterminds stealing the show on the analyst desk)

 

The Counter-Strike portion of the Gfinity Elite Series is the part I’m the least excited about. Despite big money on the table, I found the game play was slower and less explosive than the top tier action I’m accustomed to watching in the ESL, ESEA or Cybergamer leagues.

 

This is partly because the main roster of these teams only plays part of the series, which is a necessary drawback of the drafted player format. In many ways that makes this a tier 2 level tournament as there is a higher level of CS:GO on show every week elsewhere in Australia, featuring teams like Grayhounds and Tainted Minds.

 

I’m really interested to see where Gfinity goes from here in it’s engagement with endemic esports organisations here in Australia, which I see as a necessary step to really take the competition to the next level. I’d much rather have existing organisations like Tainted Minds and Dark Sided be a part of the tournament, than bespoke teams created for the league. I think that any esports fan out there would likely agree.

 

Overall, I had a great time at Gfinity, and while I refuse to call it an arena, it’s a fantastic space to go hang out, watch some live esports and better yet, get to meet the players and casters you watch regularly. I’d greatly encourage you to get out there, grab a Dare iced coffee and watch some esports. I look forward to seeing the evolution over Gfinity in Australia, because I’m willing to bet that this isn’t even their final form.

 

There’s still  3 weeks left for you to catch the action live in Season 1, with Counter-Strike happening on Saturday afternoons and Rocket League happening from 10am on Sunday morning and and Street Fighter in the afternoon. Get around it.

 

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