It’s been a long three years since the last Melbourne Esports Open. Two canceled events and what seems like an eternity later, Oceanic esports is finally reunited with DreamHack Melbourne. And it’s been worth the wait.
For weeks — maybe even months — Australian esports fans were counting down the days until the doors opened at Rod Laver Arena for DreamHack Melbourne 2022.
Teams were grinding hard, trying to get a taste of success at the country’s first major festival since COVID struck and shut down live events for the foreseeable future.
IEM Melbourne and two years of Melbourne Esports Open both fell victim to lockdowns and restrictions in the time since. While there was always the promise and expectation of another LAN, given how hard done by Australian esports is at times, it was easy to fall into pessimism.
That’s why September 2 was such a joyous moment for Oceanic esports as the doors finally flung open at Melbourne and Olympic Parks for the three-day celebration of gaming and esports, bigger than any Australia had seen before.
There was a buzz in the air at DreamHack unlike any other event. It was electric as fans, players, and many of the industry’s heavyweights wandered around mouths agape, embracing friends and ‘strangers’ (those we had maybe met online but never seen in person), many we might not have seen since 2019. When Mitch ‘Conky’ Concanen’s voice boomed through the entire venue, not just Rod Laver Arena, it finally felt real. We finally have esports back in town.
For those who missed out on the past events, it was better than their wildest dreams.
“I really wanted to go to MEO,” Kanga Esports player Gian ‘styled’ Leon told Snowball. “After missing out on that in 2019 I thought I’d have another chance soon. After COVID happened there was just nothing going on.
“It might have driven popularity down a little bit, but it’s great to see an esports event to this scale.
It was heartwarming just passively hearing the fans chatting between themselves about the games, or how excited they were to see some of their idols play on stage. School kids also filled the arenas on Day 1 as part of Students Day as teachers and parents got to see what a life in esports and gaming looks like.
“It’s eye opening for me and I’ve played games all my life,” Adam Bampfield, teacher at St Joseph’s College in Geelong, said. “I’ve never seen anything like this, and even for all the boys walking in they were like ‘wow this is legit, this is real.’ I was taken aback.”
DreamHack’s first day down under wasn’t without its flaws. Technical glitches saw most of the tournaments on the day delayed in some capacity — it took Halo and League of Legends more than an hour to get running.
The results didn’t really swing in Oceania’s favour on the Counter-Strike side either. Both Vertex and Grayhound suffered early losses, with the two facing off in an elimination match to start Day 2.
That didn’t really sully the party though, as the most important part of the entire weekend, from everyone on the ground, is the celebration of the community.
“It’s people that you forget you have a bond or community with,” League of Legends caster Zack ‘Rusty’ Pye said. “You watch the same game and you don’t really get to interact with them, or they’re a bobblehead on a social media app.
“It’s fantastic to have [fans] back cheering on our teams,” The Chiefs’ Aiden Hiko added, “but more in general just seeing everybody who has been out of the scene for three years, seeing everyone together and just as lively [as before]. I’m really excited to see more fans and our community start to grow again.”
That’s the exact feeling ESL was hoping to bring to DreamHack Melbourne. Sure, it’s got some of Oceania’s (and the world’s) best esports teams competing on the big stage. But it’s also got a grassroots community vibe through the Expo hall and the BYOC LAN. It’s facilitating that in-person reconnection of the esports scene desperately needed in Australia.
“DreamHack is more than esports,” Senior Product Manager at ESL Australia Ben Green stated. “It’s gaming, it’s music, it’s BYOC. It’s all these things we’ve never really touched before because ESL was an esports company and DreamHack is more than that.
“The ability at an event like DreamHack when you can merge it all together is important. It’s a grown up version of MEO and probably what we should have done at the start — and maybe we didn’t have the vision. We have the benefit of 25 years of vision from Sweden and what the DreamHack team has done to bring it to Australia and take their learnings and evolve it for our audience.”
Across the mega 12-hour day one, the energy did not dwindle. Everyone was buoyed by the fact after three years of nothing, Australian esports finally had something to look forward to again. Given recent news, it’s the exact kick the scene needed, and Mindfreak owner Michael Carmody said it best.
“It really does feel like a resurrection. It has been so long. As much as we’ve had very well produced and run online events, it’s not the full story of esports. The full story of esports is competing in reach of your opponent, and it’s the best contest in the highest expression of our art.
“We’ve been at 60%, 75% for so long. This is 100% esports. This is where we need to be, and it’s back baby.”
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