Updated: Apr 29
“We’re proud of our reputation for delivering world-class events and are always looking at new opportunities to reach more people. The Fortnite Summer Smash at the Australian Open will see some of the best gamers from around the country do battle just hours before the world’s best male tennis players compete for the AO title,” Craig Tiley, Australian Open Tournament Director
Every year, the Australian Open tennis tournament brings something a bit different to the tennis calendar. Organizers have consistently sought to use the massive Melbourne park in order to create a Summer festival feeling, with music performances, activities and games adding to the atmosphere of the tennis.
This year, however, the event’s organizers tried something different, combining the Open experience with a competitive eSports tournament, the Fortnite Summer Smash. The success of this was discussed in Sean Callanan’s Sportsgeek interview with Rob O’Gorman from tennis Australia, which is the inspiration behind this article.
The Growth of eSports
According to research from Eventbrite, there are now more people between 16 and 24 watching gaming streams than regular sports. In 2019 alone, there were close to a billion people globally who watched someone else game. The growth in eSports users has also come with a massive increase in the amount of prize money at events. This year’s Fortnite World Cup, for instance, saw $30 million in prize money up for grabs, only just shy of the $42 million given out at this year’s Australian Open.
eSports at the Australian Open
The organizers of the Australian Open have always thought differently about how their fans can enjoy the tennis. As well as eSports in 2019, the event was combined with performances from a number of major music artists such as Craig David and Bastille. The Fortnight Summer Smash, however, was the first time that the organizers hosted a concurrent competitive event at the Open. The tournament had a total prize pool of $500,000 AUD and involved a number of high profile Australian gamers.
Maximize the Potential in the Venue
The motivation for doing this was firstly to realize the untapped potential in the Melbourne Park arenas. On some days during the Australian Open, the tennis doesn’t start until around 2 in the afternoon. This, alongside gaps between rounds, means that there’s a large amount of space and time that the organizers have at their disposal. Making the most of this is central to getting the maximum value from the event spaces, but also for improving audience experiences and engagement.
Bring in new Demographics
As well as maximizing the actual use of the event space available, combining eSports with tennis is also a way to attract new demographics to the Open. As you might expect, eSports generally attracts a younger audience than ‘classical’ sports events. This means that the Summer Smash could be used as a way to help get young people to engage more with the tennis. This was also true for parents of eSports fans, who were at the same time able to see eSports for the first time in a physical space.
Creating an Entertainment Space
Combining different types of events together can really help to build a multifunctional entertainment space. This can be used to attract new groups to events, as well as building connections between different fanbases. The organizers of the Australian Open have found that approaching the tennis tournament in this way both gives them more exposure in other areas like eSports or music and enhances the overall audience experience.
Using eSports meant that the Australian Open was able to increase its online presence as part of the event. It was able to do this by taking advantage of eSport’s presence on a number of streaming services and by encouraging a number of gaming influencers to promote the event.
Promoting the event in this way also offered new opportunities to rewarding fans for their attendance. As part of the Summer Smash, players were able to collect special Fortnite items related to the Australian Open. This not only gave them a new item to play with, but also an exclusive release specific for the Open which players would then show to their friends, or use in-game.
A New Opportunity for Venues
eSports events offer many venues an easier way to transition their space than would be the case with many classical sports. Instead of needing a specific surface or pitch, the requirements are more technical, including a needing a LAN connection and fast download speeds. As a result, eSports events are popping up in more different types of arena than ever before. For example, more classical theatres like the Royal Opera House and Chicago theatre have now hosted eSports events.
The success of the Australian Open’s Summer Smash, alongside the rapid recent rise of eSports is seeing this type of approach becoming more and more popular. Using eSports events in this way is ultimately a great opportunity to maximize the potential in your venue both in terms of filling it, but also ensuring that you reach new and wider audiences.
If you want to know more…
Podcast in full: https://sportsgeekhq.com/podcast/fortnite-summer-smash/amp/
‘The ESports Market and ESports Sponsoring Book’ by Julian Heinz and Anton Ströh