Ready, set… play. Why Malta is getting serious about esports

Malta wants to become an esports destination. Hint: lots of eyes, staring at screen playing video games…

Malta is ready to emulate the success of other nations cashing in on the phenomenon of the esports industry: a world of interconnected gamers now turned superstars in their own right.

It is no wonder that Budget 2019 has already allocated nothing less than €1.3 million – a budget that is almost 10 times the sum allocated for some pressing social issues – for its esports strategy. Silvio Schembri, junior minister for digital innovation, say this is just a ‘preliminary’ fund. “We want to attract not just competitive games, where we hope to host a tournament to test the waters in December, but also videogame designers and become a destination for a holistic videogame experience.”

Simon Theuma, the CEO of Malta’s leading esports organisation Quickfire, hosts an online community for casual, competitive and offline events.

“We hope this investment will mean more locals getting involved. It doesn’t just have to be events –  there are lots of areas for an esports professional or enterprise to succeed: content production, commentating, coaching, you name it.”

Indeed Quickfire will host Malta’s biggest esports event yet on 28 December, where competing teams will play the first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, for a $150,000 prize pool – just an example of the kind of cash digital games are attracting.

Some “world-renowned” gamers will be competing.

“It’s not just about computer games – esports includes console and mobile phone games. Players or teams compete in both small and big tournaments for big prizes, or just for fun. Tournament organisers, such as ourselves, host events that attract sponsors using their audience.  It’s a whole ecosystem with a lot of different pieces, so even if you’re not the best player at the moment, there are plenty of other ways to get into it if you’re passionate about videogames.”

Theuma says Malta is already turning international heads by coming out in favour of esports, “something that for some reason, other countries are reluctant to do.”

One of Malta’s most popular gamers is Rachel Thake, an unmistakable fixture on the online platform Twitch, where she streams her ‘playthroughs’ full-time and allows viewers to donate money while watching her play.

Serious cash. She even found her soulmate through the online multiplayer game League of Legends.

“I would not take part in competitive gaming, but I’m still very much excited about the investment,” Thake says. “I love following and watching everything that goes on both locally and abroad. I’m not sure if I see myself taking part in a competitive manner but it would not stop me from following as much as if I were.”

Thake says the investment could galvanise Maltese gamers into actually making a career out of their talent. “There are a lot of people who still feel like videogames are a waste of time… it’s the negative side of gaming which gets most media coverage. Having this investment will open the eyes of many people, including parents with kids who wish to broaden their esports knowledge and take this to the next level.”

Another well-known Maltese gamer, Kurt Fenech, recently won $20,000 after placing third at the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 Grand Finals in London back in August, and just this year has raked in a total of $37,500 from competitive gaming.

His recent comments on FIFA 2019’s quality have earned him a controversial blackout from the EA Sports online platform. Again, serious players, serious money, serious sanctions…

Fenech’s enthusiasm has not been dampened for the future of esports. “I’m extremely pleased to hear that Malta is ready to take esports seriously. ‘‘Esports is the present and also the future, so with the right support, I have no doubt that the local esports scene can begin to flourish and as a result see more and more players competing with the world’s best on the biggest stages.”

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