Covid-19’s impact on traditional sports has been far reaching, with professional and amateur leagues forced to shut down and adapt. E-sports, on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength, even breaking tournament viewership records during the pandemic.
E-sports’ ability for people to connect digitally from the comfort of their home with just an internet connection and gaming console is partly why its audience size worldwide is estimated at just under half a billion people.
And, as it turns out, members of Police in New Zealand are also keen gamers. E-sports became part of the Police Sport stable in August, following a decision made at its national conference.
Police Sport’s Police Association Raft Race coordinator Aaron Holloway was the man behind its inclusion.
“I got the idea from those attending the rafting event. Over 15 years of running it, the demographic of people attending has changed and several of them have said we should have a gaming tent for people to chill out in during rafting heats. This led to a discussion at the Police Sport National Conference and the e-sports group was born.”
The committee is made up of four members, including Aaron, dedicated to growing police’s gaming community. The group already has more than 200 members from every Police district on social media platforms Facebook and Discord with new gamers joining regularly.
Committee member Natalie Nikora says any member of Police is welcome to join and they’ve even had requests from retired officers and an Australian police officer.
“I see the e-sports community as a way of connecting with other Police staff outside of the office,” Natalie says.
“I have been gaming for a number of years, and one of the most satisfying parts of it is meeting new and amazing people from around the world.”
After a hard day at work, she says, Police Sport E-Sports allows members to unwind with people who understand the experiences they’ve had over a shift – “the good, bad or the ugly”.
The type of games they play vary, from classics such as FIFA (football) to first-person shooters such as Call of Duty and multi-player online battle arena titles such as League of Legends.
“Games can be absolutely anything you play. We started the Discord server with text channels for some of the most popular games and have expanded to over 26 gaming threads,” Natalie says.
Those taking part range from casual weekend gamers through to more skilled competitors and games are played on PlayStations, Xboxes, PCs, Nintendo Switches and cellphones. Gamers range in age from those in their 20s up to members in their 60s. About 15 per cent of the group are female.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a pro-gamer or a noob [newbie]. Everyone has to start somewhere, and people are often trying completely new games. It’s not about being good or bad, it’s about having some fun and shooting the breeze with your mates.
“If you like a particular game, and want to practise or upskill, there are people around who can help you.”
The group holds “Sunday social sessions” – open tournaments held every Sunday at 7.30pm. So far, they’ve played Rocket League, Call of Duty, FIFA 21 and Fortnite.
However, gaming sessions aren’t just limited to the weekend. “Throughout the week most people will type in a thread if they are LFG [looking for game/group]. This can be at any hour, and I think one of the benefits of joining the Police e-sports community is knowing that people do work shifts, so they may be on at odd hours,” Natalie says.
The committee has grand plans of holding bigger, more serious tournaments as the community builds, including prizes for the winners.
Aaron’s long-term goal is to host an in-person event at Hamilton’s state-of-the-art E-sports Arena at Waikato University. Such events are common around the world, with 40,000-plus people watching from the stands and millions beaming in from their homes for world championship events.
While Covid-19 has stalled the in-person events, the online audience remains stable.
“I think that the biggest drawcard for e-sports versus other sports at the moment is the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” Natalie says.
“People across the country haven’t been able to get out and participate in other sports, or even live life how it was prior to the pandemic. And that’s what is so attractive about e-sports. Most of our people have access to the internet, and a computer or a gaming console – and that is all you need.”
If you would like to join Police Sport’s E-sports community, you can find it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/psesports.