Whether we wanted it or not, eSports is on the rise. Across the world, tournaments pack stadiums while players win millions of dollars and international fame just by popping off in the virtual world. Iceland is no different, though naturally on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, players are gaining recognition, more people are watching than ever before and kids all over the country dream of becoming the next online superstar.
Dusty eSports lead Iceland’s competitive gaming scene with their CounterStike Global Offensive (CSGO) team slaying in all domestic competitions. Bjarni Guðmundsson, the lovely ginger CSGO team captain along with the team’s ever smiling part-time coach and ex-player, Gunnar Ágúst Thoroddsen, have taken note of the rise in popularity and are now visualising a future where eSports take centre stage.
Leading Iceland’s eSports scene
The popularity of professional gaming on this little rock is in no doubt, Gunnar emphasises, due to CSGO.
“When you look at the viewership on Twitch, you can see that most people here in Iceland are tuning into CSGO. It’s the same across all Scandanavian countries. For us in Iceland, I think it’s so popular because it has the longest legacy; people in Iceland have been playing it for so long and we have had semi-professional players dating back since the original 1.6 version of Counter Strike, before Global Offensive (CSGO) was out,” he explains.
Dusty eSports are currently on a hot streak in Iceland, having won almost everything there is to win since October 2019. But being the best in Iceland isn’t enough for Bjarni and his squad. As of now, the team is in the ESEA Main Division league, just shy of being recognised as a professional team. “We’re always doing better and better in the international scene, but we’re not quite where we want to be—our goal is still higher,” says the captain.
Gunnar is quick to add that their success has gained the attention of eSports fans in Iceland. “It took a while before people started paying attention to [Dusty]” Gunnar explains. “It wasn’t until the third season of the Icelandic league when people would tune into our streams and give us online support.”
“Yeah it was definitely after that third season when people started to notice me online and even in the street,” Bjarni admits, a shy smile on his face. “I’ve been called out in Reykjavík quite a few times by people who recognise me, especially if I wear something with the Dusty logo on it. It’s a weird feeling.”
The times, they are a changin’
But it’s not just the players and coaches who have noticed the growth of the sport across the world, but the government too. The Icelandic government recently provided the Icelandic Electronic Sports Association with 10 million ISK to develop coaching courses in electronic sports for jobseekers. It’s a topic Bjarni is passionate about—he clearly believes these new initiatives will change many people’s perspective on eSports in general.
“I think the biggest thing is that this will help remove the stigma around eSports. The funding will help us get more coaches, buy more computers and, most importantly, it will have a long lasting effect for the next generation of players,” he says. “People will take it more seriously and not think the sport is for kids who get bullied and just play games 12 hours a day.”
Dawn is breaking on a new era for eSports in Iceland. In the not so distant future, kids might be begging their parents to take them down to the eSports café to hone their skills, aim and reflexes. A career in eSports might be as highly respected as other athletes. These new celebrities will no longer be recognised by their name but instead by their online alias. The argument that gaming is not a professional career is outdated and now, being a professional gamer is a reality for many. Or should we say, a virtual reality.
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