Esports: Game On or Game Over

By Abel Benjamin

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Picture Credit: tr.redsearch

Game Settings – a brief history

Esports is nothing new to the gaming community, however many are unaware and uncertain what entails from it. It all started way back in 1972. Spacewar, a video game, was opened for competition at Stanford University. Competitors were attempting to set the highest score for a grand price.

Esports a.k.a electronic sports, e-sports or eSports is a form of competition using video games played by professionally trained players – individual or team.

Game Configuration – an industry on track

Slowly but progressively, esports is a growing industry in Malaysia. We see a growth in global audience of 14% year-on-year to approximately 400 million in 2018 and is expected to see an increase to over 550 million in 2021. In late 2017, the Media Prima group kicked start an esports event by broadcasting a FIFA Online 3 National Championship in Malaysia. The competition had been broadcast on television and livestreamed which captured about 300,000 viewers.

The global esports market revenue is growing annually and is estimated at USD1.79 billion in 2022. In 2018, global market revenue was valued at about USD865 million. Asia’s stand was at USD406 million in 2017, which was close to half of the global esports market revenue. How amazing this could be! The main source of revenue comes from sponsorship and advertising. Among other sources are from tournament production fees, prize pool, merchandise, tournaments and ticket sales as well as media carriage fees for regional partnership.

Astro chief of sports Lee Chong Kay mentioned that “Southeast Asia is the fastest growing region with the number of esports enthusiasts expected to double to 19.8 million this year (2019) from 9.5 million in 2016”. Registered players for Fortnite amounted up to 200 million and a concurrent of 8.3 million number of players connected to it. PUBG Mobile had 30 million active players. These two games have shown significant growth over a short period of time.

Wondering what PUBG and Fotnite is all about? Why not spend few minutes to see, observe and understand players and audiences enthusiasm. 

Game On, Malaysia

Picture Credit: Blog.agoracom

In Kuala Lumpur Major at Axiata Arena, eGG Network in collaboration with international esports companies hosted a 3-day Dota 2 tournament capturing 8,000 fans from around the world. This ticketed event was also the seventh most globally watched esports tournament in 2018. Each day could easily reach a 12-hour span with fans excitedly camp there for the long hours.

Lee Chong Kay added by saying that many amateur players are going semi-professional and sees this as an encouragement for the industry. “The players are sponsored, paid to play and train and have taken Malaysia’s esports industry to another level by proving that ordinary gamers can make it a thriving industry”.

Malaysia is about to participate in and spectate the first ever esports medal sport in 2019 Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games). Among the selected esports games are Dota 2, Starcraft II, Tekken 7, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Arena of Valor. The Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia via Esports Malaysia Association (ESM) had organised a nationwide state level qualifiers for the selection of players to represent Malaysia. 

Picture Credit: Lowyat

In the heart of Petaling Jaya lies Southeast Asia’s “Battle Arena” – the biggest esports club with a spatial area of 17,000 square feet equipped with high-end gaming environment. Battle Area envisages a supportive environment for aspiring gamers, an awareness about esports, a sustainable career path and an avenue to host gaming events. 

Battle Arena is passionate in delivering a holistic esports education, educating community on esports and “the fact that gaming can be a sustainable career” – under the Esports Education programme. An Esports Family Bootcamp will be held in November 2019 to realize its objectives. Both parent and child will be engaged in the half-day workshop which also aims to help negate the stigma of games.

According to Gamehubs, nine universities and colleges offer game courses from game development to esports. Namely Asia Pacific University od Technology and Innovation (APU), Universiti Pedidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), KDU University College, Limkokwing University of Creativity Technology, Multimedia University (MMU), Management & Science University (MSU), Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), Clazroom College and Selayang Community College.

Level of Difficulty – the challenges

Funding has always been the usual roadblock. The main source of funding is lacking among tournament organisers as they face challenging sponsorship and advertising deals. Revenue usually goes to the game developer as most esports monetisation comes from in-game purchase.

Picture Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Government funding is crucial in the initial stage. The Malaysia 2019 Budget allocated RM10 million for the development of esports with aspirations that it will thrive into an Asian eports powerhouse (Ministry of Youth and Sports). However, once a national league is operational, esports can self-sustain through advertisements, sponsorships and other source of income.

Support is another vital concern for Malaysia. A well crafted ecosystem can help advance esports in Malaysia to the next level. “This includes government support and corporate sponsorships, coaches to provide training, universities offering the right curriculum, and the right infrastructure such as training facilities and venues to hold and broadcast large-scale competitions”, The Edge Market reports.

We have talents in Malaysia, but it is already displaying early signs of esports brain drain. How is that possible? Reason being, some Malaysian top players left to join teams in other countries like China. Why is this so? They earn better incomes elsewhere. 

Perception of video gaming and esports entails different dimensions; diverse perspectives. Simplistic saying, esports uses video games as a platform for game competitions with trained professional players. They undergo physical, health and mental trainings, like other sport athletes, in preparation for a well-organised gaming event. This could be a point of debate, however it would be best discussed in another avenue such as a focus group discussion. 

Yet another worry is the sense of ‘violence’ a video game could incur, especially parenting control. Some argue that it is the responsibility of a parent to monitor and guide their children, while some others emphasise the understanding of the difference between esports and leisure video gaming. The sentiment of ‘violence’ in a player may seem discomforting; how about spectators (audience) who are addicted and at times react aggressively. We can also experience the same notion in a Malaysian football match upon defeat. Now this is another spark for discussion. 

Opportunities and Road Ahead

Big companies are sponsoring esports tournaments, knowing it’s high volume of viewers. For one simple reason, branding. And, that is much needed by companies. Esports Malaysian industry could thrive in the coming years. Industry players are already coming out with frameworks to penetrate this expanding industry. Malaysia’s two largest media companies have already shown interest in esports – Media Prima Berhad and Astro Malaysia Holdings Berhad.

Job opportunities have been created, not only for a players. Multiple career paths such as manager of a gaming arena for a team on a full-time basis, travel agents for esports tournament organisers, freelance meme specialist, floor manager, marketing officer, finance and administrative officer, etc. are and will be vacant. For instance, a business administration graduate fits well as an admin employee.

For esports to lengthen its arena, a thorough ecosystem has to be formulated and the level of awareness has to be properly channelled to all walks of life in Malaysia. Esports industry is new. Not (yet) a common understanding among the young and old. The Academy of Esports is centred on education related to the esports industry and curates specific sets of programmes specifically designed to further elevate the Malaysian Esports scene. The academy brings in expertise from the industry to equip and guide students with experience and clear career path into the esports industry. 

Esports stakeholders need to come out with appropriate educational framework which suits Malaysian context to grow strong and deep roots prior to venturing globally. Public awareness could be done at stages to promote healthy understanding about esports. Focus group discussion, as an example. This should create healthy discussion among various stakeholders. Yes, diverse stakeholders.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Bait Al-Amanah. This article is partly adapted from the Al Sharq Youth Conference talk and session.

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