The eSports frenzy

Cult following: A file photo of the League of Legends Pro League match in Hangzhou last March. The eSports industry is rapidly gaining traction. — AFP

Cult following: A file photo of the League of Legends Pro League match in Hangzhou last March. The eSports industry is rapidly gaining traction. — AFP

THE recognition for video games is, perhaps, a long time coming.

It has even gotten a boost with a trendier name: eSports.

Where gamers used to play in college dorms and cybercafés and endured unpleasant labels like ‘anti-social’, now they play in stadiums and bask in the limelight of a fast growing industry.

Even government agencies have taken to promoting eSports.

In recent years, the competitive video gaming frenzy has caught on. Last November, the grand final of the League of Legends World Championship took place before an audience of 40,000 at the Bird’s Nest stadium, which was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Broadcast of the game drew in tens of millions of viewers around the world.

Reports say traditional sports should take note.

According to market researcher Newzoo, global eSports revenues will grow 38% to US$906mil in 2018 and further grow to US$1.65bil by 2021. North America will account for 38% of the 2018 revenue, while China will be 18%.

While this pales in comparison to traditional sports – the National Football League (NFL) turned in revenue of US$13bil for the 2016 season while the Premier League generated revenue of US$5.3bil – eSports is rapidly gaining in terms of numbers of spectators. Newzoo puts the count at 380 million fans for 2018 and expects it to hit 557 million in 2021.

Once advertisers start paying attention, there’s no telling where the industry will go.

It is projected that eSports revenues will come through the sale of media rights, tickets and merchandise, sponsorships, advertising and game publisher fees.

In a sign that eSports is becoming mainstream, note that plans are under way to build dedicated eSports arenas at two of the largest casinos in Las Vegas. In Japan, students at the Tokyo College of Anime are taking a course to prepare them for careers as professional eSports commentators. More importantly, eSports is being mulled over as an Olympic event by 2024. Closer to home, eSports will be featured as a demonstration sport in the upcoming 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.

In comparison with the developments taking place around the globe, Malaysia is playing catch-up.

Kitamen chief executive officer Hazman Hassan notes that Malaysia is currently ranked 21 in global game revenue, which was estimated at US$587mil (RM2.297mil) for 2017. It is estimated that there were 2.4 million eSports enthusiasts in Malaysia last year.

“In terms of professional players, we have quite a few Malaysian players who have been bought over by international teams and are competing on tours. But Malaysia is kind of like a start-up industry. But foreign countries are starting to look at Malaysian talents, especially in games publishing,” he says.

With government support, like the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation’s (MDEC), he is confident that the local eSports industry has legs to run.

“We do see the gaps in the industry. What’s missing is the infrastructure and the big players in the industry who know how to consolidate all the differences and bring it together,” adds chief marketing officer Chua Ken Jin.

Chua says the way to grow the industry is to increase the number of consumers. That means catering its products not only to serious gamers, but also to casual players and viewers.

“At the same time, we are knocking on doors of any corporations who have interest in eSports because of the growing number of eyeballs you can get in the game. We are working with bigger brands, especially game publishers, to use our Dojos to test their games.

“How the industry needs to grow is through people playing it and also through getting sponsors to fund tournaments. And that’s what Kitamen has been actively working on over the last two years, to connect all these people together. And through that, we see a lot of eSports things coming together,” says Chua.

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SME , Kitamen , eSports