Levelling up to stay competitive

The green screen studio in EBN Esports City is equipped with tools needed for online streaming.

The eSports industry is among few sectors, both locally and globally, that has not taken a beating since the Covid-19 pandemic and movement restrictions started last year.

This is because gaming events can still be held virtually and players can participate from the comfort of their homes.

Some plans, however, have had to be put on hold in view of the pandemic.

For instance, South-East Asia’s largest eSports development centre – Selangor Esports City – which was originally scheduled to be built in Shah Alam by the end of this year, has been delayed.

The project, aimed at developing the local eSports scene, is a collaboration between several key national eSports stakeholders, namely the Malaysia Electronic Sports Federation (MESF), Esports Selangor Association (ESS) and Universiti Malaysia of Computer Science and Engineering (UNIMY), with technology partner Serba Dinamik Group Bhd.

At the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in April, Selangor youth generation development, sports and human capital development committee chairman Mohd Khairuddin Othman said a hotel near the Darul Ehsan Aquatic Centre in Shah Alam would be transformed into Selangor Esports City.

“The entire project, on the site of the former hotel, is estimated at RM10mil.

“It will be used in eSports development at university, state and even federal levels.

“The signing of this MOU is in line with the Selangor government’s efforts to build a place solely for the development of eSports.

“Selangor Esports City will also feature training in several aspects of the competitive gaming field, such as academic, e-games, caster, virtual and entertainment-based programmes,” he had said, adding that the place would be operational starting next year.

However, the pandemic and movement restrictions brought construction to a halt.

ESS president Abdul Razak Mohd Yusof said the project was expected to take about five months.

“So now, it depends on when construction can resume in accordance with the standard operating procedure (SOP) set by the National Security Council (NSC).

“Once completed, it will be a state-of-the-art arena for eSports,” he added.

Rise of eSports

Electronic sports or eSports has grown into a billion-dollar industry worldwide.

From a global perspective, games and eSports analytics platform Newzoo reported that South-East Asia generated game revenues of USD4.4bil (RM18.64bil) for the year 2019/2020, with an impressive year-on-year growth of 16%.

The mobile games segment accounted for USD3.1bil (RM13.13bil) of the 2019/2020 revenues.

According to its 2021 Global Esports and Streaming Market Report, Newzoo projected that global eSports revenue this year will hit USD947mil (RM4bil) with 663 million in viewership worldwide.

Abdul Razak said the popularity of eSports continued to grow because of Covid-19, as on-site events were turned into virtual events.

“I believe that the pandemic is one of the reasons eSports is suddenly getting more attention from the community.

“Since physical events cannot be carried out, tournaments are now being held online,” he explained.

An example he shared was the Selangor XTIV Virtual 2021 held this year, which stretches over 10 months.

The annual tournament brings together gaming teams to battle it out in five games, namely PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile (PUBGM), Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), Call of Duty Mobile (CODM), Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2021 and FIFA Pro Club.

With a prize pool totalling RM250,000, teams are vying for the top spots.

Developing team, careers

Abdul Razak said with active participation from players and tournament organisers, Selangor has become one of the leading states in the nation’s eSports scene.

He attributed this success to support received from the state government.

“Ultimately, we want to have our own arena and eSports stadium where everyone can participate.

“People still view eSports as an exclusive event but we want to make it affordable to all.

“As such, Selangor Esports City will cater to those who want to have a career in eSports, be it as a player or some other job.

“We have an accredited syllabus for the academy at Selangor Esports City and they can learn about eSports coaching, marshalling and even being an analyst,” he said.

Abdul Razak said Malaysia had gaming superstars and solo debutants but a solid and consistent team was needed for national and international events.

“Currently, we are looking for Defense of the Ancients (Dota) players.

“However, Malaysians seem to be more interested in mobile games such as PUBGM and MLBB compared to computer games because the latter tend to require a more expensive setup,” he noted.

While the eSports scene in Malaysia was definitely growing, he said more content creators and game developers were needed to bring it to greater heights.

“We want local game developers to have their own products and something they are proud of.

“It is a booming market and in the future, there will be more players,” he added.

Business trend

Last year, Esports Business Network (EBN) launched its 65,000sq ft EBN Esports City at Quill City Mall in Kuala Lumpur.

The South-East Asian eSports organisation, which was established after merging two eSports companies – Orange Esports Cafe and The Gaming Company (TGC), wanted to create a full-fledged eSports ecosystem that boasted complete corporate and consumer solutions for competitive video gaming.

This included an eSports arena, consumer engagement area as well as an eSports academy, which was launched at the end of last month.

EBN chief executive officer Adrian Gaffor said the eSports ecosystem was developing at a very fast pace in Malaysia compared to when it first started as an eSports marketing agency about seven years ago.

“This is evident when brands start spending millions a year in the eSports industry, where 90% of the revenue comes from sponsors, advertising and media rights.

“Brands are using it as a marketing tool to reach a younger segment.

“From a player’s perspective, that means more tournaments with a bigger prize pool,” he pointed out.

Gaffor said this translated to more revenue overall, which helped to develop the industry and complete the eSports ecosystem that nurtured talents other than players, such as content creators, influencers, coaches, analysts and animators.

“The ecosystem is heavily brand- driven and eSports has shown an upward trend despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“During this period, we realised that eSports is a sector that flourishes online first before adding value to on-ground events.

“Pandemic or not, eSports tournaments and events will continue to be held online.

“At EBN Esports City last year, for example, we had quite a number of venue rentals during the recovery movement control order period from event organisers who did not have the equipment to broadcast their events online,” he noted.

EBN’s eSports city offers sophisticated technology and supporting systems to host local and international events, tournaments and conventions.

It is also equipped with event halls, function halls, a 1,000-capacity gaming stadium, casting areas, streaming rooms as well as green screen studios.

However, the pandemic has pushed back plans for a second phase, which includes an eSports food and beverage area where people can hang out while watching live streams of eSports tournaments, and a complete renovation of the EBN eSports arena.

Its Orange Esports Academy offers courses such as animation, live broadcasting, player development and eSports marketing for individuals who intend to explore a career in the industry.

“Currently, we have more than 30 students enrolled in the programme and we hope to get about 50 students for our first intake.

“We are also looking to expand our eSports team, especially MLBB and PUBGM mobile gamers, as they remain the market leaders in the region.

“What the industry needs right now is for eSports stakeholders to push forward in a positive manner to ensure growth of the industry.

“It will be a promising future for Malaysia, especially for companies, the community and government,” Gaffor concluded.

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