Asia Pacific University (APU) eSports Malaysia Academy manager Zierasmayu Abd Rahman believes building an ecosystem for eSports players needs to start from university.
“We do have top players that end up in other countries’ teams. Preventing this kind of brain drain is more challenging as it involves a team based activity,” she says.
She says eSports could be introduced into universities as a vocational course, or be pursued as an extra curricular activity through eSports clubs, which would allow gamers to find other like-minded people.
The previous Federal Government had mulled incorporating eSports into the school syllabus or co-curriculum, with the Youth and Sports Ministry preparing the module.
Zierasmayu says participating in an eSports club would also be beneficial for students as it sharpens their skills beyond gaming, as they have to organise events and manage hundreds of members too.
“Most probably won’t go pro after they graduate, but by exploring it during school, they will have time to consider it as an option,” she says.
Another factor is opportunity for career growth in the industry beyond being an eSports athlete.
Zierasmayu points out that athletes can only perform for so long and need somewhere to progress to after passing their prime, by taking on roles like coaching, analyst, or caster (broadcasters who provide commentary for games).
“That’s another way to prevent brain drain, by preventing these players from leaving the industry completely. Instead they can help train the next generation of players,” says Zierasmayu.
Malaysian Varsity eSports Association president Abdul Halim agrees that not all students would consider going into playing eSports full time.
He counters that the experience in the eSports club was still valuable as it could guide them on where to go next in their careers. For example an engineering or interior design student could do game design or those in programming could code for a videogame studio.
Abdul, who recently completed his term as Taylors University College eSports Club president, says the club now has 365 members, with four Taylors students playing professionally in League Of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Balancing gaming with education, 15 of the 23 club committee members were on the dean’s list.
Asked if there was resistance to setting up an eSports club, Abdul says the university was on board to avoid missing out on the trend, though some students opposed, thinking it was an unproductive hobby.
However, the club showed otherwise by winning the Garena Student Alliance’s Malaysian Campus League in April 2017, earning scholarships as prizes.
Management and Science University eSports club president Muhd Azaam Muhd Elias, 21, says the resistance to forming a club was from the school management, taking nearly one and half years to be approved.
To prove themselves, the groups joined tournaments and got the school management’s blessing after scoring some wins including qualifying for the Garena’s Student Alliance Contest.
Muhd Azaam, who is in his second year of a diploma in Culinary Arts, says the club has more than 300 members now, many of them introverts who find it an easier way to socialise over a shared passion.
While winning million dollar prizes gets eSports players on the radar and sparks viewer aspirations to join the league, there is another group of videogame players who are making their fortunes under a different spotlight.
eSport athlete Afiq ‘Chii’ Afzainizam, 30, says running a popular streaming channel is the end goal for him, as it gives a consistent and competitive salary compared to being a professional gamer.
He reveals that pro gamers might get big pay days if they win contests, but in between their salary is drawn from sponsorship contracts. For a team on a bad streak, it could mean a tough time getting by.
Asked how much he earns now, Afiq hints that it’s a five-figure sum, monthly.
The money does come with a lot of hard work though, as he puts in 50 hours over six days a week to make enough content to entertain fans.
“The way I see it, we do eight hours of work a day in most jobs. It just depends what you’re doing in front of the computer screen in that time,” he says.
He explains that for streamers, population size plays a role. Compared to the United States, Malaysia has a smaller audience, but sponsors set proportional targets and are okay if a streamer here can connect to 2,000-3,000 concurrent viewers, as they value being able to reach highly localised audiences.
Afiq, who is the captain of Malaysian PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) team The Face Gaming, says he does have to balance his roles as a professional gamer and a streamer.
He points out that both are full-time jobs, and pro gamers are secretive when practising to avoid revealing their strategies. When on tour for contests, he usually cuts back on streaming.
Though Afiq admits celebrity streamers usually get better traction, especially eSports professionals, he doubts leaving pro gaming would cost him (any) popularity and would instead probably please fans by allowing him more time to interact with them.
His teammate Farhan ‘Han’ Johari adds that it comes down to being a personable streamer to maintain viewers.
They both look up to Michael ‘Shroud’ Grzesiek, a former professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player turned full time streamer, whose popularity exploded to over 3 million followers on YouTube after going full time.
Farhan admits good looking streamers do get more attention, though to impress sponsors and keep viewers’ attention, they also have to know what they’re streaming about and have personality to boot.
“Or else viewers will watch and go ‘apa dia buat lah’ (what is he doing),” he laughs.
While Twitch is perhaps the most popular streaming platform globally, Farhan says Facebook is much more popular in Malaysia and makes it easier for streamers to connect with their viewers.
“Facebook always had the numbers, but has become even more attractive after rolling out a partner programme for those that stream games,” he says.