Report: South-East Asia’s eSports gamers and viewers prefer a mobile-first experience

Although SEA’s most popular eSports titles still included industry favourites played on PCs like Dota 2, League Of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the two most-watched eSports titles were mobile games PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile (pic) and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. — Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash

As eSports rises to the mainstream in South-East Asia (SEA), both athletes and viewers are likely to experience the sport on their phones, according to a new report.

A white paper titled Games & Esports: Bona Fide Sports, produced by Chinese tech giant Tencent and video game market research firm Newzoo, found that 82% of the region’s total online population played mobile games, and 39% were mobile-first, doing the bulk of their gaming on mobiles.

The region’s six major markets – Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – were mobile-first, unlike PC-first gamers in North America and Western Europe countries which have more sophisticated IT infrastructure, according to the report.

Going mobile

Tencent Games PUBG Mobile global eSports director James Yang said the industry was seeing a migration from PCs and consoles to mobiles.

This was being influenced by new developments in cloud gaming, 5G networks, and improved mobile hardware, he said. This included the prevalence of smartphones and accessories – like controllers and paddles – that offered a gaming experience on par with PC or console gaming.

Additionally, the report stated that the rollout of 5G networks – which was already starting in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand – would enable people to embrace games and eSports across various platforms.

Although SEA’s most popular eSports titles still included industry favourites played on PCs like Dota 2, League Of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the two most-watched eSports titles were mobile games PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.

The report further stated that open competition was key to mobile eSports’ popularity, underpinned by three main concepts: mobility, accessibility, and lifestyle.

According to Yang, accessibility goes beyond the availability of devices to include the accessibility of games. In developing countries like those in SEA, this meant games needed to be free-to-play as having to pay a premium fee would act as a barrier of entry for many.

The games also needed to be developed and optimised to support low hardware requirements in order to accommodate lower-end and more affordable smartphones.

The white paper found that more game studios were releasing games with mobility and accessibility in mind, including Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, and Riot Games, with mobile versions of popular PC franchises like Call Of Duty: Mobile, League Of Legends: Wild Rift and Valorant.

Digital money

Newzoo eSports head Hugo Tristão said the industry is fast-growing and becoming an integral part of the local games market.

By the end of 2021, the eSports audience in SEA is expected to hit 42.5 million viewers. Indonesia came in first with most viewers at 17 million, followed by Vietnam at 8.1 million. Malaysia is expected to have the fifth largest viewership at 4.1 million.

“More new eSports organisations will be founded, tournament organisers will enter the market, as well as broadcast companies and specialised marketing agencies,” he said.

Likewise, revenue for the region’s industry was projected to grow sharply, from US$39.2mil (RM162.78mil) in 2021 to US$72.5mil (RM300.76mil) in 2024.

Newzoo found that many eSports teams made the bulk of their revenue through sponsorships and advertising, which is expected to account for more than half of the projected revenue for SEA by 2024.

Pandemic impact

The pandemic is also pushing more people to view livestreamed eSports events.

Newzoo reports that the global eSports audience for 2021 is expected to hit 474 million viewers globally, up from 435.9 million in 2020 and 397.8 million in 2019.

Tencent’s Yang said more people watch gameplay and eSports tournaments online, even if some of them do not play the game, noting that “throughout 2020, PUBG Mobile competitions racked up more than 200 million hours in viewership”.

He expected the new fanbase gained during the pandemic to be sustained even after people return to their new normal routine, with insiders believing that hybrid events with both online and offline components are likely to become more common after the pandemic.

“Esports is a significant trend that few can ignore, and stakeholders from within the industry and outside of it will benefit by coming together to further develop and enhance the ecosystem,” said Yang.

The white paper concluded that South-East Asia’s mobile-first gaming preference means sector growth is poised to continue in the years to come, and mobile eSports will be the mainstay of gaming in this region.

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