E-sports: Can Malaysia cultivate the right culture to be seen as a hub?

Reports from the "Global Games Market Report" by Newzoo, ranked Malaysia 21st in the world in terms of e-commerce game revenue, which is estimated to be US$654 million. Given that in January this year, the Malaysian Cyber Games marked its return to the country, clearly ambitions have been set to take the nation's involvement in e-sports to the next level.

But while Malaysia is definitely building up a base, pulling ahead are markets such as China and Indonesia. In fact, China topped Newzoo's recent game revenue ranking, expecting to rake in US$37,945 million this year, while Indonesia ranked 17th with an estimate of US$1,130 million game revenue this year.

Earlier this year, Indonesian telecommunications provider Telkom Indonesia and media company MD Media, launched the IndiHome Esports League, which will span over two years and be split into four separate seasons. The league will see teams compete for a total prize of approximately one billion rupiah. MD Media is also working on the MDM Esports Academy, to help train individuals to become professional gamers.

In order to become the region's main e-sports hub, several improvements will need to be made to Malaysia's e-sports scene to help it fulfil the dream of becoming Southeast Asia's e-sports hub.

In a conversation with A+M, Garena’s partnerships manager Fern Yeap said Malaysia definitely has the right ingredients to become Southeast Asia's next e-sports hub given the rise in support from commercial brands when it comes to funding, and receiving exposure and legitimacy from the media and government.

However, adding on to the report, Yeap added that Thailand and Vietnam are also becoming fast-developing e-sports markets in Southeast Asia. As such, Yeap said the country would need to further invest in e-sports infrastructure and culture to rise above the competition. Should Malaysia become the region's main e-sports hub, Yeap added that it could contribute greatly to the nation’s economy.

Also weighing in on the conversation is Matthew Dason, general manager, Livescape Group, who said the e-sports industry will continue to evolve. Also, the rise in popularity of different games such as DOTA, Overwatch, FIFA, and Counter Strike, and the constant innovation of new platforms could possibly be a cause of dilution within the community.

"The platforms' value will slowly decrease. As with any other industry, when more platforms are introduced, the less impactful each platform will be as the need to compete will never end," Dason said. He added that this trend could create a disparity between interested brands and sponsors and the constant evolvement of the eSports industry.

The bigger the industry becomes, the harder it is for brands and sponsors to find a suitable place within the industry. As such, Dason said this will make it harder for brands to stay on top of the industry and to truly utilise its popularity for their own growth.

What can be done to improve the e-sports scene in Malaysia?

According to Garena's Yeap, Malaysia needs to improve the legitimacy and accessibility of e-sports to grow its pool of talent and general audience base. This will in turn increase financial and infrastructure investments into the scene.

"Firstly with legitimacy, we need to break negative stereotypes about gaming and educate the mass market on its current and potential growth," she said. Endorsements from Media Prima and the launch of "My Game On" is one example that helps create excitement amongst the gaming community, providing a "credible public platform" for gamers to share their enthusiasm about e-sports with family and friends.

Also, e-sports activities are currently heavily concentrated in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. However, having e-sports opportunities in different regions, forces local stakeholders to develop their infrastructure to keep up with the technological demands of the gaming industry. This also encourages the gaming community from other states to take e-sports more seriously as a viable career option. Yeap said that Garena often hosts e-sports tournaments finals in other states, such as its EA Sports FIFA Online 3's National Championships which was held in Pahang last year.

Meanwhile, Lee Choong Khay, VP of sports business, Astro, said that partnerships with international e-sports organisations and game developers will put Malaysia’s e-sports scene on the global map. For example, eGG Network's partnership with Chinese game developer Moonton for the Mobile Legends Professional League, a regional mobile e-sports tournament, allows the network to broadcast on the channel and live-stream games on social media platforms.

Gaining support from non-tech players

Yeap added that e-sports is a culture that can be exported and franchised globally due to its international fan base - especially with the younger target audience shying away from traditional media.

With this potential in mind, there will be an opportunity for more non-tech companies, to enter the partnership space for e-sports in Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region.

Agreeing with this is Lee said there is a trend of more non-tech and corporate brands being receptive to sponsoring e-sports events.

For example, Mercedes Benz sponsored the ESL One Hamburg and League of Legends World Championship last year. He added that international brands such as Astro's e-sports channel eGG Network are increasingly beginning to tap into Malaysia's e-sports markets by getting involved in the creation of tournaments and leagues to reach fans.

He added, “We would like to see more involvement among corporates to support e-sports teams in order to improve level of professionalism and nurturing world class players from the region.”

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