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A ‘Razer’ sharp mind: Min-Liang Tan talks about taking on the esports arena

With its neon green triple-headed snake plastered on a wall of black, Razer’s logo is an impossible one to miss. With the company’s exponential rise since it first started in 2005 with dual headquarters in San Francisco and Singapore, the logo is synonymous with the esports industry.

The driving force behind the firm is none other than Singaporean entrepreneur Min-Liang Tan, who is often seen as an inspiration for many of the local talents, and mostly pictured in the media in his black uniform. Tan, who wears the hat of CEO and founder, is the driving force behind the company, pushing the Razer brand to greater heights through a myriad partnerships across the region – from Singtel to ONE Championship.

With the growth of Southeast Asia in mind, Razer is also planning on creating a new Southeast Asia headquarters by 2020 which intends to house more than 1,000 employees, about a two and a half times increase from its current headcount. The new headquarters will be one of Razer’s two global headquarters and will comprise office space, R&D labs and design studios spread across seven storeys.

And while Tan may be characterised by his accomplishments and ambition in the esports and e-payments industry, what some might not know is he hasn’t had the most conventional of entries into the arena. Trained professionally in the field of law, he says there was no grand business plan or strategic master plan that characterised his “bold shift” away from law and into esports.

“Razer was founded because we wanted to do something fun and create something cool for ourselves. Some people speculate that I started Razer because I didn’t like doing law. That’s not true. I enjoyed my time being a lawyer, and in some ways, the lessons I’ve learnt from being a lawyer prepared me for cofounding and leading Razer,” he tells Marketing.

In fact, Tan says it was his time in the field of law that taught him the importance of attention to detail – which he now says informs all of his creative directions and product designs.

“With our foray into e-payments and fintech – we run one of the largest e-payments networks in Southeast Asia today – my experience in tech regulatory law has proved to be particularly beneficial,” he says.

Tan says esports has always been a fundamental part of the Razer DNA since its inception – even before esports became a hype or a buzzword.

“We were supporting professional gaming athletes, teams and tournaments even before the term esports came about. We were among the first in the world to recognise this has the potential to be a sporting and entertainment phenomenon.”

Today, the numbers speak for themselves. According to ESC, more than 200 million concurrent viewers tuned in live to watch last year’s League of Legends world finals, and the global esports economy is expected to surpass the US$1 billion mark this year, according to a report by Newzoo. Moreover, for the first time in history, esports will compete as a medal sport in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games with Razer as an official partner. But Tan isn’t set on slowing down anytime soon. This for him, is only the beginning.

“In five years, we see ourselves continuing to push the envelope of innovation in hardware, software and services,” he says.

Brand safety concerns

And while the esports boom is undisputable, a cloud of concern still surrounds the industry. For one the lack of women in the industry has often been a topic of conversation even though according to Bloomberg, executives for games such as League of Legends and Overwatch say they want to add more women. Meanwhile, the Olympics committee, for one, deemed the industry rather “violent” in nature.

Last year, it said outright it could not have in the Olympics programme a game which was “promoting violence or discrimination” or so-called “killer games”. They, from the organisation’s point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot, therefore, be accepted. To this, Tan explains that while the committee has a right to its views, there still remains a huge variety of games that players can compete in – a majority of which are not at all violent.

“It’s completely up to tournament organisers and game publishers which of these games are selected for contest,” he says. He adds that from an industry and community perspective, “it’s just a matter of time before esports gets its place in the Olympics”.

“We’ve successfully raised the level cap for esports to SEA Games 2019, and we will work with more sporting bodies for its inclusion in other international medal events. This will lead to wider mainstream acceptance with more professional bodies and traditional sports teams stepping up to the plate with their own esports teams,” he adds.

When it comes to marketing and esports, he explains the industry is by no means a fad. It has been growing organically and steadily over the past few decades to get to where it is today – from arcade machines in the 1980s to PCs in the 1990s, to a booming global community today.

Furthermore, today a majority of gamers are Millennials, a demographic that many traditional brands find challenging to reach even through digital platforms. “The appeal of esports to marketers is evident. The viewership of the top esports tournaments around the world rival, and in many cases, even surpass that of traditional sporting institutions such as the soccer World Cup and NBA games,” he says.

“Brands as diverse as luxury car brands and shaving razor makers are jumping into the game, and we welcome all of them.”