The popular image of SE Asian gaming tends to rotate around slots and casinos. Sure, there’s an enormous market for the games offered by the likes of Betway88 and others, but there’s no doubt that gamers are becoming ever more taken by e-sports. Born out of the popularity of online games that attract hundreds of millions of players worldwide (GOTA, League of Legends, Overwatch etc), SE Asian countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia are witnessing an explosion of interest in competitive e-sports.
All one needs to do is take a look at the figures to see the explosive growth in popularity for e-sports across the region. NewZoo, a leading market research company, suggests that this market is the true hotbed of e-sports with around 9.5 million active participants as of 2018. They confidently suggest that this audience is set to easily double by 2019 and that there’s no reason why such growth will not continue at such a staggering pace.
So why are e-sports so popular in this region?
One obvious answer has to be the inclusion of e-sports on the official event roster for the 2022 Asian Games. This is a historic step and will be the first time that professional standard players can unquestionably enjoy the ‘athlete’ tag. It is an incredible achievement for a sport which just a few years ago was pretty much disorganized and confined to online communities.
The inclusion of e-sports is not just a ‘gimmick’ either. Leading e-sport nations in the region such as Malaysia and Singapore have already built dedicated academies to help hone their player’s skills. Don’t think for a second that these are just glorified gaming clubs. They are highly structured with a focus on winning techniques and strategy that most casual players would find mind-boggling.
Gaming as a whole has considerably picked up in this region as well. Game sales are through the roof, with PC games (the preferred e-sports platform) having already passed $1bn across the region and predicted to more than double over the next two or three years. This trend is particularly interesting because until recently this region tended to prefer games that were locally produced. Sure, the big name releases are always going to have global appeal, but the traditional demand for games that emphasize local culture seems to be considerably softening. The games used with the e-sports culture is a big reason behind this.
Another explanation for the rise of SE Asian e-sports has to be the competitive element. Top players can make very respectable incomes, especially if they make the grade to be selected for one of the larger companies teams. With investment, sponsorship and lucrative endorsements on offer for the cream of the crop, there’s big money in e-sports and gaming companies are more than happy to spend heavily to secure partnerships with the big names.
Yet despite e-sports becoming mainstream, there’s no denying the fact that this is a sport that is driven from the grassroots. Smaller tournaments are proliferating across the region – often just for fun or with sponsor-donated gaming hardware as prizes. The large tournaments such as Garena World recognize this and often host side tournaments for ‘amateur’ grade players to enjoy when not checking out the professionals (who can be competing for prize pots little shy of $1m).
When considering the impact of big business upon e-sports, Sea Group (who own the Garena brand) were recently the first SE Asian games company to list on the New York Stock Exchange. By the close of the day, it was 8% up and has raised nearly $1bn of capital to expand their operations. Across the board, companies are recognizing that competitive e-sports is going to be the driving force of the future. There’s already rife speculation over what will be the ‘next generation’ of e-sport games, but you can be sure of one thing – the SE Asia market will have a considerable influence on making that decision and there’s a good chance the games will be designed in this region.