With the massive revenue potential now up for grabs, which SEA country can temper the taboos and become an esports hub?

Recently, the massive gaming industry in China suffered a setback when its government deemed the esports industry to be fueling gaming addiction and other unwholesome mindsets.

Other countries in Asia will be keen to take over the mantle. They will need to consider several factors in esports development, including the industry’s socio-economic impact.

One testament to the popularity and impact of esports in Asia is the inaugural Global Esports Games event. It will provide a worldwide showcase for the world’s esports athletes and players.

To find out the intricacies of building an esports brand or even becoming the next esports hub, DigiconAsia interviewed Zheng Le, Chief Executive Officer of Impunity Esports.

DigiconAsia: What must individual entrepreneurs keep in mind when venturing into the opportunities presented by esports?

Zheng Le (ZL): There are no fixed business models or formulae to follow. Entrepreneurs need to maintain a curious and exploratory mindset to experiment with their own strategies, which may bring surprises, or frustrations.

Building an esports brand involves not only achievements in game design, but also things like branding, content generation and community engagement. Entrepreneurs need to be well prepared for a lengthy journey—especially for people that transitioned from other industries.

Given the volatility of the industry and its still-developing nature, there will be a certain level of risk in starting or managing an esports business. Hence entrepreneurs will need to be mentally and financially prepared.

DigiconAsia: Which South-east Asian countries can become a regional esports hub?

ZL: According to a Newzoo industry report, the ‘Big Six’ countries for esports are Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, which account for 99% of the region’s esports revenue.

These countries have flourishing economies and a growing middle-class population which spend their disposable income on hobbies and leisure activities, including e-gaming.

For example:  

  • In Vietnam, the pandemic has driven the rise of online gaming, with a 40% increase in mobile game downloads before and after the 2020 Tet holiday (compared with no increase across the same period in 2019) 
  • In the Philippines, major stakeholders and organizations have announced a strategic partnership to work under the umbrella of the Philippine Esports Organization (PeSO)  
  • In Indonesia, the Youth and Sports Ministry and Indonesian Sports Council (KONI) have recognized esports as a sports field, allowing video games to be contested in official competitions. 

In my opinion, each and every South-east Asian country has its own unique potential to be regional hub. At the local level, the demographic profile of the under-30 population in most of these countries have given them an edge. The young captive market can boost the growth of esports infrastructure, ecosystem and participation within these countries.

As the next stage, each government should take on an essential role in positioning their country to be a regional esports hub. An inclusive, transparent and business-ready esports scene will always be a destination sought after by regional esports players.

DigiconAsia: Is it necessary or important to bring esports to the grassroots level? 

ZL: Having community outreach efforts and initiatives at a grassroots level can encourage more people to be interested in esports and to understand how the ecosystem works beyond gaming. This also allows youths to try out how esports can be a career opportunity before they committing for the long term.

Grassroots events are also an avenue for all to showcase their esports talent and provide opportunities leading to professional careers in the field.

In developing esports from the ground up, there is also greater involvement from future talent (identifying and nurturing these individuals) and engaging new audiences to view and support gaming. This is essentially building an esports ecosystem together with them, and helps in the commercialization of the esports scene. Investments are also dependent on the participation and interactions of various stakeholders.

For this industry to grow, aside from passion, more knowledge and experience are required to fuel development to the level of a regional hub. Unlike traditional sports, esports is currently in “no man’s land” as the sport cannot be clearly boxed into a single industry: it is more of a hybrid of sports, entertainment and technology.

Having a united global esports authority could be a step in the right direction, because they can negotiate external partnerships and initiatives.