Their hobby integrates not only data science, gameplay physics and abstract thinking, but also money-making and career opportunities in Asia.

Asian parents have long seen e-sports (also known as eSports) as a reprehensible distraction for their kids, who should instead be focusing on their homework! But perhaps they can be more supportive?

In the last few years, the e-sports industry has become a major global force. Some estimates value the global market to be close to US$1.8bn and growing to more than US$3bn by 2022.

Driven at least partly by the pandemic lockdowns, the number of players is increasing dramatically. In mid-2020 video game distributor Steam saw a record number of concurrent users, at over 24m users; and streaming platform Twitch grew its audience by an estimated 31% last year.

Asia tops the e-sports leaderboard

There is serious money in the Asian e-sports market. Market researcher Niko Partners reported that mobile e-sports games in Asia generated US$13.3bn in 2019, 68% of the total global revenue.

Overall, Niko has found that Asia generated nearly half of all global e-sports revenue in 2019. This was helped by the region hosting major events like Riot Games’ League of Legends Championships—the most popular e-sport. The 2020 edition of “Worlds”, featuring teams from different regions of the globe, was broadcast in 16 different languages across 21 platforms, and clocked up more than 139m viewers. The consistent overall growth in e-sports’ popularity is undeniable.

It is all about the data

Even traditional sports are making more and more use of data: fans love comparing players’ performance statistics and predicting results. But no sport is driven more by data than e-sports. Its focus on data and analytics not only impacts gameplay itself, but also creates broader opportunities for technical professionals, and helps to grow the community, including viewers. Data helps them learn as they watch.

Data analytics is what players need to optimize their gameplay. With access to large samples of data, data analysts can unlock different strategies, techniques, and gameplay to deliver victory. As well as interpreting data based on players’ spatial movements, game actions and reactions, data analysis can also be applied to determine optimal ways to manage in-game resources and money, and to deal with regular update patches and game changes.

All the analysis does not have to be done on the fly: matches can be re-watched and entered into databases to be examined further in the future. After every game, data is gathered and sorted, which can then be analyzed and broken down step-by-step.

From the players’ perspective, e-sports is all about competition and skill-building, and data analytics helps them understand the intricacies of their own gameplay and that of their competitors. With data analytics, players can figure out the opposition’s favored strategies and tactics and how to counter them. The information extracted via analytics helps players analyze their performance, strengths and weaknesses and gain an edge over competitors. It is easy to see how analytics is directly linked to the success of a team.

From the overall industry point of view, escalating audience numbers and prize money, as well as publicity for the industry, have created an opportunity for analytics companies to build and outfit teams and gaming industry players with data software.

Participants, viewership numbers, and game results are among the data points being analyzed during tournaments by third parties seeking to enhance fan experiences and increase revenues. As a result, game publishers and industry players will need management platforms to create products and distribute data that is consumable by the entire community.

Such management platforms enable cloud-native application programming interfaces (API) connectivity between third-party apps, mobile apps and connected devices to interact with data outside the firewall, making the data sharing process simple, fast, and safe.

Finally, data analytics can enable players and teams to increase monetization. Teams, event organizers and third-party companies are looking more than ever for data and patterns that can help them increase revenues by identifying ways to attract larger audiences and upsell merchandise to existing fans. This is again facilitated by the rapid adoption of APIs to connect devices and data outside a game’s firewall, making it easier for players to interact. Most APIs are based on cloud technologies and provide an additional level of engagement for players and fans.

Creating careers for e-sports talent

The huge growth in the popularity of e-sports, driven by data and analytics, means golden opportunities for data experts. Teams and franchises are hiring technical support analysts and engineers; tournament organizers, broadcasters, hardware and software providers and third party companies (streaming services and betting companies) are also increasingly on the lookout for top analytical talent to meet the growing demand for data processing and management.

With more e-sports organizations setting up in the region and the backing of government agencies for various e-sports initiatives, the number of opportunities in Asia is also increasing. According to a 2019 survey in Singapore, the e-sports industry will need about 2,700 info-communications and media professionals to support the games sector over the next two years. This bodes well for the industry as well as for data science in Asia.

Finally, just as data analytics can enhance e-sports with limitless potential (in gaming terms this is known as ‘sandboxing’), e-sports supporters can now get in the sandbox and reach the next level!