East Malaysia needs to step up its game in eSports
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
UNLIKE CONVENTIONAL SPORTS, electronic sports (eSports) does not involve a field with players fighting over a ball covered in their own sweat shouting directions at each other.
Instead, the players are whisked into a virtual world of mystical creatures, impressive weaponry and exotic adventures where the players have supernatural powers to smite each other with through mouse clicks and keyboard taps.
Whether you might be into it or not, last year, eSports clocked 89 million serious gaming enthusiasts, a number expected to rise to 145 million in 2017 according to video game research firm, Newzoo.
According to Newzoo’s report ‘The Global Growth of Esport Trends: Trends, Revenues and Audience Towards 2017’, eSports revenue will reach $465 million in 2017.
For 26-year-old eSports supporter and enthusiast Billy Chin who also goes by the name ‘Royce’ in competitive gaming tournaments, while eSports is a much celebrated sport in other parts of the world such as the United States, Korea and China, the eSports scene here is still lacking.
“Malaysia, in my opinion is already on pace, but Sarawak is still lacking exposure,” he said.
From personal research through Facebook fan pages, he estimated there are currently about 150,000 to 200,000 active gamers in Sarawak between the ages of 15 to 23 and it would not be surprising if it soared up in a few years’ time.
Having played computer games since primary school, Billy was formerly a Top 4 Hearthstone ranked player in a monthly league called Click Storm.
He is doing freelance consulting and promotion of eSports in Sarawak and Sabah to promote and create awareness on competitive gaming in East Malaysia, as he feels that compared to Peninsular Malaysia, East Malaysia still lacks exposure, support as well as the facility for the development in eSports.
In 2011, the Micro-Star International (MSI) Sarawak Qualifier event saw pro gamer Chai Yee Fung (also known as Mushi) and Chan Litt Binn (also known as WinterR) invited to do some coaching for the local players.
For his part, Billy helped contribute to the eSport scene at the height of his involvement by suggesting organising the event along with an MSI representative. He also suggested organising the event at Gizmo Cyber Cafe and Mars Cyberzone Cafe in Kuching where it was attended by 32 teams.
For Billy, he feels that organising tournaments regularly and on a big scale would help elevate the awareness of eSports in Sarawak, helping to attract gamers not only locally but also from all over the world to come and see the tournaments – much like Major All Stars Dota2 Tournament did when it was held in Stadium Malawati, Shah Alam.
The biggest eSports event held in Kuching recently was the Dota2 Tournament held at Boulevard this year in May.
Hoping that eSports could become a modern tourist attraction for Sarawak, he imagined that people would travel to see world-class teams and gamers playing their favourite games in stadiums.
Billy also felt that another obstacle to the growth of eSports here was the lack of sponsorship and also the chance of establishing a professional eSports team, a problem which stems from how competitive gaming is not perceived as seriously as traditional sports such as football or badminton.
Currently, one team from Malaysia that seems to be making a name in the professional circuit is Team Malaysia which specialises in Dota2. According to Wikipedia, the team was ranked at 8th best and Southeast-Asia best team with an all-time win rate of 82%.
With popular games such as Dota2, Call of Duty, Counter Strike, Leagues of Legend and Starcraft II, eSports has been gaining popularity and it is becoming the norm to see international eSports tournaments being held on a large scale where top players can easily win thousands if not millions worth in prize money.
On October 13, 2012, more than 8.2 million people from around the world tuned in to video streaming sites to catch the action live as two teams of PC gamers battled it out in a strategy/action PC game called League of the Legends at the University of Southern California, where in the end, the team called Taipei Assassin went home with $1 million dollars in prize money.
According to Newzoo CEO Peter Warman, eSports tournaments are a marketing strategy generating revenues mostly from ad revenues, sponsorship, media rights, crowdfunding and consumer spending.
Something which Billy says local corporations or organisers can capitalise on.
Misconceptions on eSports
Although eSports is gaining popularity, there are still misconceptions about it. Among the biggest misconception about eSports is that players live physically and emotionally unhealthy lifestyles.
“Actually gaming is not a very bad hobby. For me, it cultivates the spirit of teamwork among other things,” said Billy.
In Dota2 for example, a team of five players would liaise with each other via headphones making it possible for the teammates to communicate with each other even if they are not in the same country.
As the game centers on strategizing, it requires the team leader to have a good command of leadership thus enhancing comradeship among the teammates.
“Even during gaming, the players would not only talk about the game they are playing like most people think, we also talk about normal daily stuff with each other. We also go out and socialize like other people,” explained Billy.
While parents might think that their children can only take up competitive gaming as a hobby, before they go on to more traditional educational and career paths in life, there are learning institutes that offer scholarship for eSports athletes.
According to an article on Tech Times website, Robert Morris University in Chicago and the University of Pikeville in Kentucky offered scholarships for their players to play in organised competitions.
For some, eSports might not seem as prestigious as a regular sport, but for others it is more than just a hobby or a favourite past activity.
It is a fast growing trend among the youths where so much potential can be explored leading to open opportunities for well-organised and professional tournaments as well as creating organised and well-financed leagues and more professional teams.