Playing to Win Big
Tatler Malaysia|May 2021
Regardless whether you agree that esports is truly an athletic endeavour, there is no denying that it is a billion-dollar industry that is sweeping across Southeast Asia
Chong Jinn Xiung

About a decade ago, parents would often advise children not to waste their time playing video games, else they would fall behind in their education and fail to land a real job. Well, times have changed and professional gaming is a legitimate career that you can pursue to earn a living. That being said, it is not an easy task as you will need to be at the top of your game, much like a professional athlete, to make it big.

It may come as a surprise to some that the prize pools for the biggest gaming tournaments are comparable to the winnings of established traditional sports tournaments. There definitely has been a rapid increase in the prize money offered, thanks in part to the increase of sponsorship for teams and tournaments.

The advent of modern electronic sports, or esports as it is popularly known, has disproved many naysayers as professional gamers square off in sold-out stadiums and the massive prize pools of millions of dollars have increased its exposure. To date, the 2019 edition of The International, an annual esports world championship tournament, holds the honour of being the most lucrative esports tournament, with a prize pool of over US$30 million.

Needless to say, the better you are at the game, the better your chances at winning big prize money. For example, 27-year-old Johan “N0tail” Sundstein is currently the highest earning esports player. The Danish professional Dota 2 player and captain for OG earned US$6.2 million for leading his team to victory at The International in 2019.

But just how big is the esports market in Southeast Asia? According to estimates by gaming and esports analytics firm Newzoo, esports revenue dipped from US$973.9 million in 2019 to US$950.3 million in 2020 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, particularly on the live event segment.

Though each of the region’s major markets (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam) are entirely different, gamers in the region all prefer to play games on mobile devices like smartphones. In fact, two of the most regularly watched games are PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. This is a stark contrast to the Western market where PC games like Dota 2 and League of Legends dominate the esport charts.

Riot Games, the makers of League of Legends, one of the biggest esports titles in the world, is looking to tap into the mobile esports market. “Southeast Asia is the heart of mobile esports. We are constantly listening to our communities, partners and teams to better understand where these new trends are going,” says its head of esports for Southeast Asia Chris Tran.

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