The Future of Esports in Singapore And Beyond?

The Future of Esports in Singapore And Beyond?

vainglory2017_121517_nyssaebora-1555Picture credit: SCOGA (Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association)

Not too long ago, entering Esports professionally was a lofty dream – one that would set the cane upon our legs and unleash the dreadful naggings from our parents. After all, which kid would not want to get paid to play games all day, every day? Hey, it sure beats mugging for exams!

The Esports scene in Singapore took a few years to establish itself, and now the dream does not seem too surreal. But first, what exactly is Esports?

Esports takes the form of an organized competitive gaming event, usually among professional players. Esports games are usually popular multi-player gaming titles in various genres like first-person shooter (FPS) where the players battle it out with guns or weapons in a first person perspective, real-time strategy (RTS), where players have to tactically plan and execute their defenses and attacks against their opponents, and multi-player online battle arena (MOBA) where a player chooses and controls a single character in a team and battle it out to destroy their opponents’ structures and base.

Recently, Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) formally registered with the Registry of Societies in Feb 2008, launched an Esports Academy to train and develop aspiring gamers to fill the gaps in the growing gaming industry as professional athletes, commentators, trainers and coaches. This Esports Academy is supported by the National Youth Council, and is in partnership with streaming powerhouse, Twitch. Twitch was acquired by Amazon for US$970million in August 2014.

Chaos Theory, an organization founded by Drew Holt-Kentwell (former Head of Global Esports at Razer) and Hai Ng is the first of its kind to offer full employment benefits to its team of professional players, complete with Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions and medical benefits, not unlike your regular desk-bound job.

“The Esports industry is exploding, and there is a huge talent pool here with untapped potential,” said Holt-Kentwell in a press statement. “Chaos Theory was set up to establish new professional standards for the industry, and change the way Esports teams in SEA are seen and run. We want to equip Esports professionals with the experience and skills that they need, to cultivate world-class players and show that a career in Esports is viable.”

And viable it certainly is, with local top professional players like Daryl Koh Pei Xiang (‘iceiceice’) and Jeng Yih Wong (‘NutZ’) earning impressive figures in prize money to the tune of over 1 million, and two hundred thousand bucks respectively.

Our tiny red dot has its fair share of fame and glory in the international gaming scene too, thanks to teams which ended up in the top few positions in global tournaments like Overwatch* and Dota 2**.

89156994_ml_16Mar18Picture copyright : Roman Kosolapov. SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – OCTOBER 28 2017: EPICENTER Counter Strike: Global Offensive cyber sport event. Main venue and the big screens at the center of the stage

Newzoo reports have also identified the Southeast Asian Esports market to be the fastest growing region, estimating the total Esports enthusiasts in the region to hit 40 million by 2019.  Statistics also show a cheery outlook on Esports revenue worldwide – a whooping estimate of 1.4billion US dollar in revenue by 2020.

With all the above happening on our shores, coupled with Singapore’s strong IT infrastructure, proficiency in English language, and easy access to all types of games and gaming consoles, is the stigma of Esports still latched onto the mindset of locals? Will Esports ever be considered a sport in Singapore, one to be respected and not shunned and misunderstood? Will there ever be a day where a child can confidently tell his/her parents that he/she wants to be a professional gamer one day and not receive a smack on the ear?

Ho Kun Xian (‘Xian’), one of Singapore’s top gamers, is certainly hoping for a change.

“I definitely think what we do is equivalent to sport,” he said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia. “We are training just as much as sportspeople train. There is more strategy involved in gaming, and you also need… to maintain focus and concentration.”

“Games could even be harder than sports as you need mental fitness and hard work – with so many things to put into gaming, it should be taken more seriously. If you say talent for gaming, I definitely think Singaporeans have surpassed others (around the world), more so than in any other sports.”

vainglory2017_121417_nyssaebora-1180Picture credit: SCOGA (Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association)

“I wish the Singapore Government would show more support for Esports, because I think our Esports players will definitely win more medals or golds than any sport out there, if we have the chance.”

The issue of support was also echoed by Sabrina Ang from the all-female team Asterisk which snagged 2nd place in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)*** Asia Pacific (APAC) finals in Qingdao recently.

“The other teams were so well-equipped and looked like pro-gamers. We were like little villagers who knew nothing.”

Similar to the US where schools are taking an interest in Esports, local universities are also holding their own friendly gaming tournaments through the Inter-Varsity Gaming Festival (IVGF), hosted by NTU’s Cyberwellness Cybersports & Games Creation Society (C3).

Leroy Lim, chairman of C3, believes there is still a stigma surrounding gamers in Singapore. “Some players are afraid of telling their peers that they are interested in eSports because most parents do not perceive gaming as a viable career in Singapore. We hope that through events such as these, people are able to gain confidence in a career in Esports.”

Ong Kian Jie, a second-year student from the National Institute of Education is hoping that Esports will be recognized and respected as a medal sport in Olympics someday. “Our local culture is not for the idea of a risk-oriented career and it will take some time to transform mindsets about it, but I believe as Esports continues growing here, the stigmatization will decrease.”

Just a distance away from Singapore’s shores, the massive potential of Esports have caught the attention of the Philippines Government last year, where professional Esports gamers are given athletic licenses.

“At this infancy stage of Esports regulation in the country,” the official statement said. “GAB (Games and Amusement Board) officials are very happy to recognize not only the sport itself, but also the very talented and disciplined Filipino players and teams who have already made great inroads in the international electronic gaming arena.”

Singapore’s landscape makes her a strong contender in the Esport scene. Companies and sponsors have long recognized this growing market and are dipping into the pie. Tech-savvy millennials who grew up with games provide a pool of talent just waiting to be discovered and trained. And with the Esports scene moving into the mobile games market like Vainglory^ and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang^^, the stage is set to grow even bigger. Should ever there be a day where local support does pour in like it did in the Philippines, Esports in this country may flourish beyond our imagination. And when that day comes, the gaming world may have to watch out for the little red dot.

vainglory2017_121517_nyssaebora-1577Picture credit: SCOGA (Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association)

* Overwatch is a multi-player first-person shooter game published by Blizzard Entertainment. Players are split into two teams of six, and start off by selecting a hero character to play. Depending on the mission of the game, the teams will either need to secure and defend control points of the map, or escort a payload across the map before time runs out.

** Dota 2 is a multi-player online battle arena game developed and published by Valve Corporation. Players are split into two teams of five. Each player selects and controls a hero character, and tactically levels up that character through player kills and destroying the opponent team’s structures. The first team to destroy the opponent’s base wins.

*** Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multi-player first-person shooter game developed by Hidden Path Entertainment and Valve Corporation. Players are split into two teams – the Terrorists and the Counter-Terrorists. Both teams must fulfill their respective objectives and eliminate their opposing team in order to win.

^ Vainglory is a multi-player online battle arena game developed and published by Super Evil Megacorp, for mobile phones. Players are split into two teams of three or five, depending on the game mode. Players can each select a hero character and team mates must work together to ultimately destroy their opponent’s turrets and ‘Vain Crystal’ in order to win the game.

^^ Mobile Legends: Bang Bang is a multi-player online battle arena game developed and published by Moonton, for mobile phones. Players are split into two teams of five. Players can select a hero character and team mates must work together to protect their base while destroying their opponent’s.


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