ORGANISED esports competitions where players or ‘athletes’ face off in a multi-player video games environment are now a global phenomenon.
Already, esports is gaining much international traction with its inclusion in the 2022 Asian Games while the International Olympic Committee is considering adding it to the 2024 Olympics in France.
Noting the potential of esports and how it can stimulate the digital economy, which Sarawak is focusing on, local entrepreneur Dato Andrew Wong Kee Yew sees the need for a professionally run esports centre in the state.
“That’s our ultimate plan for next year — we’re still in discussion with the management of the shopping centre (Swan Square) in Sibu to put up an esports centre and it’s going to be big. You’re looking at something like 25,000 sq ft of floor space,” the former Sibu Municipal Council (SMC) deputy chairman told thesundaypost.
“I believe we’ve a lot of talents to create our own esports team. It’s just that we don’t have a proper venue. And that’s what we are aiming to change” added Wong, owner of Toy Universe, the only action edition collectibles museum here.
Toy Universe is housed in Swan Square at Ling Kai Cheng Road, Sibu.
“It’s going to be a proper esports centre with a proper league and a proper tournament. We’re still trying to encourage more brand awareness which is a good starting point.
“We’ll be one of the first esports centres in Sarawak. In Kuala Lumpur, they have very good ones — I have visited them,” he said.
Definition and potential
According to Wikipedia, esports (also known as electronic sports, e-sports or eSports) is a form of competition, using video games. Most commonly, esports takes the form of organised, multi-player video game competition, particularly among professional players.
Moreover, according to The Business Times, the rise of esports or competitive video gaming in recent years has been nothing short of meteoric where top grossing games like Overwatch, Counter-strike and League of Legends have hit over a billion dollars in in-game sales.
Big names in the soccer world — Manchester City, Paris St Germain and Ajax — are among more than 20 European football clubs that have created esports teams for international tournaments in the football simulator game — Fifa 18.
The online report — The Startup — medium stated that in 2016, worldwide revenues generated in the esports market amounted to US$492.7 million. By 2020, the market is expected to generate over US$1.48 billion in revenues, indicating a compound annual growth rate of 32 per cent.
In fact, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has pledged to transform Malaysia into an esports powerhouse, not only in Asean, but also Asia.
He is also aiming to tap into the billion-dollar industry and expand its growth in Malaysia to aid the country’s youth development.
Sarawak Esports Association (SESA) founder and president Afiq Fadhil Narawi recently said there were now 1.8 million esports enthusiasts in Malaysia and 35 per cent of esports players in the country were aged between 21 and 35.
On this, Wong said: “I think esports is gaining much momentum nowadays. Our young Youth and Sports Minister is very much behind it. But what are lacking in Sarawak, especially, are professionally run esports centres. I believe as long as parents see esports centres as safe, secure and clean environments, then, it’s workable.”
Esports and digital economy
He believed with the state government’s emphasis on digital economy, this was a way to make the younger generation realise the importance of having such an economy.
“People don’t associate esports with digital economy although it’s one part of it. Games are a huge part of digital economy,” he noted.
Citing the example of China’s Tencent, the world’s largest gaming and social media company, he added: “Hopefully, we can stimulate digital economy by looking at the bigger picture.
“Buying and selling goods online is just one part of digital economy. In fact, digital economy encompasses a lot of things and esports is part of it.
“So, that’s what we want to introduce here. Gaming is a huge thing when you talk about getting involved in the digital platform. These are the things we can do to complement the state government’s efforts in developing a digital economy. These are for the young people — somewhere to start from. That’s what we envision.”
A recent study showed in 2017, the number of frequent esports viewers and enthusiasts amounted to 143 million. This is projected to reach 250 million in 2021, thus creating the potential for digital businesses.
Singapore raises the bar
With esports as part of the 2022 Asian Games and video gaming on track for Olympic recognition, Singapore has come up with its first-ever diploma in esports and game design.
A recent news article reported that the Informatics Academy had launched the diploma programme (eight months for full-timers and 12 for part-timers) aimed at equipping students with skills in game development, esports knowledge, team management, live-streaming of tournaments, game design theories and programming.
Therefore, given a well-connected and tech-savvy population, it does not come as a surprise if Singapore develops a global league, and perhaps even builds one of the world’s leading international esports teams.
Wong noted Sibu is very far behind in esports compared to Singapore or even the peninsula.
“Esports popularity and the digital economy take-off in Singapore are partly due to the city state’s own efforts to promote responsible gaming.
“But here, we’re very much behind in infrastructure and player development. I think the main thing is parents’ perception of cyber cafes and this game.
“Lack of exposure and non-existent infrastructure make them very worried. So, if we want to make it a reality, we have to ensure our esports centres are safe for kids. I believe we have the potential to do that.”
He said there had to be a starting point somewhere, adding: “We’re just providing an alternative for the young people here. We already have traditional sports and we need some digital sports to come in.”
Wong argued that engaging in esports was not a waste of time, pointing out that the lowest earning for a professional esports player in Malaysia hovered between RM30,000 and RM50,000 a year, just playing tournaments.
According to esportsearnings.com, the top 25 players in the world make more than US$1 million each this year.
Singapore’s Daryl Koh Pei Xiang, going by ‘iceiceice’ as his online moniker, is 23rd on the international earnings list, making nearly US$1.1 million, mostly from Dota 2.
Wong expressed optimism that if their esports centre could be recognised by esports Malaysia or the federal government as one of the places for tournaments on the Malaysian circuit, then it would have a huge potential.
“Esports players come from everywhere just to compete. It’s so different from traditional sports where you have to bring lots of equipment. This one — you just bring your joystick.
“So, to them, the cost of competing is very low and the returns are high. For tourism, you’re going to bring many younger people to Sibu,” he anticipated.
According to Wong, this toy museum, taking up a floor space of about 4,000 sq feet, is about bringing something new to Sibu folk.
To him, it’s like a catalyst that puts the older generation in the loop as to what pique the interests of the younger generation.
It’s anticipated to galvanise the young people in Sibu who have a certain talent to display their works of art.
“That’s because Toy Universe isn’t about just toys. In the future, we’re going to gather people good in arts, cultures and mechanical things such as building bikes and sculptures.
“It’s a place for them to display their special skills.
“So like I say, it’s a way for the older generation to know what captivate the younger generation and understand that this isn’t a waste of time,” he explained.
The ultimate aim, he pointed out, was to have an esports centre in Sibu but before that could happen, the older generation had to understand the interests of the younger generation.
Wong likened Toy Universe to a platform for parents to have a better understanding of esports — that playing these games is safe and not a waste of time.
“As far as I know, all esports gamers started from collecting toys of action characters. Then they started relating more closely to the characters. That’s how their interests in esports developed.”
He said the government could help with regulations, policies and positive promotions, adding that Syed Saddiq did a good job in promoting esports.
“Our hope is that in the future, if we have an esports centre here, someone will set up esports centres of similar standard and quality in other places.
“So, we’ll have our own league in Sarawak — that’s our hope, especially when you already have a university here. A lot of young kids who play are from colleges and universities. I believe in places like Miri, Bintulu or Kuching there’s a market for this type of thing,” he said.