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Heralding The Rise of eSports In Singapore?

eSports (competitive video gaming) has been around for a while now, and boy is it booming. According to the Global eSports Market Report, the eSports market generated US $325 million of revenue in 2015 and close to US $500 million projected in 2016 – mostly due to the competitive appeal of games such as  Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, League of Legends and Dota 2 where gamers can win prize money up to USD$1 million.

In Asia, China, Japan and Korea lead the charge, however, the Philippines and Malaysia are quietly stepping up their game. Singapore though hasn’t quite found the impetus it’s neighbors have had, in what could soon be a billion dollar industry. For the most part, only one name stands out among the rest – Xian (Ho Kun Xian), the only Singaporean to ever win a major global tournament coming up top against approximately 1,600 players at the 2013 Evolution Championship Series (EVO).

Since then, success for Singapore in eSports has been hard to come by. Like any industry, many contributing factors are to blame for the lack of growth – from investors and sponsorships to proper training and exposure… and then there’s the perception that there’s “no future” in gaming. The truth is, like any sport, you’ve got to put in the time and dedication before you can even think of winning tourneys and serious prize money.

However, things might be taking a turn for the better. Just last month, collegiate champions of Singapore Garena Campus League (SGCL) did the country proud and emerged Runner Up at the International e-Culture Festival (IEF) 2016 held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Singapore team was made up of 5 Republic Polytechnic students who were the ‘A’ Division Champions of SGCL, a local League of Legends campus tournament.

SGCL is a biannual League of Legends campus tournament dedicated to promoting eSports and healthy gaming among youths. The Republic Polytechnic team walked away with SG$2,000 in cash and the chance to represent Singapore in two international collegiate tournaments.

The five-people Singapore team comprised of ‘Blaire’ Lee Chen Ming, 17; Keith ‘Okoyim’ Liem, 18; Darren ‘Orca’ Goh, 17; Joel ‘Dantiz’ Poon, 18; and Douglas ‘Dolphin’ Chua, 20 – all students from Republic Polytechnic that bonded over their common passion for the game.

“We were always seen as the underdogs but we didn’t let that affect us. Everyone focused their energy on improving their own skills instead of being bothered by other people. That really paid off.” said team Captain, Douglas ‘Dolphin’ Chua.

Over the last few years, things have been taking a step in the right direction with more tournaments available for Gaming Teams to take part in and gain valuable experience in a tournament setting. Conventions such as GameStart Asia, who held their third edition in Singapore this year, are doing their part to boost the scene’s popularity as well. The latest to join the efforts to help the eSports scene level up in Singapore are Gam3.Asia who aim to take down that other bugbear – training.

In order to compete at the highest level, training facilities are extremely important in any sport, ‘e’ or otherwise. Gam3.Asia, the world’s first integrated eSports, gaming and retail hub, intends to tackle head this particular issue head on by providing a place where teams can play and train together.

Launching its unique membership programme, the Gam3.Asia eSports Club, is targeting gamers from all walks of life, especially those with a competitive streak in their blood. Its ambitious plans to incubate young gaming talent starts with giving players a chance to challenge their peers. Instead of charging hourly rates, Gam3.Asia will allow members free use of its facilities, with two training rooms available where teams can battle it out in a tournament styled setting.

With partners such as broadband provider M1 and gaming staples Alienware, MSI, Aorus, Asus ROG, Razer and Logitech aspiring pro-gamers will have a one-stop solution to not only practice, but try out gaming peripherals, to select what works best for them, before making a purchasing decision. The hub also intends to screen eSports tournaments and hold monthly tournaments.

Mr Jeffrey Phua addressing media and guests at the opening ceremony of Gam3.Asia
Mr Jeffrey Phua addressing media and guests at the opening ceremony of Gam3.Asia

“I think it’s important to note that we don’t want to be retail-focused,” said Mr Jeffrey Phua, Director of Pro Concepts Pte Ltd. “Competitive gaming has taken the rest of the world by storm and we think that Singapore is the perfect place to cultivate into a regional eSports hub.”

“We believe that this will encourage aspiring eSports teams to practice together in an environment that prepares them for larger tournaments. We have feedback that we are on the right track with this and I hope that our fellow gamers continue to aid us in making eSports accessible to all… After all, a community that plays together, wins together,” he added.

But is it enough to inject some adrenaline into an industry that’s never really taken flight. Ryan Tan, Director of Operations, Avalon eSports, thinks that signs are promising. Ryan echoes the same issues that other teams face – the lack of support opportunities to compete and in terms of sponsorship and funding – especially considering that most fledgling gamers are students and a good rig easily costs couple of thousands and tourney-grade peripherals don’t come cheap as well.

“It’s a step in the right direction and the community events will definitely help with teams getting more opportunities and exposure,” said Ryan. “But it’s still something new and we’ll have to wait and see how well it does.”

It will definitely be interesting to see how eSports does over the next couple of years in a country that’s always had a burning passion for sport, but not much success on an international level. In terms of revenue, eSports is right up there with the Football World Cup and the NFL. Just like traditional sport, it will require much grooming, support and patience. If anything, Singapore should look to its recent Olympic successes and what it took to get there.