Asia scores among brands, investors and innovators in global esports market

ESPORTS: In the swiftly expanding global business of esports, the Malaysia-based international low-cost airline conglomerate AirAsia Group is remarkable for owning the AirAsia Allstars Esports Club, one of the region’s high-profile professional teams.

Remarkable because here is a brand owner with origins that have nothing to do with the video-games sector, nor the technology industry for that matter.

Yet, it is making a significant investment in the still burgeoning but in-demand professional competitive-gaming show business.

The fact that the airline group’s co-founder Anthony ‘Tony’ Fernandes owns Queens Park Rangers, a popular English football club, could have influenced the move into esports.

Brands: However, AirAsia’s commitment exemplifies how non-endemic brand owners are finding ways to market their businesses via this new entertainment format.

It appeals to the millions of Millennials that marketers and traditional entertainment producers are struggling to reach worldwide.

Allan Phang, an esports evangelist responsible for AirAsia Allstars Engagement and Internal branding, told an audience at the recent Esports BAR business event in Cannes, that the company’s links with competitive gaming have seen the number of young people applying to work at the airline grow. Result!

Asia innovation: It also illustrates the inventiveness that Asia as a region is bringing to the international gaming sector.

Esports is a prime example of how digital media and technology have disrupted standard entertainment formats to create what many are saying is a new phenomenon, one that involves strong elements of video games, spectator sports, live entertainment and streaming TV.

Millennials fans, as well as the even younger Generation Z, are happy to pay to watch professionals gamers live on computer screens and at massive arenas battle it out for big-money tournament prizes. It is the kind of devotion legacy-sports operators are said to be losing among today’s digital-native youth.

While professional gaming’s popularity is global, in Asia, we are also seeing some inventiveness being added to the already innovative maelstrom.

This matters because, as the authoritative figures from consultancy Newzoo indicate, China has become the world’s second largest esports market after the US. And there is evidence to show that Southeast Asia boasts the fastest growing esports audience

Mobile esports: Asia is also turning into a hub for mobile esports, where professional gamers compete on mobile devices as opposed to playing on PCs or consoles (a practice more associated with competitions in the US and Europe).

In some ways, that is understandable. Mobile devices are virtually first-screen devices for Asian consumers.

By the end of 2016, 95% of China’s estimated 731 million Internet users accessed the Web via their smartphones, according to the China Internet Information Network Centre. It remains the world’s biggest smartphone market by the number of users. It is reportedly followed by India, which is said to have wrestled the US from the No.2 spot.

Investors: This helps explain why investors have turned their attention to mobile esports. In 2016, Chinese film studio Huayi Brothers Media Corporation invested US$288m in Hero Entertainment, a Chinese esports-games developer and organiser of the Hero Pro League competitions with 400 million-plus registered users.

Hong Kong property conglomerate New World Development (NWD) has joined forces with Hero to create a network of mobile-esports venues featuring major competitions and other esports experiences at NWD’s shopping malls across China.

Another major Asian esports investor is Tencent Holdings, the Chinese Internet conglomerate and games developer. It has announced a RMB100bn (US$15.8bn) five-year commitment to developing esports in China.

In March, Telkom Indonesia agreed to support the IndiHome Esports League competitions in a two-year partnership.

There is more happening in Asia.

Olympics: In 2022, esports is to be acknowledged as an official medal event at the Asian Games, which is organised by the Olympic Council of Asia and is, therefore, officially recognised by the International Olympic Committee.

The Olympic Council of Asia will include esports as a demonstration event at this year’s Asian Games in Indonesia.

Japan: The original home of pioneering game developers and publishers like Nintendo, Bandai Namco Entertainment and Sony Interactive Entertainment, has been absent from the international scene because of the country’s strict gambling laws. That changed earlier this year. Japanese regulators have agreed to issue licences for professional esports players for the first time.

That could make Asia an even greater force to contend with in the fledgling but fast evolving gaming entertainment industry.

To find out more about the global esports business and its development in Asia, download the report from Esports Asia Summit, which takes place in Singapore on 23-24 May 2018, here

Note: MediaTainment Finance and TechMutiny are media partners of Esports Asia Summit.