Malaysia's e-sports scene shows growth but challenges remain

  • Impacted by negative perception and a recent spate of tournament scandals
  • Brands new to e-sports should work with experienced event organisers


Malaysia's e-sports scene shows growth but challenges remain


THERE is no doubt that e-sports is slowly but surely becoming more mainstream in Malaysia. This is largely thanks to the success of high profile competitions such as the recently concluded ESL One Genting 2018.

According to Malaysian e-sports portal E-Sukan founder Firdaus “Master Ramen” Hashim (pic, above), the local e-sports scene is growing faster ever been since the rise in interest three to four years ago.

To him, the inflexion point for the local e-sports scene was back in 2013 when professional Malaysian e-sports team Orange eSports placed third at The International, the biggest Defense of the Ancients (Dota) tournament in the world, bagging US$287,438 in prize money.

“There are a lot more local tournaments organised now such as the Selangor Cyber Games and Malaysia Cyber Games,” said Firdaus, who is also the vice president of Mineski Events Team, an arm of Malaysian e-sports team Mineski. Even the prize money from tournaments has also grown significantly from RM10,000 a few years ago to RM30,000.

But now even that is considered an average amount, as the total prize money can go up to RM300,000 like in the recent Malaysia Cyber Games held on Jan 13-14.

Adding to that, popular mobile games like Mobile Legends have a massive player base, that easily rival Dota as a trend to watch out for. To put that in perspective, Firdaus estimates that the Dota2 community in Malaysia is three million strong while that of Mobile Legends is almost equivalent or even more.

Apart from that, coverage of e-sports events has also increased over time with broadcast media like NTV7 present at ESL One Genting last year and this year that continued with the presence of Astro’s Egg Network and Astro Awani’s Arena Maya crew at the tournament in Genting.

Reality check

Despite the tremendous growth in e-sports, Firdaus remains realistic that the local e-sports scene has its fair share of challenges that make it difficult to grow further.

Over the past two years, the local e-sports scene has been marred by scandals where organisers have failed to pay winning teams their prize money for months on end. The most notable among this was the AGES 2016 competition that failed to pay RM1,000,000 in prize money to its winners.

“This is very sad as a lot of people who are trying to organise e-sports competitions are doing it the wrong way. Many lack experience or face problems with sponsorship and money but the ones that really suffer are the players,” explained Firdaus.

“The best thing to do is if you see a new organiser is to always be careful and ask for a contract to ensure that you get paid on time,” he advised e-sports athletes.

There is also the negativity surrounding e-sports in general, as it has been associated with gaming addiction, which was classified as a disorder by the World Health Organisation, on Jan 2, 2018.

“The problem is that people are focusing on the negativity around games but fail to realise that e-sports is just like any other competitive sport. Just like football there are those who play it for fun and there are those make it their careers,” he said.

This hampers the progress and training of new athletes who want to enter the space as their parents would strongly discourage them. “E-sports is something new so it is harder to convince people compared to regular sports,” admits Firdaus.

“While we cannot avoid the negativity associated with games, we need to keep showing people the positive side of e-sports,” he said hopefully.

More support from brands

Though all these negative factors may discourage new brands from investing in e-sports, Firdaus is not deterred, believing that those new to e-sports should partner with established organisers with experience in organising tournaments.

Indeed, non-traditional brands that are not normally associated with e-sports are entering the scene. Case in point, premium automaker Mercedes-Benz partnered with ESL last year and this year to provide tournament sponsorship for its Dota2 tournament across all legs of the competition.

Firdaus has even heard rumours of fast food companies like McDonald’s investing in e-sports as they have previously engaged with game streamers to promote their McDelivery service.

This does not come as a surprise for him as the synergy between food and beverage (F&B) brands and e-sports goes well because people need to eat and drink during competitions and even at the local cyber cafe. In fact, cyber cafes make big bucks from selling food and drinks to gamers who frequent their establishments, he said.


Malaysia's e-sports scene shows growth but challenges remain


Even brands like Red Bull are showing their support for local e-sports, by quietly working behind the scenes to support budding players.

They were the official energy drink at ESL One Genting 2018, with their cooler station on the main stage as top teams like Newbee and Team Liquid battled in front of over 5,000 fans at the Arena of Stars.

For Red Bull, branding within e-sports works well as it is said to be a functional drink for e-sports athletes who game for long hours and require extra concentration and energy.

Though Red Bull has not signed any e-sports athletes under their athlete programme just yet, they are still supportive of the local e-sports scene at the grassroots level in cyber cafes where tournaments are held.

To them, this is where the future talents are nurtured. Supporting the local scene be it amateur leagues or big events, helps encourage healthy growth in the ecosystem.


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