Esports is taking over the world and is increasingly becoming the most popular form of gaming in Southeast Asia. One key event that could further cement esports’ popularity in the region is the upcoming 30th SEA Games to be held in the Philippines later this year. This is the first time that esports will be included in the regional competition. A total of 6 gold medal titles are up for grabs in the professional gaming category.

While there remain sceptics among the public, especially in Singapore, players and enthusiasts are expecting the upcoming professional competition to further swing the region’s opinion on esports.

Rise of Esports

A pivotal turn for esports’ popularity in the Philippines was when TNC Gaming won at the International Dota 2 Championships and bagged P18 million (RM 1.4m). After that, major telecommunications companies such as Globe, PLDT, and Smart started sponsoring events in the country.

The rise of esports in the Philippines has also inspired diversity. Today, CNN cites that there are roughly 30 million online gamers in the Philippines with almost half of them women. In addition, telecom giant Globe recently formed an all-female team to compete in the SEA Games called Haliya. The SEA Games will not only elevate the sport but also show how it creates inclusive gaming communities.

Mobile is king

The most defining aspect that catalysed the popularity of esports is mobile gaming. Venture Beat highlights that 51% of gaming revenue came from mobile gaming titles. While China remains the biggest spender and has the largest share of gamers in Asia, the southeast region is pulling close.

In fact, two out of five gold medal events in the upcoming SEA Games are for mobile devices—Mobile Legends Bang Bang and Arena of Valor. Both titles are multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games designed to be played by teams.

In Malaysia, mobile gaming is far cheaper and more accessible. Big titles like Honor of Kings, Mobile Legends, PUBG: Mobile dominate the market. The higher costs of PCs and consoles in Malaysia also contribute to the popularity of mobile games. The exciting events generated around the game titles also account for their widespread popularity. Throughout the region, telecom companies continue to invest in esports. The inclusion of esports into the SEA Games will boost the industry, as more sponsors will see it as a legitimate sport.

Shifting regulatory environment

Esports is also opening up the online gaming industries of many countries in Southeast Asia. Newzoo put Thailand as the 19th largest gaming market in over 100 countries. Esports is a fast-growing business in the country reaching a valuation of 22 billion baht (RM3.1 bn) last year. The country has over 27.5 million gamers.

The elevation of esports in Thailand reflects how the country is growing its online gaming industry across all genres. Even though the country is known for its strict gambling laws, Expatbets in their list of card games in Thailand detail how online poker has become very popular. This has led to an increase in Thai citizens taking part in international tournaments. A result of this is the expansion of the country’s online gaming industry, which has helped Thailand become one of the regions’ top gaming destinations. This dedication to online gaming is why Thailand is excelling in esports. Their participation in the SEA Games will only elevate the sport even more in the country.

The upcoming esports events in the SEA Games in the Philippines will become ground zero in harmonising the region’s attitude and policies towards the sport. The clamour and hype it is generating alone are enough to predict that it won’t be the last time we see esports in an international multi-sport event.

As gamers continue to grow in number, this demand will lead to continuous growth in the esports category. Esports will also be a competitive sport in the upcoming Asian Games in 2022 and in the Paralympics in 2024. Soon it may even be elevated to the Olympics.


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