The emergence of eSports in Southeast Asia: How ESL plans to grow the regional market

By Kin Boon on Jan 12, 2017

Image credit: Paulius Staniunas | Red Bull
Image credit: Paulius Staniunas | Red Bull
Just over a decade ago, the concept of eSports is relatively foreign and largely unheard of, at least for those who doesn’t play games. It was a niche concept, even for gamers as some of the biggest tournaments hosted back then were in the form of the World Cyber Games (WCG), the Intel Extreme Masters, and Major League Gaming, where only the most hard core of fans would catch televised matches featuring their favorite titles.

Fast forward to 2017, the growth of eSports has reached an unprecedented level of success, creating a worldwide phenomenon as fans rally behind some of the household names associated with the genre. The sudden boom of popularity can be attributed to the emergence of online streaming services such as Twitch, which routinely streams popular eSports competition, namely ESL One and The International. This generated a steady following of viewers and it grew larger in each subsequent tournaments, even attracting those who don’t necessarily play the games.

Europe and America were among the first regions to achieve such a high level of exposure and success with eSports, and it eventually branched out to the rest of the world. We have a constant following in Southeast Asia, but it’s only until recently that the premier competitions made their debut in the region, namely ESL One Manila 2016 and ESL One Genting 2017. It signified the approval and acknowledgment from major organisers of SEA’s potential in having a large and sustainable market in the eSports scene.

ESL is one of them and being a pioneer in organising yearly premier level competitions, we got to talk with Ulrich Schulze, Vice President of Pro Gaming to know more about ESL’s plans in growing the regional eSports market in Southeast Asia, the challenges that they faced, and whether ESL One will be an annual event in Malaysia. 

Gamehubs: What does ESL think about the growth of eSports in Southeast Asia?

 Ulrich: We’ve seen a lot of potential in recent years and it’s obvious that you have a big community here, with fans who are passionate about Dota 2. We had ESL One Manila last year and we wanted to do one in Malaysia as well, but it couldn’t work out. Everything fell into place this year and Genting was a good partner for us, providing top-notch facilities for the fans and also the players. We get to gauge the interest from the community, which is positive as the tickets were almost sold out and we are happy with it. I think we’ll see this type of events again in the future.

Image credit: Red Bull
Image credit: Red Bull

Gamehubs: ESL started with ESL One Manila, before moving on to ESL One Genting. Are there any plans to expand to other cities in Southeast Asia?

Ulrich: All of the markets in Southeast Asia are interesting for us, such as Thailand and Indonesia. I don’t think they have done any huge competitions yet, maybe something smaller. Overall, we’ll see more events in the Philippines and Malaysia, but they won’t necessarily be in the same scale as ESL One. For example, we had qualifiers for our previous tournaments in Cologne and Malaysia so we’ll have more of these in the future. We are also keeping an eye out for the other markets, namely Thailand and Indonesia.

Gamehubs: Are there any challenges faced by ESL to make the breakthrough in Southeast Asia?

Ulrich: It’s definitely a bit more challenging for us here compared to Europe, since we haven’t done a lot of events in Southeast Asia. But overall, the infrastructure is fairly similar, as there isn’t a big gap between what’s available in Europe and what’s available here, such as TV production and facilities. Of course, there are always a few issues that popped out whenever we are doing our first event in a new region, but overall, there isn’t any special challenge since we’ve done this for a few years.

Image credit: Red Bull
Image credit: Red Bull

Gamehubs: Will ESL One Genting be a yearly event?

Ulrich: We are definitely hoping to make this a yearly event. Of course, it doesn’t always work out like we want to, so maybe we can do it once every two years. For the moment, we’ll assess the situation since the first edition has just finished, but early observations have been positive so I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t happen again next year.  

Gamehubs: ESL has organised Dota 2, CS: GO, and Battlefield tournaments. Are there any plans to include other games, such as Overwatch?

Ulrich: We are looking at all the new titles, especially those that garnered strong interest from the community, such as Overwatch. We also have plans for Rainbow 6, but in general, we target games that are potentially interesting to be made into an event. They won’t necessarily be a huge scale competition like ESL One, but more to a small event within the main tournament, like how we featured Street Fighter in ESL One New York for CS:GO. In essence, we’ll try to include some new games into the existing events and if the situation permits, we’ll make them bigger in the future.

Image credit: Red Bull
Image credit: Red Bull

Gamehubs: Are there any upcoming projects that ESL is planning to do in the SEA region?

Ulrich: There is nothing concrete at the moment, besides the fact that we had ESL One Manila and ESL One Genting has just concluded. We are definitely looking to expand the aforementioned events and keep them happening again. Besides that, we are considering the possibility of organising smaller events in Malaysia, such as qualifiers and medium sized events. This coincides with the way how ESL handles eSports events, by doing things organically instead of organising huge scale tournaments for all of the games. These smaller scale competitions might even evolve to something bigger in the future, considering the way how eSports is growing in the region and it doesn’t look like the industry will diminish anytime soon in Southeast Asia. 

Kin Boon
About the Author
Just your 'average' media newbie. Have interest in gaming (duh), superhero series, and I enjoy getting engage in conversations about footy. With that said, slight biasedness might be present if we are talking about Chelsea FC. Hope to see the world with my own pair of eyes in the future instead of viewing it through Instagram or Snapchat filters.
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