Last September, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) made the bold and frankly downright absurd move of blocking the entire Steam Store, in an effort to ensure the removal of a certain fighting game called Fight of Gods. It was a wonderful example of jumping the gun, and gave gamers something to simultaneously laugh and curse at. In hindsight however, it did sort of contribute to the ensured quality of our eSports scene - we can now rest assured that only quality fighting games like Tekken 7 will be featured at gaming events.
But jokes aside, what has the Malaysian government actually done to improve our eSports industry?
Malaysia’s Largest Tournament
In 2015, Suara Anak Muda 1Malaysia and Tune Advertising teamed up to give us the first Malaysian Cyber Games. Among those who supported the event were Kementerian Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia (KKMM), Kementerian Belia & Sukan (KBS), MDEC and MCMC, and Prime Minister Najib himself showed up.
Billed as “Malaysia’s largest tournament”, it was held at Stadium Negara in December and featured games like Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, FIFA 16 and Street Fighter IV. The previous month, The Star published an article called “Enter the Arena” which noted that local tournaments tended to be “small affairs with prize money below RM10,000”; the lowest grand prize in the Malaysia Cyber Games 2015 numbered RM20,000, while Dota 2’s had an extra zero in its sum. The total prize pool on the other hand numbered RM300,000. Now, that amount may pale in comparison to the $100,000 offered by Fallout Gaming’s Major All-Stars 2015, but at least the winners actually got their due.
The event also saw the formation of our own Dota 2 representative team, Taring. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite turn out to be the eSports team version of Lee Chong Wei or Pandelela Rinong. Despite some changes that saw Orange eSports becoming involved and the team renamed Orange Taring, they still ended up disbanding.
That wasn’t the only case of something with promise failing to live up to it. eSports Malaysia or ESM, was established earlier the same year to serve as a “governing body for electronic sports in Malaysia” registered under the Malaysia Sports Commissioner. As mentioned near the end of this article, rumours from local eSports players suggest that the organization isn’t really dedicated to their work, despite their self-professed enthusiasm and love for eSports.
An article by Malaysiakini on local eSports and political involvement shed some more light on their failings, which happen to include the previously-mentioned Major All-Stars as well as the Asean Games of Esports (AGES) 2016, both of which faced issues regarding prize payment (and much more in the case of the former). ESM wasn’t involved in the organizing of the latter event, but as a “governing body” for the industry it was their duty to do something. As local caster Muhammard Farouq - or “Flava” - told Malaysiankini: “It's not ESM's fault for the undistributed money, but it's ESM fault for not taking action against AGES. ESM did not do its job as the 'regulator' of Malaysian e-sports.”
Our eSports Academia
Nevertheless, ESM did do some good by teaming up with Asia Pacific University (APU) - which Wan Hazmer of FFXV fame is an alumni of - to bring us our first eSports Academy, with recognition from the Ministry of Higher Education. Called APU eSports Academy, its courses began last April with classes taking place during weekends - an unusual instance of the prospect of weekend classes seeming exciting. Instead of lecturers, students get to be taught by coaches with eSports backgrounds.
Reading about the relevant courses offered on APU’s website is fascinating and surreal. One of them is called Skills Certificate in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, with its next intake beginning on January 6th. The page informs readers that to qualify for Level 1/Beginner classes, one has to - among other things - hold the rank of Distinguished Master Guardian or below in the game. Things like training of game reflexes and improvement of play styles are listed among the course’s learning objectives, but there’s also development of leadership and critical thinking, as well as an understanding of team dynamics and sportsmanship. It matches the Academy’s general goal of building character in students in addition to promoting healthy competitive gaming.
Adding weight to that is the lack of courses for fighting games like Tekken and Street Fighter, where matches are fought between individuals rather than teams. Instead, the other games one can train for are team-based titles like Dota 2, FIFA and League of Legends.
Interestingly, the Academy also mentions that they seek to nurture not just gamers, but shoutcasters and team managers. There doesn’t seem to be any specific courses for those seeking to be involved in the eSports industry via the latter two roles, but the learning objectives and requirements for the Skills Certificate courses suggest that the necessary skills will be attained through them.
The Malaysia Cyber Games’ debut was followed by a two-year absence. Now, it’s making a return at Putra World Trade Centre from January 13 to 14 with MCMC listed as the main sponsor. Malaysia Cyber Games 2018’s total prize pool is still RM300,000, but will feature more games than before with games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 joined by the likes of Mobile Legends, Tekken 7, Injustice 2 and Formula 1 2017.
An interesting addition to the event is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, last year’s hit Battle Royale game. For one thing, it’s a shooter that isn’t Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and plays very differently to it. Secondly, PUBG is still in its infancy when it comes to eSports, with creator Brendan Greene telling PCGamesN that “we are nowhere near esports ready yet.” Media outlets like Kotaku and PC Gamer have also pointed out there are still some things to be sorted out before the game can become truly fit for it.
And yet, that’s part of why its inclusion in MCG 2018 is interesting. Imagine if MCG 2018’s PUBG tournament turned out to be the most successful one yet, in terms of its watchability as an eSport. It’s a big “what if”, but if it does happen it could potentially result in a local event serving as an example to future PUBG tournaments. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still good to see something new and different to the eSports scene being embraced.
While one might wonder what caused its two-year-break, MCG’s return looks to be a promising one with a nice line-up of games that combines classic choices with a fresh selection. ESM’s performance as eSports regulator, on the other hand, doesn’t sound so promising and definitely needs improvement. Nevertheless, their cooperation with APU in establishing APU eSports Academy is a noteworthy act - major local tournaments are one thing, but training homegrown teams is also important. Time will tell how far the government’s contribution will take our eSports industry in the end.