COVID-19 lifts Southeast Asia’s eSports and gaming industry


THE COVID-19 pandemic has lifted eSports and gaming industry particularly in Southeast Asia on the back of rising income per capita and increase in smartphone penetration.

One Esports chief executive officer Carlos Alimurung (picture) said global growth is around eight per cent per year while the eSports audience in Southeast Asia is growing 26 per cent a year.

“This region, for a lot of different reasons, (including) rising income per capita and increase in smartphone penetration, is just right for eSports penetration,” he said, adding that the figures were assimilated before COVID-19, but have now grown exponentially by attracting new people to the online space or bringing in the gamers that left before.

“I am continuing to be bullish around our (online) space, because this effectively just added a few more million people into our market which we didn’t have before COVID-19,” he said.

Alimurung said in times of pandemic, we need to be involved in a realm that is resilient to COVID-19, which eSports is because it can still carry out online streaming.

He said many of its live events have been transitioned into streaming events and that is an advantage that eSports has, because the gaming community and its ecosystem were born online and virtually.

“For us to go for in-person events to streaming events, it is very easy for us relative to traditional stick-and-ball sports, but the transition is a little bit harder,” said Alimurung.

He said the live experience part of its business has been transitioned into streaming events, with the viewership, engagement and readership skyrocketing particularly in the last two months, noting that last month the organisation saw over seven million page views.

Evos Esports marketing & public relations regional head, Allan Phang, said the eSports target audience comprises hard-to-reach audience demographics as they don’t watch television anymore, don’t read newspapers and utilise pop-up ad-blockers.

“The eSports and gaming (demographics) are a very sticky crowd, with an average age of between 18 to 35 years and having spending power, consisting of millennials and Gen Z,” said Phang.

He said its viewership has gone up 50 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, from about 350 million views per month on normal occasions to over 500 million views per month now across its social platforms.

Phang believes everyone has to be open to pivot, adding that the organisation has also had to pivot. Previously it did a lot of content which was out of home, but in view of the pandemic everyone has to stay at home, and the company has to pivot by creating content from home.

On how the pandemic has changed the operations of Evos, Phang said the players are staying in the gaming house and still train together, as long as the internet, the number one priority, is working.

“For our operational staff like in Malaysia we’re all working from home, but right now the movement control order has been lifted, so we actually go to the office and observe the standard operating procedures,” he said.

Yoodo head Chow Tuck Mun said: “We’re pretty digital, we are able to do customers’ journeys online, you don’t need to go to a physical store and from that perspective, it has gone well.

“If the customer now is basically at home, or spending more time, when we start to open up (the economy) they’ll be going to work, they’re basically at home and online, they want some content, and gaming and eSports, especially for this younger generation, is something that they want to look at,” Chow said.

“This situation has impacted a few other things on our side and we are also dealing with active sports, which are stopped for now – entertainment and music – we are using entertainment and lifestyle segments.

“On that part we actually have something like a stay-at-home party where we livestream events which could be gaming, eSports music. We even have shared cooking and some fitness programmes,” he said, adding that Yoodo has been pretty busy in providing productivity and content to its customers.

“The only difference now is that we’re missing the on-ground, offline engagement which is always important but the online engagement now, it’s really fantastic, the opportunity is there, it’s just a matter of how to figure out how to engage with customers online,” he added.

“The viewership does help in terms of (brand) activation because you get to know the brand better and customers would explore more of the brand and hopefully you convert to the brand.

“Moving online is just about us adapting, I think most of us have to adapt (considering the COVID-19 situation),” he said.

He said over the last few months there have been so many more tournaments popping up, as these are more grassroots accumulated tournaments, one of which Yoodo started, adding that Yoodo is usually involved at the national level in Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Mobile Legends and others.

“In the last few months there have been so many tournaments, even the casters and the streamers themselves are starting their own little tournaments,” he said.

“We know there are people consuming, there are people providing, to me it’s definitely growing in terms of online tournaments and opportunities,” said Chow, who also urged collaboration among the stakeholders to grow the industry.

“You can’t just have one or two brands pushing the eSports scene, you need to collaborate with the brands, the industry, the government, the regulators, the players themselves, and even the whole ecosystem, which consists of streamers, casters and tournament organisers.

“When everyone starts to work together, then it would help grow the industry,” he said.

Alimurung is the man behind ONE Esports, the eSports arm of ONE Championship, Asia’s largest global sports media property.

He joined ONE Esports as the former chief business officer of Battlefy, the world’s largest open eSports competition platform.

Meanwhile, Phang is the regional head of marketing and public relations for EVOS Esports.

Before joining EVOS Esports, he was the head of eSports at AirAsia and helmed multiple roles and eSports projects.

He has been invited as a keynote speaker at TEDx Talks and international conferences in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

EVOS is the leading eSports organisation that connects eSports players, influencers and fans regionally.

EVOS Esports raised a total of US$4.4 million in Series A investment back in 2019, and manages 12 eSports teams and 300 gaming talents across Southeast Asia.

Chow, the head of Yoodo, spends his time building the brand for the modern customer. He opines that a young brand should engage the customer in their preferred lifestyle segments like gaming, entertainment and sports.

The three panellists appeared in Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation’s (MDEC) first #esportswebinar segments on Day One at #LEVELUPPLAYONE!