SINGAPORE: It would not be just gaming developers and publishers who will benefit when gamescom asia makes its Singapore debut in October 2020, said industry experts. Professional gaming, or e-sports, could also take off, they added.
It will be the first time that a "tier one" gaming trade show is being held in Southeast Asia – joining the likes of Tokyo Game Show and The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
“Just from our experience with gamescom, it can be that incubator… for a league, for a tournament, to be born on a trade fair and then move to its own home with a regular stadium event,” says Ralf Reichert, CEO of e-sports production company ESL.
ESL is headquartered in Cologne, Germany, where gamescom has been held for the past 10 years.
“If you look at these stadium events, these are the most important building blocks of an ecosystem for e-sports,” says Mr Reichert. “We've seen that in Poland, in Germany, in Denmark – wherever we did it, whenever we established such an event, the industry skyrocketed and had a sustainable piece."
Alexander Müller, who is the CEO of German e-sports organisation SK Gaming agrees that the trade fair has helped grow the e-sports industry in his country.
Founded in 1997, SK Gaming’s teams have won more than 60 championships in games such as Counter-Strike, Warcraft III, and League of Legends.
“It brought together the business-to-business network,” says Mr Müller. “You need a place where the grown-ups can talk, a platform to develop something.”
HOPES OF SINGAPORE COMPANIES
And Singapore companies are raring to go. While Southeast Asia makes up just 3.1 per cent of the global gaming market, spending on games has grown 22 per cent year-on-year, according to market reports from Newzoo earlier this year.
Future growth will be driven by the region’s relatively young, mobile-savvy population, and as more people gain access to the Internet.
Singapore events management company Zenway Productions has been organising e-sports and gaming events since 2016. Its portfolio ranges from events held in shopping malls, to Blizzard Entertainment’s Southeast Asia tournaments for Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch.
The company attended gamescom this year for the first time hoping to strike deals on organising more of such events in Southeast Asia.
"What I want to see is more opportunities to collaborate with European gaming businesses,” says Lee Jian Ming, founder and managing director of Zenway. “It could be as simple as (organising) white label events for already established brands.”
“In fact, being here is also part of a learning process for us, what the best practices in event management are and then to bring them back to Singapore,” says Mr Lee. “The next step in mind will be then to expand across the region, to other parts of Southeast Asia, to bring this kind of event concept over."
And down the road: “We’re trying to … potentially have our own intellectual property event”. Mr Lee is referring to an original event conceptualised and organised by Zenway.
BUILDING AN E-SPORTS TOURNAMENT
But organising an e-sports tournament is not just about having an arena, computers, and fast Internet connection. Just like any other sports competition, e-sports is a media product that needs to be broadcast to its fans who cannot be physically present for the tournament. It needs broadcasting capability and commentators.
To that end, local sports media firm Orientivity is looking to develop the technical abilities of its staff by learning from Touch Video Live Broadcast, a Chinese production company that broadcasts the Chinese Super League.
Another crucial ingredient is sponsorship and brands. Newzoo expects e-sports revenues to cross US$1 billion globally for the first time this year, driven largely by advertising, sponsorship, and media broadcasting rights.
THE BUBBLE OF INVESTMENTS
But those who have seen the ups and downs of the industry over the past few decades warn that the euphoria could be short-lived, as companies may not have a good understanding of where the industry stands right now.
“Having unrealistic expectations in terms of the returns of investment that they could get out of it. Gaming and e-sports is a long-term investment. I generally recommend that you are looking at a three to five-year investment before you really, really start to see the returns,” says Elicia Lee, co-founder and managing director of Eliphant, which organises GameStart Asia, Southeast Asia's game convention.
Mr Müller said there were signs that the bubble is bursting.
“We already see North American teams that are investment-based getting out of the market, slowing down, not signing any more players, and you can see the first signs. Not sure when it's going to happen in Europe, but I believe it will be an ongoing process that will be more heavy (significant) in two years, maybe three years.”
MONETISING AMATEUR E-SPORTS
For Singapore company Bountie, an opportunity to weather any uncertainty may lie in turning away from pro-gaming, and tapping into the growing market of amateur players in the region.
Bountie is an online platform for casual gamers to play against each other and get paid when they win. It attracted more than 11,000 users on the platform in just three months - more than half of which are from Indonesia. And it hopes to have a million users globally by the end of the year.
Bountie told CNA that league managers in France and Indonesia have expressed interest in using the platform to organise minor leagues and tournaments.
"We are touching base with different event organisers, and we want to reach out to them and let them know that hey, you can utilise Bountie platform to alleviate a lot of the administrative processes in your hosting and tournament organisation,” said Desmond Tan, Chief Business Development Officer of Bountie.
“We're engaging the Singapore Tourism Board and ESG on how can Bountie come in to assist with gamescom asia next year... any tournaments and competitions held in Singapore, they could utilise Bountie platform to enable their process."
WHO WILL WATCH E-SPORTS?
In the meantime, interest and awareness of e-sports is only set to grow in the region as it makes its debut in the SEA Games this November. Industry players say that as e-sports tournaments become annual events and develop "histories", they will become as relatable as traditional sports.
For instance, this year’s DOTA 2 tournament The International was won by the defending champion, Team OG – the first time in the tournament’s nine-year history that a team with the same line-up was victorious twice, let alone consecutively.
So industry players believe viewers do not necessarily have to be gamers in order to enjoy e-sports.
“Let's stick with Counter-Strike, I honestly believe it's the best sport to watch,” says Mr Reichert. “It has action every 90 seconds, something relevant is happening... The way some of these e-sports are built is much closer to how youth and our brains function these days, how the world works. So I just believe, on a pure entertainment level… a lot of these e-sports are better to watch than any of these sports have ever been.”
He says the data also shows that fans engage with the game immediately after the final of an e-sports tournament.
“People jump into the game and try out what they've just seen, so the contextual usage of what you've seen and just learnt is so direct. Well, it's really hard at 11pm on a Sunday night to find a soccer (football) place that's still open and find 10 other people to try the trick that Ronaldo just did."
FOR THE FANS
While gamescom is targeted at gaming businesses, the trade fair also has strong consumer interest.
More than 370,000 fans visited the event in Cologne when it was open to the public this year.
Fans lined up – sometimes for hours – to try out ten-minute demos of highly-awaited titles, such as the remake of Square Enix’s role-playing game Final Fantasy VII, cult producer Kojima Hideo’s Death Stranding, 2K’s first-person-shooter game Borderlands 3 and a video game version of Marvel’s Avengers.
And there are promises that regional fans can look forward to similar experiences when gamescom asia is launched.
Koelnmesse – Cologne’s trade fair company, which organises gamescom – says it is working to secure some game premieres at Singapore event.
It also said trends such as mobile gaming and cloud gaming will likely feature at the inaugural event, as they are on the rise in Southeast Asia.
But for companies and fans in the region, it feels like the attention is long overdue.
“Six years ago, when we started, Southeast Asia was this tiny little market. It was too small, the spending power was nowhere near anything like Japan, or Korea, or the United States,” says Ms Lee.
“We never got exclusives, we never got special things that the US or bigger markets would get. I’m hoping that will change. I’m hoping gamescom asia will usher that change.”