By Asina Pornwasin
The Nation WEEKEND
The growth in popularity of eSports is seeing games players turn professional and earn incomes as respected and disciplined athletes, as well as driving a new business sector into rapid growth.
Thailand has around 18.3 million gamers, putting it at number 20 in the world, according the 2017 Global eSports Market Report, conducted by Newzoo. The global eSports industry is worth about US$905.6 million (Bt29.6 billion), and has the astounding growth rate of around 38 per cent yearly.
Newzoo also forecasts the 2020 global eSports market value will reach $1.48 billion, up from $696 million in 2017. Meanwhile, global eSports viewers are expected to growth by around 50 per cent in 2020, increasing from 385 million viewers – 191 million of them fan-club viewers and the remaining 194 million general viewers. In parallel with the global market growth, Thailand’s eSports gaming market was estimated at Bt9.7 billion in 2017.
According to one survey, Southeast Asia’s gaming market is growing fastest with the highest rate. The region is also the world’s fastest growing region for eSport audiences, with numbers expected to increase to about 290 million by 2021 from 167 million in 2017.
In Southeast Asia, the eSports audience is expected to more than double from 20 million in 2017 to over 40 million by 2019. As audiences grow, e-Sports are pushing into the sporting mainstream.
The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) said Thailand’s game software industry is worth over Bt10 billion, with 12 per cent growth per year.
Allen Hsu, country head for strategic partnerships, Garena, said that eSport in Thailand is experiencing continuous growth since every stakeholder, especially the government and the education sectors, have devoted effort and support to drive the sector.
Public interest has widened, driving the popularity of eSports. Many universities have signed memoranda of understanding (MoU) with Garena to launch and to improve eSports related curriculum, including Bangkok University, Sripatum University, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce and Dhurakij Pundit University.
Other businesses have shown an interest in supporting eSports through sponsorships, hosting eSports events and tournaments, and supporting eSports athletes. For example, Buriram United announced its own eSports team. Other examples include the Workpoint TV channel’s eSports programme called “King of Gamer”.
Said Hsu: “Truemove H and Oppo also joined our RoV Pro League season two. It is clearly the scenario that eSports keeps growing and expanding to other businesses beyond the gaming industry.”
Around 380 million people around the world now watch eSports competition. Thailand is new to the game compared to China and South Korea, which are the number one and number four largest eSports markets globally.
The new eSports market is the result of games and sports being tied together by technology, said Hus. “Businesses are eyeing it, seeking to utilise the growth of eSports to enhance, and expand and otherwise benefit from eSports.”
To drive eSport’s growth requires competitions, eSport athletes and eSport content.
Nitipat Praweenwongwuthi, marketing director of Acer Computer, said that his company played a role for the past two years as a leading hardware vendor dedicated to promoting and supporting e-Sport in Thailand. The company helped establish the Thailand E-Sports Federation, as well as establishing a regional and national tournament called Predator League.
Initial, Acer emphasised educating people, helping them understand what eSports is about and the differences between professional eSports athletes and game addicts. In the future, the company plans to support a country-level eSports league, said Nitipat.
The last two years have seen eSport become widely accepted and continuously expanding from a niche group to a large viewership who watch tourneys via online platforms, including YouTube and Twitter, said Nitipat. There are so many often eSports events every week in Bangkok and throughout the country.
Rapidly growing in the country now, eSports has recently experienced the debut of many eSport teams, along with many sponsors. Players can now make a career of their gaming skill. As well, in the past two years, many eSport clubs have started up, and eSport study programmes have been launched at universities.
There are factors driving the growth of eSports. First, the omnipresence of high-performance home computers and games directly led to its emergence and growth. Therefore, eSports have created economies of scale for high performance computers.
In the meantime, Advanced Info Services (AIS) has joined with Singtel Group and other regional partners to launch an e-Sports tournament, the PVP E-Sports Championship, with the aim to encourage the development of a region-wide ecosystem for eSports.
Under the PVP E-Sports Championship, teams will compete at local qualifiers in each country. The winning teams from each country will move on to battle professional teams from North America, Europe and China at the regional tournament in Singapore in October.
The eSports industry in Thailand has also seen dramatic growth, agrees Pratthana Leelapanang AIS’s chief consumer business officer. Thailand’s eSports community comprises more than 30 million amateur and professional gamers, as well as tournament viewers.
Pratthana said that around Bt20 billion has been spent on the games industry in Thailand, with PC and mobile platforms each contributing about half of this.
With the aim to be Thailand’s first full eSports battlefield, and to transform game addicts into eSports national athletes, Infofed has invested Bt50 million to develop the Thailand E-Sports Arena.
Jirayod Theppipit, CEO and founder of Infofed, said that the main objective of Thailand E-Sports Arena is to jointly develop the capability of eSports athletes and the eSport business in Thailand to compete at the global level.
Another goal is to change the mindset of Thai society towards eSports from viewing it as an addition to seeing a national opportunity. The Arena will serve as a knowledge centre and link up with local and international institutes for support and exchanging information.
“We want to improve the quality of young people with the idea of changing ‘game addictions’ into ‘national opportunity’,” said Jirayod.
Thailand E-Sports Arena is located on the 5th floor at The Street Ratchada. It covers 1,000 square metres, has plans to expand to 5,000 square metres in future. “The arena can deliver 24-hour space for leagues and tournaments, both mobile and PC competitions, as well as eSports events,” said Jirayod.
Thailand E-Sports Arena has an eSports tournament programme for pro players, semi-pro players and amateur players. In addition, the arena also provides live streaming, the eSports Academy and eSport events, he added.
The company is not only setting up the most modern eSports arena in Thailand, he said, but also aims to be a centre for athlete development and to promote the eSports industry in Thailand at an international level.
Their target group is young people aged between 15 and 30. Many brand products have expressed sponsorship interest, particularly in the IT sector, Internet providers, beverages and even automobile makers.
By the second half of this year, the arena is expected to generate revenue of Bt15 million, with 50 per cent coming from rental fees and the remainder contributed by sponsors to support tournaments or leagues.
Thailand E-Sports Arena has also entered into partnerships with public and private business sectors to create an eSports Academy, an institute that will develop the knowledge and technique of players. The entire business, from emerging enthusiasts to related new businesses, is experiencing growth at 30-40 per cent annually.
Recently, Ascension Gaming team, a group of Thai eSports athletes, won the Globe Conquerors Manila 2018 tournament in the Philippines and earned the spot representing Thailand to compete in the World Championship 2018 in South Korea later this year.
Nuttapong Menkasikan, 20, a member of Ascension Gaming team, is a professional eSports athlete and started playing eSports since 2013.
He plays League of Legends. He normally practices his eSports skill for eight to 12 hours daily.
He emphasises that being an eSports athlete is different from being a gamer, because of the seriousness of daily practice. It is not about sitting down and playing a computer game, which aims to achieve improvement level by level. Playing eSports takes a lot of time for each game, around 40 to 60
minutes, it requires concentration and practice.
“The important difference is that eSports athletes need to practice playing the eSports game, but also need to do well at other daily activities,” said Nuttapong. “We must manage our time, we do not only play games and do nothing.”
Preecha Pornpetpaiboon, 19, known within the eSports community as Leo (Romeo), is a member of Buriram Arctic Wolf team, playing in the “offlane” position. He started his eSports athletic career last year with Dota 2 Season 1. He says he really loves playing Dota 2.
Preecha decided to concentrate on eSports, making it his career and so changed his approach from his past game playing to now dedicating 10 hours a day to practice. Already he is earning Bt50,000 to Bt70,000 monthly.
“I have discipline in my eSports practice, studying, and doing the other things in daily life such as exercise – and not just playing a game,” said Preecha.
Witsarut Jaroensatthayatham, known as Jay (jAyGODz), playing in ADLane position, said that his eSports athletics started a year ago with ROV game. He was a gamer since he childhood and dreamed of becoming a professional eSports athlete.
And now he is that professional eSports athlete, earning an income of Bt40,000 to Bt60,000 per month.
“Playing an eSports game is much the same as playing a normal game,” he begins. “But the difference is that playing eSports requires discipline and setting a goal for playing each game.
Hsu insisted that being an eSports athlete and a recreational gamer is totally different. Anyone who plays a game can be called a gamer, he said: They do not have a goal in playing the game, and are just having fun and enjoying themselves. But eSports athletes have a solid goal – to play to win the competition – and so need to do practice hard as a team. “
In turn, professional eSports athletes can earn an income, including a salary from the club, sponsorship awards and competition rewards.
Meanwhile, Jirayod said that young people, who are often considered game addicts by society, could be trained to the calibre of eSports athletes and take part in professional leagues and tournaments as do football players and professional golfers.
Santi Lothong, president of Thai e-Sports Association (TESA), said that the eSports athlete is totally different from game addicts. As it is a real sport and not just game playing, it requires not only the discipline of practice, but also sport science and sport strategy.
In Thailand, there are fewer than 100 eSport clubs, averaging 10 athletes each, and so around 1,000 athletes spread across the eSports clubs.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has adopted a policy to include eSports in the national sports development plan.