What does Singtel’s commitment mean for esports in Southeast Asia?

Singtel Group’s announcement last week represented an acknowledgement of esports from one of the largest ISPs in the region. They committed to working with their partners in Australia, India and Southeast Asia to grow the esports ecosystem.

This was at the culmination of their PVP Esports Championship tournament which saw Team Secret taking home $80,000 (£61,000) in Singapore. However, what does this actually mean for the future of Southeast Asian esports and the surrounding regions?

While details are sparse, at a Q&A session Singtel detailed some of their overarching goals and aims with this project. When asked about whether or not the company would continue with the PVP Esports Championship and develop it into a circuit, or act as more of a sponsor and facilitator of tournaments, Benjamin Pommeraud, Senior Advisor to Singtel Group said: “We are engaged in creating events locally and regionally. To your question, we are going to continue PVP in the future. On top of that, nothing says that we cannot also bring content produced by other people if it’s relevant to gamers. We’re going to explore any other ways to add value to gamers in our community.”

It’s important to note that the region has a distinct lack of large-scale tournaments for most esports titles, with a handful of regional tournaments taking place in Indonesia and Malaysia for mobile games such as Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends. There have been tournaments like IEM Genting that brought international DOTA teams into the region, allowing fans and aspiring players a chance to meet top talent. There is also WESG, which pits National teams against each other and involves many countries within Southeast Asia, but its local events don’t have any offline component and receive no publicity. It’s clear that there is a latent interest for esports. Both Gamestart Asia and PVP Esports Championship were packed with fans, but currently no tournaments exist to capitalise on the interest.

So how does Singtel fit into the bigger picture? Soon Sze Meng, VP of Business for Singtel International said: “There are 4 Cs we can remember. The first is content, the content we produce at a regional level. The second is community, building it across multiple countries. The third is connectivity, to see who is the most well placed beside our group, in mobile and the home to make sure gamers have the best experience. And last but not least is commerce, in many of these countries [our customers], have no credit card or bank account and they are able to use their prepaid deposit, their wallets, to be able to buy games and in-game microtransactions.”

From his statement, we can begin to piece together Singtel’s goal with this venture into esports. Being one of the largest ISP providers and having a wide network of regional partners, they can easily leverage their reach with their customer base. In particular, the prepaid cards can be converted into credit to spend inside any mobile game instantly. This ease of access is a huge boon for Singtel and game developers and it’s in their best interest to ensure that games such as Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends continue to see success as they regularly pump out content. However, they understand the ecosystem well, and simply pushing for more in-game purchases won’t be sustainable over the long term.

Founder of GameStart Asia and Managing Director of Eliphant, Elicia Lee, said: “I think it’s good that big players like Singtel are taking notice of esports, but that said, the challenge is when you have a company that doesn’t know gaming and comes in wanting to do something big. The fear is that they throw a bunch of money into something that doesn’t sustain and then leave. It’s bad for us and the industry. However, I think they are being quite brave. The three-year commitment is a good thing and with the right people in place, they’ll be able to achieve a lot more than someone like me.”

Indeed, there have been many companies that see the allure of esports that attempt to jump in with the expectation of a quick turnover with no intention of longevity. As a result, it creates a vacuum after they leave and esports takes a step back with the loss of funding. At the very least, Singtel does not seem to be a company with those aspirations. Their tournament last month featured more than just Arena of Valor and as long as they incorporate a diverse range of games, the communities will benefit from their involvement.

(Photo: RENDY ARYANTO/VVS.sg)

But what about other companies? ISPs that have been in the game for a while? MyRepublic is one such example; a start-up that began six years ago, they had targeted the gaming market from the start. Sponsoring GameStart Asia for three years, they’ve slowly stepped into the esports arena, with aspirations for an amateur league later in the year. Fabian Lau, Regional PR Manager at MyRepublic said: “We knew we weren’t going to be the Samsung or SKT for League of Legends teams. So what could we do as a brand? We see ourselves as a grassroots community. We don’t have the money to throw at a big event, instead, we look at ourselves as part of the community and try to grow the community. It’s far more efficient to talk and listen to people here and get feedback.”

Having a strong amateur and grassroots community is fundamental in building a long-lasting esports community. With so few tournaments available, it can be difficult to sustain multiple esports titles, especially with so many being popular on the global stage. While DOTA 2 may be hugely popular in SEA, with roots to the old Warcraft III mod harkening back to the days where PC Cafes were a dime a dozen, games like League of Legends or Rainbow Six Siege may suffer. Fighting games are an ecosystem of their own, with many titles seeing a resurgence in popularity. Ho Kun Xian, arguably the most famous player to hail from Singapore, has himself diversified into Shadowverse while simultaneously competing in Street Fighter V. While games like Hearthstone and DOTA 2 were present in Singtel’s tournament, what if fighting games never made an appearance?

Xian said: “I’m not so worried, because I’ve played fighting games at the lowest. So it’ll never go lower than when I actually started playing. Back then, when I played tournaments abroad, the prize money was actually less than my air ticket and hotel, so I don’t think it’ll ever get worse than that.”

There are many hurdles before Southeast Asia can be a major player in the esports scene. Even a big player such as Singtel, with their best intentions, won’t be able to find a solution overnight. Culturally, linguistically and logistically, there is a multitude of problems that could prevent the esports scene from ever blossoming into a vibrant community. However, it is clear that the players and fans are ready, and with the support of the telco giant, we should see great strides in the industry moving forward.

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