In anticipation of ESI Digital Summer (#ESIDIGITAL), presented by Kinguin LOUNGE, we’ve taken the time to speak with a number of our esteemed panelists and partners involved in the biggest online B2B esports conference of 2020, to share their perspectives of the unique regional esports scenes represented during the event.
ESI Digital Summer is the second digital conference in line this year for Esports Insider, and we invite stakeholders from in and around the industry globally to join us over August 17th-21st for five consecutive days of content, including 35+ live hours wherein each day will focus on a different and important regional market for the esports industry.
To make reading up on the global perspectives from industry veterans and developing brands easy – we’ve broken up the conversations into regional entries, following the itinerary of ESI Digital Summer.
Each entry also features a shortlist of opportunities and challenges – gleaned from our conversations – and employment data powered by Hitmarker. These are not meant to be exhaustive, rather to provide context for each region from the perspectives of some of the industry’s finest.
Regional Esports Market Report – Asia-Pacific
- Proximity to other emerging mobile markets
- Huge potential cross-region audiences
- Social media activations galore
- Fragmented landscape, with various languages and cultural differences
- Navigating nuanced and foreign social media platforms
- Lack of experienced, highly skilled workers within local esports industry
Employment Data – Powered by Hitmarker
- 7.24 percent of total global market share of newly-posted jobs in July
Esports Insider held conversations with Akshat Rathee, Co-Founder and Managing Director at NODWIN Gaming operating just southwest of New Delhi in Gurgaon, India and Bo Shen, VP of International Development and Innovation at Royal Never Give Up (RNG) Esports from Shanghai, China – both speaking during ESI Digital Summer next week and representing very different corners and markets of the monstrous Asia-Pacific esports region.
Started in 2015, NODWIN Gaming focuses on gaming and esports entertainment in developing markets by creating linear television programming formats, white-label content creation, and as a media company licensing IPs, among other endeavours.
Royal Never Give Up (RNG) began as Star Horn Royal Club in May of 2012, rebranding to RNG in 2015. They are one of today’s most influential esports organisations in the industry. The organisation manages a total of 10 teams in different esports and leagues including team RNG in the League of Legends Pro League (LPL), team Royal in Dota 2, and the Chengdu Hunters Overwatch League team. The RNG Stadium, previously in Beijing, will reopen in Shanghai this fall.
Two very different organisations representing completely different aspects of the industry: Rathee’s wheelhouse is in media rights, where Shen’s expertise focuses on esports organisational business. Our conversations with the two will hopefully be helpful to inform those who have interest in the region but are not sure where to begin to try to understand some of the nuances of these large and diverse foreign markets.
China and South Korea have served as an example for many outside of the region on possibilities of a local and international competitive esports scenes. Japan has slowly begun to enter the arena, as noted by Michael Sheetal, Founder and CEO of PlayBrain Inc, during May’s ESI Digital Summit.
Southeast Asia and India’s competitive gaming scenes, in particular, have exploded via mobile gaming. It’s safe to say that regardless of the region, some purists look down their nose at mobile esports, but in these regions, mobile esports have more than a leg to stand on. They reign supreme over their PC and console counterparts, whereas China and South Korea embrace all aspects of esports thanks to their established PC bang and internet café cultures.
Rathee prefers to think of the area that NODWIN Gaming operates within as “Emerging Market Mobile Esports Economies,” rather than within a specific geographic region. While they are an Indian company, if tomorrow’s newest emerging market is Venezuela, South Africa, or Nigeria: “NODWIN will go where esports will be predicated on mobile networks,” Rathee explained.
Mobile gaming is big in countries where these devices are the first owned gaming system for most players, like consoles have been for the past 40 years in other markets. Rathee said that in these markets, spending a lot of money on hardware dedicated gaming isn’t perceived as kosher within the culture – especially when a gamer can purchase a mobile device to play titles popular in the region for a similar price point.
Shen shared that the sheer size of RNG comes with a hefty price tag: after paying for their myriad social media, international, and production arms of the organisation, on top of the company’s own stadium – it still manages to be one of the only profitable esports organisations. Shen explained it is because RNG enjoys some of the largest sponsorship deals in the whole of China, including Mercedes-Benz, HUYA, CITIC Bank, and Logitech.
While many esports organisations have a content or media division, NODWIN Gaming is fully committed to a media and content business model – it views itself as the end-all of non-live content in gaming for their markets. It partnered with MTV India last year to produce various series broadcasted on mainstream television. The company views itself as agnostic, thus not tying itself to a specific title or publisher, allowing it to create a plethora of gaming and esports content.
NODWIN Gaming also manages some of the most popular Indian gaming YouTubers and has recently expanded into the Middle East, opening offices in Dubai and Saudi Arabia respectively, we’ll cover details of those markets in the Middle East segment of the series.
Proximity to other emerging mobile markets
Rathee believes that his regional market advantage – while he generally views NODWIN Gaming as regionally agnostic – is its proximity to other emerging mobile esports markets and understanding of the mobile gaming and esports scenes. When asked which market he would love to move to next, Rathee replied: “I am where I want to be.”
Rathee looks at new communities as new potential markets rather than new regions and thus forming new relationships with publishers, such as a recent one with Activision Blizzard, it hopes that being able to expand its IP portfolio where it operates, it can service more corners of the gaming and esports population.
Huge potential cross-region audiences
While it is difficult for many esports clubs to gain international fans and sponsors, due to cultural differences and language barriers, both Shen and Ashkat believe that the Asia-Pacific region has great strength in its very large and active gaming and esports market share. Shen believes this should attract international companies to pay attention to the possibilities of the region.
Shen views North America, Europe, and China as ideal cross-regional markets, and many Chinese brands are already expanding globally, despite the current trade war. By pursuing esports fans, companies can tap into younger audiences that are interested in lifestyle apparel, hardware, and gaming, this strategy can work conversely for foreign brands looking to expand into China and the greater Asia-Pacific region.
Social media activations galore
Shen advised that while the best ways to enter the Chinese market are to invest into an established organisation or create a partnership with a local club that can help navigate the government regulations, media rights, and local cultures – there is another way.
“Open their own branch of social media to do some marketing activation in China. At RNG, we helped Team Vitality [LoL] do a bootcamp in China. They spent one month in China and produced a lot of content for social media. We even did a show match and invited about 30 esports media [companies] to cover the show match. The overall online impressions were over 50 million, that’s a very big number,” Shen shared.
He continued, “This shows the potential of the [Chinese] market, if you want to seek the exposure and if you want to have a solid fanbase in China: come to China, work with local organisations or club, do social media promotions or bootcamping – which probably a lot of teams will do this year for Worlds – this is going to help them a lot.” The reason for pursuing this strategy is “more fans, more opportunity for sponsorships,” according to Shen.
Language and cultural differences
While all interviews were conducted in English and in the global esports industry at large, English is the lingua franca especially for business – for content and other consumer media in each region, communication needs to be localised. And due to the localisation, the scene can be hard to understand and follow for outsiders – much less the case in North American and European markets.
As mentioned above, NODWIN Gaming has recently moved into the Middle East and South Africa, but in order for it to find suitable partners in the region, it had to expand its organisation to include Arabic speakers. Its proximity makes this potentially less difficult, but far distant outsiders to new regions will find this challenging without an in through its network.
Navigating nuanced and foreign platforms
Shen shared that in comparison to North America or Europe, where it’s common for the youth to grow up with athletics, in Asia they grow up with games, leading to the Asian proliferation of its streaming culture, years ahead of the West. While the West features only a few streaming services all generally resembling each other, the Asia-Pacific region offers dozens – each with different streaming cultures, audiences, and popular users. This fragmentation can be difficult to understand for insiders and outsiders alike.
Lack of talented professionals
The size of the esports market and of the audience offers a great benefit to the region, offering expansive reach, but because of the youth of the industry, even in China, the lack of experience and professionalism leads to its own challenges, a sentiment shared across all regions based on our interviews.
Due to the lack of regulations, established best practices, and guidelines, Shen explained that the turnover rate of esports employees is astounding in China. Many people try to come in from traditional sports or internet companies, but due to poor organisational structures and lack of talent and professionalism, many leave as quickly as they came.
Employment data – Powered by Hitmarker
During Esports Insider’s conversation with Hitmarker’s Managing Director, Richard Huggan (featured in the Europe-focused entry of this series) he shared regional data from the premier English-language esports and gaming job site. You’ll find these insights in each respective entry of the series.
During July of 2020, Hitmarker registered 245 new job listings for the Asia-Pacific region, claiming 7.24 percent of the total market share globally, including remote, of active jobs on the site.
With half as many countries represented compared to the Europe region, Huggan noted that these figures cannot be representative of the real number of opportunities in the region, as Hitmarker is currently focussed on the English-language market.
English-native Australia shows 14 job listings, while India and Singapore both number in the mid-40s.
Gaming giants China, South Korea, and Japan collectively host only 37 jobs on the site, which clearly does not correspond with the reality of opportunities in the countries, more so, it indicates the prevalence of local language in their gaming and esports industries.
The top five companies hiring in the region, according to Hitmarker’s data from March 1st – July 31st, are: Ubisoft, Razer, Electronic Arts, Logitech, and Gameloft.
Rathee shared his thought process for entering esports: “For me, it’s like building a skyscraper. Esports is the lighthouse on top of a huge building. However, if you just build a tall building just as a lighthouse, you will crumble and fall everytime the wind [blows], because you just don’t have a solid enough foundation. Understanding the life journey of gaming – from casual gaming to social gaming to competitive gaming to esports – is the depth of the foundation that you need to go ahead and understand. That will give you depth. Esports doesn’t happen on day one.”
He continued to explain that for any professional sport circuit, you want the top 200 competitors and ideally these would come from a huge pool. The reasoning is that the top 200 from a pool of 20 million is going to produce more “Wow!” moments than the same slice from a pool of 20,000 – thus being proportionately more entertaining, leading more people to want to watch.
Esports is ultimately entertainment for the average consumer, just like ‘traditional sports’, the reason people watch is to get their money’s worth (however figuratively) by witnessing highlight reel performances. The dopamine rush accompanied by such a moment is proportionate to the level of skill perceived to accomplish said feat, which is why, according to Rathee, why there are so many more players of FIFA than there are viewers – the spectator experience doesn’t make the game look that difficult. Viewers would rather play themselves to earn the dopamine than watch something that doesn’t appear difficult thanks to the broadcast. Rathee claimed that this is why FIFA also doesn’t label itself as an esport.
Because esports is so international, Shen explained, if you want to be a true top tier organisation you have to generate attention from outside of your country, otherwise you’ll be extremely limited. In China, it’s tough for RNG to get another million followers, and in order for that to happen, it has to “steal” those followers from another rival club. But if it is performing well in competitions it will be easier to attract followers from North America or Europe so it can continue to perform well on the social media aspect of the organisation, and vice versa for foreign teams.
This thought process could very well be applied to any other region with established organisations – expanding into other markets because the only viable option for continued growth in many cases, as both NODWIN Gaming and RNG are exemplary of this. It’s easier said than done, as most markets prefer to support their homegrown organisations than to pile on to new foreign influences.
What it comes down to for both enterprises is the community. NODWIN Gaming provides its communities with IPs to license and distribute, allowing tournaments and competitions for their communities and providing top-tier broadcast entertainment to keep the fans coming back for more. RNG focuses on increasing its audience abroad and helping others grow within its market while continually striving to be the best-in-game with its various esports teams.
Be sure to watch both Rathee and Shen speak during ESI Digital Summer during the Asia-Pacific programming Monday, August 17th.