Southeast Asia’s mobile esports scene — as well as its entire gaming space — is evolving at a tremendous rate. SEA-focused events are breaking global records, and brands have started to recognise the plethora of opportunities available within the region.
ONE Esports, Southeast Asia’s largest esports media company, has been at the forefront of this growth and has helped numerous global brands to penetrate this market. In addition to its illustrious portfolio of working with publishers like Activision Blizzard, Garena, and Moonton, the firm has secured strategic partnerships with FWD, Marriott Bonvoy, McDonald’s Philippines, and Franklin Templeton this year alone.
AFK Gaming, on behalf of Esports Insider, had the opportunity to interview Carlos Alimurung, CEO of ONE Esports, about working with top-tier brands and the company’s shared goals. Alimurung also discusses his understanding of SEA’s gaming and esports space, and its future market potential.
MLBB esports and market opportunities for brands
Having hosted multiple Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) tournaments in the past two years, Alimurung revealed that the recent Mobile Legends Pro League Invitational (MPLI) 2021 hosted by ONE Esports witnessed a 140 percent increase in viewership from last year’s edition.
MPLI 2021 recorded 87m views across all streaming platforms with a peak concurrent viewership of 1.7m. He further reported that nearly 60 percent of gamers in North America and Europe, and 87 percent in Southeast Asia, regularly indulge in mobile gaming. Meanwhile, MLBB remains the most played and watched mobile title.
This makes MLBB an excellent game to invest in and maximize brand awareness in the SEA mobile esports scene. However, Alimurung also acknowledged Arena of Valor, Call of Duty Mobile, League of Legends: Wild Rift, as well as popular battle royale games such as Free Fire and PUBG Mobile, as contenders in the mobile gaming space.
Although esports sponsorships continue to evolve each year, Alimurung explained that opportunities in the mobile gaming space are not easily grasped. “Some brands have difficulty understanding this complex and dynamic community who have a low tolerance for shallow or inconsistent marketing,” Alimurung said.
“For example, simply putting a logo on an esports athlete’s jersey or livestream overlay is not enough. The community wants to see brands commit to making esports as big and enduring as possible.”
Suggesting brands to take a ‘holistic approach’, Alimurung believes that this will allow them to engage with fans across multiple activations and platforms in order to build genuine fan-brand relationships.
SEA gamers and the rise of women in gaming
Alimurung offered insight into PC and mobile gamers within SEA, and the type of content that they engage with on a regular basis.
“Our research indicates that consumers engage with gaming and esports for different emotional reasons and have distinct attitudes and behavior,” commented Alimurung. “PC and mobile gamers play to improve, advance their ranking, and perfect their craft. They also thrive in a community and are keen to learn and connect with like-minded people.”
The research by ONE Esports’ in-house insights team further reported that both PC and mobile gamers spend almost equal hours playing and consuming gaming content (8.7 hours weekly), as well as esports content (2.8 hours a week).
Alimurung also highlighted: “PC gamers have a penchant for established PC titles such as League of Legends and DOTA. Mobile natives predominantly consist of women with a 63 percent female to 37 percent male gender split. They prefer mobile for the convenience it brings and stick to mobile games like Arena of Valor, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and PUBG Mobile.”
The SEA esports market is still relatively new compared to the West, where gaming has already been embedded into certain cultures. While talking about the differences between these two markets, Alimurung was enthusiastic about the rise of women in gaming and esports.
“The widespread adoption of mobile phones and the rise of new players in the video streaming market have enabled easier access to gaming content, especially within the female community,” Alimurung said.
He shared that female fans now occupy half of the entire gaming and esports space of SEA, among which 87 percent of female fans prefer mobile games.
Partnering with non-endemic brands
ONE Esports’ current roster of partners includes FWD, a multinational insurance company based in Hong Kong. The deal saw FWD sponsor the recently concluded Mobile Legends Professional League Invitational in Indonesia where the top teams across SEA competed for a prize pool of $100,000 (~£74,948).
More recently, ONE Esports announced a partnership with a global investment management organisation Franklin Templeton. As part of the deal, Franklin Templeton sponsored the Wild Rift SEA Championship 2021 in September.
Sharing his thoughts about the growing interest of finance companies in esports, Alimurung stated: “A poll conducted by ONE Esports’ in-house insights team found that 58 percent of gaming and esports fans in Southeast Asia signed up for a financial product in the past year, and 76 percent plan to sign up for a financial service within the next year.”
He further revealed: “ONE Esports fans are 2.1 times more likely to use e-commerce and e-wallet services weekly than esports fans who do not follow ONE Esports. ONE Esports fans are also 1.6 times more likely to engage in online shopping daily and 1.9 times more likely to order food delivery weekly.”
Alimurung in particular discussed ONE Esports’ shared passion of making esports as developed as the biggest traditional stick and ball sports franchises. He said: “With FWD, Marriott Bonvoy, and McDonald’s Philippines, we will leverage our comprehensive content flywheel to provide a seamless turnkey solution to connect and engage with the esports community.”
Marriot Bonvoy, a travel rewards programme, partnered with ONE Esports to engage with the entire esports ecosystem through community tournaments and long-form, short-form, and streaming content. Through this, Marriot Bonvoy laid the foundations for an authentic relationship with Gen Z and the Millennial community of gamers and esports fans.
Furthermore, the partnership will also see the launch of an esports talk show in 2022. Although Alimurung didn’t share any details about the show, he revealed that the programme is still under development and will go live early next year.
Alimurung also highlighted the ‘enormous’ market potential for esports in Southeast Asia. According to research conducted by ONE Esports, the Southeast Asia market holds 225m gaming and esports fans. In contrast to other traditional sports, the SEA esports scene is fuelled by Gen Z and Millenials, thus making it the perfect avenue for lifestyle and F&B brands like McDonald’s to foster brand loyalty.
However, Alimurung added: “It is not just limited to lifestyle and F&B brands. Dominated by a young, digital, and global audience, esports is shaping up to be the future of sports, media, and entertainment.
“Consequently, brands who seek to future-proof their businesses and foster strong, loyal relationships with their customers (and future customers), need to spend more time and resources to connect and engage with esports fans. Ultimately, brands need to be where the next generation is going to be.”
This story is written in collaboration with AFK Gaming. AFK Gaming is an India-based esports media and content company that aims to provide quality and consistent coverage about teams, players, tournaments, and competitive video games with a primary focus on the Asian region.