In the past years, Southeast Asia has been at the centre of the eSport revolution, forcing more local and international companies to become creative and join the lucrative and still budding market. In Singapore and Malaysia, some companies have already established eSports Academies to allow their avid players to hone their skills and teach them strategy and technique to beat their opponents. The research conducted by Newzoo showed that Southeast Asia is the fastest-growing region for eSports, having more than 9.5 million enthusiasts. Of this, as much as 1.1 million are reported to live in Thailand; the number is believed to double in number by 2019.
What is the driving force that fuels this boom in the industry? Part of the interest arose from the announcement that eSports will be included in the 2022 Asian games as a competitive sport. This spurred interest among its enthusiasts, with many reasoning that their passion will finally be validated as a true sport requiring skill and talent. Finally, they will be more than just gamers but can be considered as professionals, as well.
Sea Group Thailand CEO Nok Anulomsombut claimed that eSports is gaining acceptance and is growing positively in Thailand. He also said that Thailand citizens already consider eSports as a legitimate form of sport. Many local companies have also shown support and have made efforts to engage with the eSports industry.
In Thailand, local support is evident in the growing number of local competitions and tournaments. Players’ participation is very positive as many of them want to gain exposure and recognition on a global scale.
ESports is a competition where players compete through video games. It is not merely a pastime. Enthusiasts form teams complete with a coach and play the games professionally. They strictly follow rules and regulations. Some even conduct regular training and practice so they will be able to synchronize their movements and strategies to beat their opponents. For others, it is a waste of time. For avid players, it is a career where they can excel in.
While only gaining popularity now, eSports have started in the early 1970s, with the first eSports tournament held in 1972. Organized by Stanford University, players competed via the Spacewar video game and the winners got a one-year Rolling Stone magazine subscription. ESports has come a long way after that Spacewar competition, especially in terms of grand prizes. During The International 2016 Dota 2 competition, teams from all over the world competed hard to win US$20.7 million, with as much as US$9.1 million going to only one winning team.
But eSports is more than just playing a video game. No, playing against a computer bot is not considered an eSport. ESports should have games that can be played by at least two parties. These two parties must be able to compete with each other.
International competitions often have three types of eSports games. This includes:
First-Person Shooter (FPS)
A first-person shooter video game is played from the protagonist’s point of view. Games with FPS feature maps the movements of the player and give an actual view of what one would see and do if they are on the scene. The video game shows the arms at the screen, including the type of weapon they have equipped. Using the game controller, players can move their avatar throughout the game. They can explore the scenery using a left-right rocking motion as if they simulate a person’s gait. Some games incorporate the sound of breathing and footsteps to make the game simulation more realistic.
There are two general modes in most FPS games. Players can choose from quest or mission mode and multiplayer mode. The multiplayer mode employs several players joining the game through a network that allows them to play in a shared environment. FPS multiplayer mode can be in different forms like:
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
Another genre of eSports is the multiplayer online battle arena, which is rapidly evolving. This genre’s objective is for a team to defend their home base from destruction by the other team. To defend their bases, some teams may build tower defences or spawn a non-player character to automatically attack the opposing team’s defences along lanes or specified paths. The game ends when a team successfully destroys their opponent’s base. There are many MOBA games in the market today, most of them sharing these key characteristics:
Real-Time Strategy (RTS)
This genre refers to video games that are time-based. These games focus on making the players use resources to create units and beat their opponents. Often compared to turn-based strategy games that give each player to carefully plan their next move, real-time strategy games are time constrained. Players must be able to defend their base, build their resources, and launch attacks simultaneously – skills, techniques, and strategy come into play.
Players are under a lot of pressure in RTS games as they are required to make rapid decisions that may greatly affect their gameplay. Some of the famous RTS games are Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Starcraft, Warhammer, and Warcraft.
Established in 2008, the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF) is among the most reputable intuitions in eSports. They stand as the regulating body that oversees international eSports tournaments, develops international standard during competitions, and expanding worldwide memberships. Thailand is a member of the federation since 2003.
To some, defining eSports as a legit form of sports may still be unaccepted. But enthusiasts are putting their foot down. If chess, which does not require intense muscle work, is considered a sport then eSports can also be regarded as one. Professional eSports players argue that gaming share many attributes with many professional sports. ESports teams have team managers, coaches, regular practice, strategic planning, and opponent analysis. Team practice is often time-consuming and rigorous. Some spend up to six hours a day to train. This can be longer when tournaments are just around the corner. In addition to the regular practice, teams also conduct daily meetings and more than 20 hours of personal training weekly.
Thailand has an estimated 10 million casual eSports gamers. Of this, about 20,000 participate in local tournaments. Some players continue to improve their gaming strategy to gain global recognition. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), in partnership with Alisports, announced that eSports will be among the medal events at the 2022 Asian Games.
Professional gamers claim that recognizing eSports as a legal entity would allow the government to set the appropriate rules and regulations, giving little chance for abuse. This would also be a good way to get international representation instead of losing high-quality professional players who choose to join international teams just to be relevant in the industry. They are actively working with local companies and businesses that do not dampen the growth of the eSports gaming society. Many of these businesses are gaming cafes allowing underage gamers to play.
It will not be long for eSports enthusiasts in Thailand to get the recognition and support that they are longing for. ESports, for many, are still heavily criticised. It is still heavily portrayed as a form of addiction and a source of violence. In Thailand, social approval often comes after they have government authorization. Fortunately, the Sport Authority of Thailand has just recently announced that the government recognizes eSports as a legal sport. This allows the Thai team to compete in international tournaments including the Olympics and the Asian Games.
The approval comes as a sweet surprise for gaming enthusiasts in Thailand. Many of them consider this to be a big win already, as it sets a stage for global recognition. All their efforts have paid off. Now, they are working double time. Government approval comes with more pressure for them to work harder and prove that Thailand is indeed worthy of being at the centre of the eSports revolution.
Along with the rising popularity of eSports in Thailand comes another opportunity for punters to gamble. More Thai locals and expats discover that they can gamble online via Asian bookmakers that also realise the rise of eSports in Thailand. Online gambling is still prohibited in Thailand but many casual betters avoid prosecution by using only websites that have proper licenses and international regulations. A lot of online sportsbooks have already included eSports as one of their featured sports. Some even allow players to bet real-time.
Many of those who bet on eSports are enthusiasts who want some piece of action from the sidelines. They are usually the casual players who bet on professional players competing in international tournaments.