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The Philippines is currently playing host to an esports event that may prove to be a historical turning point for the industry in the years to come. The Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) has introduced competitive video gaming as a medal discipline for the first time this year, with eight countries submitting teams across six games: two PC, two mobile, one console, and one card game.
While this debut isn’t going to fast-track esports into the Olympics, the fact that gamers can earn gold just like gymnasts or figure skaters signals not only the growth of the industry as a whole, but its rapid growth in Southeast Asia. As The Esports Observer has reported over the years, countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines are among the most rapidly developing markets, with analytics research company Newzoo estimating that the whole region will reach an audience of 31.9M in 2019.
The SEA Games are a biannual multi-sporting event, regulated by the Southeast Asian Games Federation, and supervised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). The latter of these organizations already welcomed esports into a major sporting event: last year’s Asian Games, albeit only as a demonstration sport. This itself was not the first inclusion of gaming within an OCA event—the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) had done so multiple times before.
Esports’ inclusion in this year’s SEA Games was announced not by a sporting body, but by Razer. The Singapore-based gaming hardware company was named “official esports partner” for the event, and as seen in the broadcast streams so far, has provided equipment to the players including headsets, mice, and keyboards. Broadcasts of the competition have also been shown on Razer’s official YouTube and Twitch channels.
The SEA Games are notable among multi-sporting events for their wide range of disciplines. There are 56 total sports this year, including other unusual newcomers like underwater hockey, floorball, and chess. This event is also unique in terms of how decentralized it is: competition venues are spread across 23 cities, with esports taking place in San Juan’s Filoil Flying V Centre, alongside 3×3 basketball.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
Genre: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)
Publisher: Shanghai Moonton Technology
Not as well known in western territories, Mobile Legends bears more than a striking resemblance to League of Legends—a note of controversy that was the basis for a $2.9M USD settlement fee to Riot Games. Nevertheless, the game has remained exceptionally popular in Southeast Asia, tallying over 75M active players and 500M downloads as of August this year, according to the publisher.
Highlighted player: Gustian “Rekt” is the carry player for Indonesia. In the same position, he helped lead EVOS Legends to victory at the very first Mobile Legends World Championship last month, with the team taking home the lion’s share of the tournament’s $250K prize pool.
Platform: PC and mobile
Genre: Digital collectible card game
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
First released in 2014, Hearthstone takes the characters and setting of Blizzard’s Warcraft franchise and packs them into a one vs. one card game, familiar to those who’ve played Magic: The Gathering, only faster. Despite several emerging competitors in the genre, Hearthstone remains the go-to card game for multi-esports events. This time last year, its publisher was celebrating 100M total players.
Highlighted player: Werit “Disdai” Popan is from Thailand, currently competing as a free agent. He placed first in one of the Hearthstone Masters qualifiers held earlier this year.
Publisher: Valve Corporation
One of the longest enduring and most popular esports, Dota 2 is best known in the mainstream for having the largest prize pool competition of the industry. Its annual premier tournament, The International, uses a crowdfunding system to fund the winnings, which this year reached a record total of $34M.
Highlighted player: Wong “Nutz” Jeng Yih is on team Singapore. While he currently players for recently formed team Reality Rift, in 2016 he served as a coach for MVP Phoenix in 2016’s The International.
Genre: Real-time strategy (RTS)
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
The StarCraft franchise is credited with heavily popularizing esports in South Korea, and consequently, the world. Still played over 10 years after its initial launch, the game was featured in the Intel Extreme Masters Pyeongchang; a showcase tournament coinciding with the 2018 Winter Olympics, and supported by the IOC.
Highlighted player: Caviar Napoleon “EnDerr” Marquises-Acampado is a Filipino Zerg player with a career spanning as far back as the first StarCraft game, where he began competing at the age of 12. He previously represented the Philippines in other Olympic-style esports events, including the World Cyber Games and World Electronic Sports Games.
Arena of Valor
Publisher: Tencent Games
Another title that mirrors the look and gameplay of League of Legends, this one actually comes from Tencent Games—the parent company of Riot Games. Arena of Valor is the international adaptation of Wangzhe Rongyao (unofficially translated as Honor of Kings), originally available exclusively in China. While AoV didn’t match the success of HoK (which has totaled over 900M downloads) it remains popular in several SEA territories.
Highlighted player: For AoV, the national teams are the same as the professional organizations who compete all year round. Vietnam’s Mocha ZD Esports were also the country’s wildcard team for the game’s World Cup earlier this year, where they placed third (another Vietnamese squad, Team Flash, took first place).
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Since its launch in 1994, the TEKKEN franchise from Japan has become one of the best selling of all time, familiar to those even with a casual history of fighting games. It was one of the first in its genre to use 3D animation, with the latest addition (released in 2018) having sold over 4M copies.
Highlighted player: Nopparut “Book” Hempamorn is a Thai fighting games player currently representing Talon Esports. Out of all the TEKKEN competitors in the SEA Games, he has placed the highest at Evo—the world’s biggest fighting game tournament—earning a top 8 finish at the 2018 event.
Keep an eye on The Esports Observer next week for an article focusing on the qualification/selection process for the SEA Games, the broadcast channels, and sponsorship activations.
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