E-sports become a serious business
Once perceived as a mere recreational pastime, e-sports will be included in the multi-sport 30th SEA Games for the first time this year, reflecting growing popularity of e-sports which has become a lucrative business.
Thai e-sports teams are now attending grueling training sessions to gear up for the SEA Games event, which will be held early December this year in the Philippines, after e-sports was a demonstration sport last year at Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
As the notion of the cyber game has changed from being a form of recreation to become a professional e-sports competition, e-sports has created revenues for related companies. Kasikorn Research Center expects e-sports to generate at least Bt500 million for businesses directly involved in 2019.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s e-gaming industry has steadily increased with an average growth per annum of 12.7 percent from 2016 to 2019. Kasikorn Research Center projects that Thailand’s e-gaming industry in 2020 will reach Bt25 billion or an increase of 10-12 percent from last year.
Over the past 4-5 years, Thailand’s e-gaming industry has seen spectacular growth. The Digital Economy Promotion Agency reported that the industry enjoyed an average expansion of 12.7 percent in the past four years, driven by various factors. For example, online games via smartphone become popular.
This is despite some concerns over the young’s addiction to the cyber games. Thai children reportedly spend 35 hours a week online. Of all children using the Internet in Thailand, more than 50 per cent go online to play games. Such addition raises concerns over the children’s mental and physical health.
However, the trend seems inevitable. The virtual gaming business has now become serious. E-sports, a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, is often held in a spacious venue such as stadium with various businesses involved to promote the tournament.
Siam Commercial Bank’s Economic Intelligence Center said that e-sports has created new professions related to cyber game such as the e-game reviewers and professional e-sports players. Professional e-sports clubs have been formed with serious money from sponsors. Some clubs receives several million baht from their sponsors to nurture the team each year.
Several Thai educational institutions from both the public and private sectors have offered courses to incubate talent for gaming industry, namely, team managers, judges and gaming developers. Thailand E-Sports Federation was formed to manage the sports in Thailand and send Thai contestants to compete in the international stages and groom the Thai competitors.
Siam Commercial Bank’s EIC views that the sports will mainly benefit three types of businesses. First, companies that raise their brand awareness among the youth can benefit from sponsoring these events. For example, AIS is a main sponsor of “Thailand Game Expo”. Last year, True Corporation sponsored “ROV3 Pro League Season 1” with the total prize money over Bt5 million. Grab Thailand supported “GESC4: Thailand Dota 2 Minor” last year to reach their target group.
Second, computer accessories and internet café benefit see an uptick due to rising popularity of e-sports. Naturally, e-gaming players need computer accessories such as keyboard and mouse to play the digital games.
EIC reported that the computer accessories market in Thailand rose from Bt320 million in 2014 to Bt400 million in 2015. The figures in the past year should further increase, backed partly by e-gaming popularity.
Meanwhile, internet café has seen a flourishing business as it is the venue for e-sports rookies to hone their skills. Companies can sell related items such as T-shirts and related to e-sports as well.
Third, e-sports should benefit the hospitality business because an increasing number of international e-sports events have been held in Thailand in the past years. For example, the e-sports digital content expo last year at BITEC Bangna attracted more than 200,000 audience from many countries. This bodes well for hotels and other hospitality services.
Nonetheless, Thailand’s e-gaming is still in the nascent stage. Thais tend to be the user or distributor of the e-gaming platforms, which have been developed by international companies.
It is unfortunate that the boom of Thailand’s e-gaming business is largely driven by the demand from consumers, not the production side. Kasikorn Research estimates that 90 percent of Bt24.6 billion circulated in the e-gaming industry goes to distributors, importers and copyrights owners from items purchased in PC and play per download. Most of these virtual sports platforms are developed by international companies, a small number of popular e-games are originated from Thai developers.
Hence, Thais should develop their capacity to move up transcend from the user to become the developer of e-gaming platforms to make the e-gaming truly benefit the local economy. Otherwise, the popularity of the e-gaming may only encourage the young to be addictive to cyber-games without creating any value to it.