MONDAYS are never liked, especially in local eSports.

It was a Monday when the “largest and most prestigious mobile games competition in Southeast Asia,” Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League, issued a statement confirming irregularities in Week 7 of the eighth season of the Philippines contest.

“We are aware of the controversial behavior during the match between Nexplay EVOS and Omega Esports in Week 7,” MPL Philippines’s statement read. “Please be assured that the MPL PH Operating Committee will investigate and take necessary actions per our rule book and guidelines.”

The MPL Philippines Operating Committee issued a statement saying it is conducting an investigation.

“We will work and listen to the feedback of our fans to build a more professional tournament for all,” the 2-paragraph statement read.

This may be inane to some but the statement mirrors that eSports, especially tournaments, is taken very seriously in the country. Just take the fines that MPL Philippines said (in its Facebook page) it will issue to those involved in the controversy: $500 (P25,324.25 at current exchange rates) to $3,000 (P151,945.50).

The gravitas of eSports in the Philippines comes with the phenomenal growth of competitive video gaming.

According to Ireland-headquartered Research and Markets Ltd., the global esports market reached a value of nearly $1.070 billion in 2020, having increased at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent since 2015.

The online research store added that this market is expected to grow to $2.108 billion in 2025 at a rate of 14.5 percent.

Booming industry

EVEN Dennis Anthony H. Uy, CEO of Converge ICT Solutions Inc., expressed excitement over the growth of eSports.

The self-made billionaire said he is aware that the current youth generation is going bananas over eSports. Uy told the BusinessMirror he doesn’t blame them because competitive video gaming has now become a lucrative activity for young people who can earn megabucks after winning.

To respond to the increasing needs of the network and customers, Uy said Converge ICT will embark on a substantial upgrading of its network.

“We are supporting eSports by providing capacity to the gamers,” he told the BusinessMirror. “We ensure that the latency and connection to the server will be fast enough for the gamers.”

According to Uy, the listed firm will double the data transmission capacity of its metro backbone from the existing 400 Gigabit per second (Gbps) to 800 Gbps, in anticipation of the use of next-generation, hyper-scale capacity applications over its fiber optic network.

“This aims to reduce latency and to allow for high-speed data transfers needed for next-generation technologies such as the Internet of Things and ‘smart cities,’” he said.

Expanding access

ACCORDING to Uy, the “developments in cloud computing, big data, virtual reality, combined with the increasing demands on remote storage and streaming technology, are creating massive demand on our network and data centers.

“We want to respond to the high-capacity needs of our network and customers; and to be able to accommodate any new-generation technologies they may have.”

Putting a premium on customer satisfaction, Uy said Converge ICT continues to invest in technological improvements to deliver high quality of service. Their efforts have yielded dividends as Converge has consistently topped the “Netflix ISP Speed Index” for the Philippines, which ranks Internet service providers (ISP) in terms of prime-time Netflix performance.

Internet testing and analysis provider Ookla LLC. recently verified Converge ICT as the most consistent fixed internet provider in six regions, including Metro Manila. The Seattle, Washington-headquartered Ookla based this on its recent speed-test intelligence analysis for the second quarter of the year.

The other regions with consistent Converge ICT Internet connectivity are Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon), Ilocos, Central Luzon, Bicol and the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Historical roots

FOR financial technology (fintech) company PayMaya Philippines Inc., entering the ESports arena is a good business move as it sees the Philippine mobile games industry as a high growth area.

Paymaya Chief Marketing Officer Pepe Torres told the BusinessMirror that since the firm’s early years, professional and casual gamers, especially those who don’t own a credit card, have been utilizing the company’s e-wallet “as a way to get more convenient and secure transactions on their gaming purchases.”

“As we continue to power a seamless gaming experience for our customers through digital payments, we also continue to strengthen our support to the e-sports community,” Torres, also managing director for Paymaya’s consumer business, added.

Since 2019, the subsidiary of PLDT Inc. has been building its partnership with different organizations to promote eSports.

That year, PayMaya partnered with “The Nationals,” the country’s first and only franchise-based eSports league, and became the league’s official digital payments platform. Under the partnership, the eSports athletes participating in “The Nationals” were all enabled with PayMaya accounts where they received their winnings.

Envelope pushing

THIS year, Torres said the company further pushed the envelope in supporting the gaming industry with the launch of PlayMaya, a fintech-first in-app service elevating the gaming experience of Filipinos. Further, the firm introduced the “PlayMaya Tournament,” an online multi-league tournament for gamers nationwide with over P10-million worth of prizes up for grabs.

The tournament aims to gather mobile gamers from across the country to compete in some of the most popular mobile games today such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Call of Duty Mobile and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile.

Torres said this is a major step for his company and ultimately would further boost the growth of the already-flourishing eSports industry.

When PayMaya was launched in 2016, Marcos recalled that the local eSports industry was already on the growth path.

During that year, the local team TNC defeated the powerhouse European team, OG, in the International 6; considered as one of the biggest upsets in DOTA 2 history.

Attracting gamers

THE gaming industry also attracted non-professional players, also known as casual gamers, Torres pointed out.

A report published by London, UK-based YouGov Plc. in 2020 revealed that 80 percent, or four out of five Filipinos, engaged in mobile or video games.

Meanwhile, data from a study by games insights and analytics firm Newzoo International B.V in 2020, revealed that the Philippines is the world’s 25th largest market in game revenue and a key driver of Southeast Asia’s overall games market in 2019.

To push the growth of eSports further, PayMaya has to address the challenge of finding ways on how it can further empower the growing industry.

According to Torres, they introduced “PlayMaya” to provide “an all-in-one gaming service that elevates the gaming experience, whether through more gaming-related products, exclusive content or even casual games.”

He told the BusinessMirror the PlayMaya Tournament already started with qualifier games.

“We’re looking forward to a more explosive final [leg] in November,” Torres said.

He added they launched the tournament “as a way to open up opportunities for aspiring e-sports athletes across the country.”

Leadership assertion

FOR Globe Telecom Inc., it is imperative to be a major force in eSports.

“Being the purveyor of the digital lifestyle, the core focus for Globe Telecom in games has been to lead in the development of the esports landscape in the Philippines since 2018 when we first launched our esports programs,” Senior Vice President for Content Business and Product Management Nikkolai Z. Acosta told the BusinessMirror.

“It’s been our push to solidify the country’s position amongst regional esports giants and we continue to do so by providing numerous opportunities for gamers to play, compete and win in eSports,” Acosta added.

According to the executive, Globe Telecom has formed strategic partnership with Los Angeles, California-headquartered Riot Games Inc. in hosting the ICON Series and the Valorant Challengers Series. The latter two are the local professional leagues for “League of Legends: Wild Rift” and Valorant.

Targeting students

ASIDE from bringing professional leagues to the local gaming scene, Globe Telecom concentrated on uplifting the quality of play and programs for grassroots eSports, according to Acosta. They also tapped the education sector through the telecommunication firm’s grassroots program to elevate eSports in schools across the country and develop the skills of aspiring eSports professionals.

The program called “AcadArena” is the company’s collegiate and university eSports program that has been running multiple tournaments for student gamers “while at the same time promoting good academic values as they balance work and play in school.”

At the same time, the company wants to dispel the misconception that by engaging in eSports, young people will not have good career prospects.

“eSports is more than a game,” Acosta said. “As the industry continues to grow, it can offer several viable career options for students and professional employees alike.”

He admits, however, that the eSports curriculum is “still in its infancy.”

“We’re currently exploring different ways we can support these efforts,” Acosta told the BusinessMirror.

Healthy future

THE listed firm also launched its first “eSports merit scholarship” program. Under this program, students will be able to “pursue their passions while at the same time get the very best education available to them,” Acosta explained.

The executive said the company also continues to build its eSports team. The team called “Liyab” is currently competing in two major tournaments: The Pacific Championship Series for League of Legends PC and the ICON Series for League of Legends Wild Rift.

Acosta said Globe Telecom also continues to work with many different communities to promote eSports development by engaging student communities and organizations, influencers and content creators, league operators and developers, as well as niche communities that are getting into esports like advertisers.

He told the BusinessMirror that the company wants to provide the total package for eSports athletes and regular students as well as open opportunities for them to grow their careers in esports, technology and media industry through educational programs developed with the help of industry leaders and experts.

Acosta said Globe Telecom would like explore more eSports programs with local government units.

“The private sector cannot do this alone,” he said.

Yield growth

THE Philippines is the second-largest market in Southeast Asia for gaming and eSports, after Indonesia, ONE Esports Pte. Ltd. CEO Carlos Alimurung told the BusinessMirror, citing the firm’s own data.

eSports, to note, has 225 million fans across the region.

Alimurung added that according to their data, the Philippines as of January 2021 has a market size of 51 million players, growing 19 percent since July 2020.

He also noted that mobile gaming is gaining in popularity.

In fact, 87 percent of gamers in Southeast Asia use mobile devices to play games, which is significantly higher than 60 percent in North America and 59 percent in Europe, Alimurung said.

He said they discovered that “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” is the top gaming title played and watched among fans in the Philippines.

Alimurung added that the growth potential of eSports offers a lot of opportunities for the Philippines.

He cited the partnership between ONE eSports and Unilever Philippines Inc. last year that was able to engage the wider Mobile Legends community through Unilever-branded online community tournaments.

Marketing ties

FURTHER, ONE eSports worked with Unilever to produce a series of Unilever-branded video guides to enable players to upgrade their gameplay, according to Alimurung.

According to the Research and Markets firm, the esports market is segmented by revenue source into sponsorship, advertising, merchandise and tickets, publisher fees and media rights.

“The sponsorship market was the largest segment of the esports market segmented by revenue source, accounting for 61.2 percent of the total in 2020,” the Ireland-based company said on October 12. “Going forward, the advertising segment is expected to be the fastest growing segment in the esports market segmented by platform, at a CAGR of 19.7 percent during 2020 to 2025.”

Heading forward

ALIMURUNG believes the eSports industry needs great storytelling to gain a bigger traction.

Just like traditional sports, he said “the individual personalities usually draw our attention, capture the imaginations and tug at the hearts of the fans.”

“Our aim is to ensure that esports athletes are recognized and elevated to the same tier as other global icons like Serena Williams, [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [James] LeBron and [Roger] Federer,” Alimurung told the BusinessMirror.

Through one of its core properties, the company has pushed inclusivity by localizing the content in English, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, Vietnamese and Thai.

It covered the Filipino team OB.Neon’s incredible performance during the ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major earlier this year.

“OB.Neon was the last Southeast Asian team standing in the tournament and they exceeded expectations,” Alimurung said.

He added that eSports also experienced an exponential increase in interest, viewership and participation over the years and will keep growing regardless of the pandemic.

Empowering women

CITING their data, Alimurung said women are one of the growth drivers of esports, especially in Southeast Asia.

“In this region, women account for almost half of the esports community in the region,” Alimurung told the BusinessMirror.

Interestingly, the gaming audience in the Philippines is dominated by women, with a 48-percent male and 52-percent female split. He attributed this to the widespread adoption of mobile phones and the rise of new players in the video streaming market, which have enabled easier access to more gaming titles and eSports content.

Further, his firm’s insights show that women are drawn to esports and gaming for different reasons than men.

For female gamers, esports and gaming provide them with a sense of community and self-expression, whereas men tend to be more focused on competition and climbing up the ranks, Alimurung said. He added that 96 percent of female gamers surveyed indicated that playing and/or watching games with friends is a great bonding activity.

The future is bright for women in esports, he said adding they plan to expand opportunities for women in the industry.

Alimurung shared the story of Filipino “Tekken 7” professional gamer Alexa “RR Asahina” Gabriel, a trans-woman who has become popular in the gaming community. He also noted that Philippines’ cosplay queen and gamer Alodia Gosiengfiao has launched her own makeup line.

Alimurung, likewise, cited the story of 46-year old mother of three-Alma “Nanay Gaming” Enario, the most wholesome streamer of “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.”

“She was making puto (steamed rice cakes) and selling them for a living before becoming a streamer and capturing the hearts of the community,” he said.

Rise of PTE

ACCORDING to David Tng, head of growth at TZ Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd., gaming in the blockchain space is experiencing a lot of innovations as developers and users test out a broad range of new concepts from the establishment of DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations).

These DAOs influence gameplay, in-game assets (through non-fungible tokens or NFTs) that can be bought, traded and sold between players, and most recently, the booming popularity of the play-to-earn (PTE) model wherein players can “cash-out” their successes in the game.

“These three developments have enabled new ways for gamers to participate and interact not only with each other in-play but with gaming developers themselves,” Tng told the BusinessMirror.

He cited as an example the DAO tokens, which allow a gaming community to vote on updates, granting them power to directly influence the evolution of the game in a way that never existed before.

NFTs on the other hand, enable the development of an in-game economy that is under the control and ownership of the players themselves, Tng explained.

“This has also given rise to the play-to-earn model as players can loan in-game assets to other players for interest or sell them on marketplaces for cryptocurrency,” he added.

More games

TNG said blockchain facilitates the tokenization of in-game assets, from cosmetic features like character skins to in-game currencies, which can yield real-world value based on their levels of demand from other players within the gaming realm.

The PTE model has bailed out families in their financial problems, according to Tng.

“In an extremely challenging economic environment, [PTE] gaming has provided an alternative source of income generation, creating financial relief for many families, particularly in developing economies,” he said.

Tng said Axie Infinity was the primary example of this development in the Philippines. Similar trends are being seen worldwide, from Vietnam to Venezuela, he added.

“For example, ‘gold farming’ in RuneScape has buffered Venezuelans from hyper-inflated economic conditions, as gamers sell their gold in exchange for cryptocurrencies, enabling access to US dollars,” Tng said.

With a growing international appeal, Axie and blockchain-based gaming would attract esports enthusiasts, from both a player and spectator standpoint. Although a lot of a people are lured for their earning potential, the entertainment value cannot be underestimated. The most appealing games are both fun to play and entertaining to watch.

“Blockchain-based gaming is still in its infancy and so, as more games are developed, the most successful will need to balance earning potential with entertainment value,” Tng said.

Axie Infinity

TOKENIZED games such as Axie Infinity rely on external funding for professional teams. Nevertheless, the most important part is purchasing of the precise in-game assets considered necessary for their competitive strategy. Currently, Tng said basic level Axie is valued around $310 (at time of writing), while custom breeds cost exponentially more.

By leveraging blockchain technology for their brand success, esports teams can have “infinite possibilities.” “For example, teams could launch a series of collaborative, limited edition NFTs with sponsor brands for their fan communities. Further, they could create a team token or DAO that would allow their fanbase to vote on things such as their team jersey colour, to build a sense of community,” Tng explained.

Tng pointed out that the business sector must take a serious look at the gaming sector because it was not affected by the pandemic. He noted that video game industry revenue grew tremendously during the pandemic, with Asia Pacific gaming revenue estimated to breach $174 billion by 2021. Mobile games account for nearly half of this revenue. The global gaming market is set to reach $256.97 billion by 2025, with more than 2.5 billion people worldwide playing games. “By the end of 2020, gamers have spent $4.5 billion on immersive games,” he said.

New economies

THE advent of blockchain gave the traditional and established communities an opportunity to reinvent themselves and pave the way for new gaming economies, according to Tng.

The PTE games offer a great opportunity for businesses and investors to step foot into the world of gaming at a lower level. Just like sponsoring competitive teams, businesses have an opportunity to sponsor scholarships for play-to-earn gamers who have high audience reach.

“It also offers players an investment opportunity and even maybe a way to earn a living,” Tng said.

Apart from income generation, it also offers community building, which businesses can harness to fuel their own brand-ecosystem.

And maybe this could also lead to gaming any day of the week, even Mondays.

Image courtesy of BM Graphics: Job Ruzgal

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