Next year will see the opening of the largest eSports facility in Southeast Asia, located in Quill City Mall, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The newly announced eSports City spreads over 65,000 square feet, and it is an initiative of Malaysia-based Esports Business Network (EBN). The aim is to bring the latest eSports trends to Southeast Asia and host local, regional and international events in the centre. 

The development cost of the Malaysian eSports facility was $983,768 USD, and it features a 1000-seat eSports stadium, two event halls, and a function hall. It is also home to three green-screen studios, live streaming rooms, recording studios, a casting area, as well as a production area for top-tier tournaments. Its food hall includes an eSports café with high-performance PCs, racing simulators and gaming consoles. 

The rise of eSports

EBN is eager to invest as this sector has been gaining popularity in recent years. The term eSports is defined as competitive video gaming played in leagues and tournaments, often with the participation of professional gamers. Tournaments generally display mainstream games, such as League of Legends, Dota and Counter Strike, or sports-related games, like FIFA and NBA 2K–football and basketball simulation games respectively. 

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Once disregarded as a pointless hobby, video gaming has now evolved into a revenue-generating global eSports industry, having reached annual revenue of $1 billion USD in 2019 and expecting to hit $1.5 billion USD this year. The growing viewership, media attention and the number of investors keep propelling the industry, along with the mass adoption of technology and experiential trends by millennials worldwide.

At the 2019 SEA Games, eSports, for the first time, became an official medal sport. Prize pool sizes are also increasing, and the winner of the Fortnite World Cup solo tournament 2019 won $3 million USD, a notably higher amount compared to international sports star Tiger Woods, who won a bit over $2 million USD at the Master’s Tournament of the same year. Although China, Japan, Korea and the US are considered eSports pioneers, a 2015 Newzoo report showed that the Southeast Asian countries booming with gamer numbers are Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, accounting for 99% of the region’s eSports revenue.

The Malaysian eSports ecosystem

Malaysia has demonstrated its growing interest in the sector, with the country’s government allocating a budget for the local eSports industry’s development, administered by the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS). The grant allocation began in 2019 with initial funding of $2.4 million USD, followed by $4.8 million USD in 2020, and in the latest budget, they ringfenced $3.6 million USD for 2021. 

KBS and Impact Integrated recently launched Esports Integrated (ESI), a new initiative focused on building a roadmap for the creation of a sustainable eSports ecosystem in the country. Some of the initiatives under Phase One include the establishment of an eSports management and centralisation platform with an online tournament engine, the introduction of Esports Conference and Summit Series, as well as the formation of the Malaysian eSports Circuit and the pursuit of a better regulatory framework.

Next year will also mark the completion of KBS’s official eSports Hub, fostered by ESI in Spacerubix, near Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, ESI is planning the development of a Capacity Building programme, set to commence in 2021. The programme’s focus will be on upskilling eSports team managers and coaches, along with tournament and event organisers. 

Legitimising eSports

The future of Malaysian eSports looks promising, given KBS’s Strategic Plan For eSports Development 2020-2025. Specifically, the Esports Malaysian Association’s (ESM) blueprint includes offering legal support to players, setting contract guidelines, and providing eSports athletes employee rights enjoyed by ordinary professions. 

Veterans can also expect assistance with transitioning to various eSports related careers, such as mentoring, event or team management, journalism, streaming etc. According to the blueprint, the talent nurturing process will start at school, with eSports recognised as an official extracurricular activity and teachers identifying gifted students for the eSports Excellence Centre program. 

To raise the profile of eSports as a serious sport, national representatives for the SEA games will undergo an intensive National Selection process, followed by a National eSports High Performance Program, where they will sharpen their skills and prepare for international success. Moreover, high-performing athletes will be eligible for financial sponsorships covering university fees, student loans or educational courses. 

Representatives are also planning awareness campaigns to address health-related stigmas and to promote female talent, which is currently deficient.

The blueprint urges the establishment of an act—benchmarked against the Korean one—regulating the Malaysian eSports scene and recognising eSports by law. Malaysia hopes to become the regional eSports hub by offering tax incentives for production, branded sponsorship, training of foreign teams and other activities.

The recently-launched Malaysian eSports facility will not only be the largest eSports facility in Southeast Asia, but also a catalysing factor for the development of new eSports trends in the ASEAN region. With its multiple initiatives, Malaysia aims to provide a sustainable eSports ecosystem, by providing growth opportunities and fostering diversity for players of all levels in the country.