The esports industry in Southeast Asia has been growing from strength-to-strength with viewership hitting all-time highs and brands jumping on the bandwagon. To find out more about the growing mainstream appeal of esports, we decided to speak to Jason Teo, who is the Senior Director for Business Development at ONE Esports.

ONE Esports is one of the leading esports organizations in the region, and part of the ONE Championship the leading sports association in the region. Jason oversees all of ONE Esports’ partnerships and has been seeing strong growth with new brands entering the gaming industry and successfully leveraging opportunities presented by esports.

One of their recent events, the ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major, generated 274m total views and 1.1m peak concurrent views and partnered with brands like Foodpanda, Netflix, Shopee, Tinder, TikTok, and TUMI.

Jason had a lot of share about the growing interest from brands and where he sees the opportunities.

What was the biggest change for you, as you transitioned from banking to esports?

I first started playing video games at age 6 on a Super Nintendo and gaming has been a major part of my life ever since. 

Although I found working in the banking sector challenging and engaging, and I did enjoy how the financial markets presented a different set of challenges daily, I still struggled with the fact that there was little alignment between my job and my personal passion of gaming.

Jason speaking at ONE Ignite

When the opportunity to transition into the gaming and esports industry presented itself (around my 5th year in banking), I knew I had to jump at the opportunity or risk regretting my decision further down the line. Of course, entering a new industry meant big changes in everything from day-to-day tasks and activities to business goals. Initially, it took me a while to find my bearings as it felt so surreal to be able to talk about something I was passionate about during actual business meetings. Entering this industry invigorated me and gave me a new-found sense of purpose, fulfilment and energy. 

I strongly believe in the mantra of ‘do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in life’ and I have never looked back on my decision to make such a significant career switch.

What are some of the challenges you face in bringing esports into the mainstream?

Gaming and esports have been on the rise for a while now. Esports has seen an exponential increase in interest, viewership, and participation over the years with the global pandemic only accelerating this growth. Esports tournaments are generating record-breaking levels of interest year-on-year, with mouth-watering prize pools to match. In fact, ONE Esports recently wrapped up the ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major Presented by PGL, the first Major of the Dota Pro Circuit 2021, where teams battled it out for US$500,000 and 2,700 DPC points. The event generated 274 million total views and 1.1 million peak concurrent views, making it the second most watched Dota 2 Major of all time.

With that said, while esports is more mainstream than ever, there is still a way for the industry to go. Nevertheless, I believe esports will be regarded as mainstream and be seen as ‘another sport’ in time to come.

How are you working with your corporate partners and what does a partnership with ONE Esports entail?

ONE Esports places a huge emphasis in helping our brand partners build an authentic relationship with esports fans. Esports fans tend to gravitate towards brands that are enablers of the communities they are part of, whether it is supporting the growth of promising young talent or sponsoring an esports event. What is most important is finding the right content angle and message that is aligned with the brand partner’s brand proposition and the needs and wants of esports fans. 

As such, all our engagements start off with us spending time listening to what our brand partners want to achieve via their gaming or esports campaigns. We then apply our domain expertise to find the right activations to deliver the brand’s propositions as well as bring value to esports fans. These activations range from written to long-form video content stacks, live esports events, talk shows, and documentaries – the portfolio grows by the day.

Are you seeing any new trends forming in Southeast Asia or are we still catching up to more developed esports markets?

There are two major trends in esports in Southeast Asia: the rapid rise of mobile gaming and an increasing number of female gamers.

Though traditionally a PC-dominated sector, mobile gaming has been rising in popularity for several years now, particularly in Southeast Asia, but also India, Brazil, and the Middle East. The main reason for this is accessibility – not everyone can afford a high-end gaming computer or the latest console. But everyone owns a smartphone and has access to Wi-Fi. Mobile games certainly level the playing field and promote inclusivity in the gaming world.

Jason Teo posing with cosplayers at ONE Ignite

While PC and console gaming are here to stay, I believe that there is vast potential for mobile gaming and esports in the future. The move from PC to mobile devices is being seen throughout the gaming industry as smartphones continue to become the entertainment device of choice for Millennials and Gen Z consumers. Just one year after the launch of Valorant, Riot Games has announced that they are currently working on the mobile version of the highly popular tactical first-person shooter game. This example attests to the ubiquitous nature of mobile gaming these days. 

Another major trend in esports is the rise in female gamers. According to insights pulled by ONE Esports’ Analytics & Insights team, women are driving the growth of esports, especially so in Southeast Asia. In fact, women account for almost half of the esports community in this region today. This is largely due 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.

I believe the future is bright for women in esports. ONE Esports is invested in understanding the needs, values, preferences, and behaviour of female gamers, and we are dedicated to creating content and products that resonate with them. We also aim to expand opportunities for women in the esports industry.

Where do you see esports in the next 5 years in Southeast Asia?

There is enormous market potential for esports in Southeast Asia. Despite experiencing a transcendental boom in recent years, and boasting 225 million fans across the region, the esports and gaming industry is still very much in its infancy in terms of business and sponsorship opportunities. 

What this means it that we will continue to see more brands, especially non-endemic brands, enter the gaming space and look to leverage opportunities presented by esports. In fact, many renowned local and international brands partnered with ONE Esports for the recent ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major Presented by PGL, including JBL, TUMI, DBS, Logitech, Foodpanda, Secretlab, Tinder, Shopee, and the Singapore Tourism Board.

What’s next for ONE Esports? 

ONE Esports is committed to staying true to, and delivering on, its mission of sharing and celebrating the stories of esports heroes who ignite the world with hope, strength, dreams, and inspiration. 

We recently announced that we have once again partnered with Moonton to host this year’s Mobile Legends Professional League Invitational (MPLI) in the final quarter of 2021. The 2021 ONE Esports MPLI will feature the best teams across Southeast Asia competing for their share of the US$100,000 prize pool.