telco gaming

Telco and e-sports dynamics

By now, we would have witnessed for ourselves the potential for live streaming content when global masses self-quarantine at home. Entertainment providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime scored big time and our own Astro wants to cash in with its own streaming strategy which they announced recently.

Well, there is another genre of streaming content that is beginning to gain traction as populations settle into a new normal of spending more time at home. This genre is e-sports.

A panel discussion during Telecom World Asia 2020, offered a sneak peek into this world as panellists from a telco, and various ‘players’ in the e-sports ecosystem like a United States e-sports federation sports director, shared their views about current issues and trends.

Of particular interest to this journalist, was the role telcos have in ensuring seamless gaming experience, and their potential to bring an ecosystem together around them.

Cindy Tan, head of business for Singtel’s International group sees there is a natural fit between e-sports and telcos as network speed and connectivity in gaming is crucial for good experience.

Of the group’s user base of 700 million, a substantial number are young, tech savvy and mobile-first. Games is one of the activities they indulge in, but they also interact non-stop, Cindy observed.

A 2018 Singtel press release also stated, The number of gamers in the region is projected to surge from 400 million in 2017 to more than 700 million by 2021, with esports viewership numbers expected to double and reach over 40 million by 2019.

Cindy said, “(Content and social) is something we cannot afford not to be in, and many think they are separate entities which is actually not so.

“Our vision for e-sports is centred around community, collaboration, connectivity, and content is the critical component. It is an important way to engage and keep e-sports an ever evolving and relevant entity, so as a telco, top of our minds is to expand our content offering this year.”

Cindy also shared about new content that Singtel is releasing by end of 2020 with some very strong content partners. “This will be the additional new entertainment arm, which Singtel is very invested in, and focused on providing.”

Telcos participating in e-sports

 Carlos Alimurung, CEO of One E-sports had shared that he was bullish about telcos participating in mobile e-sports. “Because I think it’s just such a natural and intrinsic thing for them.” Mobile e-sports is a component of overall e-sports which Carlos sees is expanding because of a new generation of players and consumers who are born and literally growing up with a mobile in hand, not a PC, or game console.

Allen Hsu of Garena opined that participation of telcos (in tournaments) is so critical (because) it should naturally and generally represent the stability and assurance of the game play and live streaming from the gamers’ perspective.

Lance Mudd, sports director of the United States e-sports federation shared, “We have had to move to a model where all of the continents (participate) and we have competition (among) all those continents and countries, and we still can’t get past the main barrier which is latency.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations like One Esports are also continuing activities like online master classes for gamers, and regional leagues that generate millions of views, Carlos observed, “Our sponsors were happy to engage with sports when the rest of the world was shut down, particularly traditional sports.

“E-sports have continued because e-sports was born online. It was born virtually and we didn’t start with in-person events.”

Evos Esports which manages gaming influencers in Southeast Asia, has closed a total USD16.4 million in Series A and Series B funding, reflecting how lucrative the e-sports industry actually is. Evos’ Marketing and PR head, Allan Phang noted however that most other telcos are still traditional in thinking about e-sports. “I think they are missing a big piece of the pie because most millennials and Gen Z are definitely on their phones. Singtel (organising) PVP e-sports leagues with gaming companies (can) give e-sports credibility on the whole,”Allan said.

This view is shared with Allen from Garena who says, “When it comes to gaming, a lot of other companies are still hesitating, partly because they don’t have understanding and might not see the actual value.

He also thinks telcos can show the way for these other companies, “Telcos as a leader in certain IT industries, when they show the rules, it also represents that right now gaming and e-sports is stable and it’s actually worth investing in.”

Getting on the same page

 Telcos like Singtel definitely see opportunity in e-sports. But what do they look for before they begin a collaboration?

Cindy said, “I see it in two ways. One is resourcing, where we must invest in the long run, not just per event, or per partnership. Instead, really going the (distance) and building the infrastructure and fundamental pillars that go deep into communities.

“Second is partnership. which extends beyond boundaries to what we could do in e-sports.”

On that note, Cindy also announced a new IP, which Singtel would be bringing out in a few days, together with Philippine’s Globe Telecom, and a branch of MTV Asia. Cindy described the virtual SuperGamerFest event, is “at a kind of scale and magnitude of interactivity not really done before.”

She also shared about projects that Singtel is incubating with some of their partners and she alluded to quarterly rollouts of these projects with partners from the game developer sphere.

“These are interesting models of partnerships we can fo into. We believe this to be the sustainable way to bring forth the whole e-sports scene and ecosystem.”

She opined that it is still too early to be thinking of financials in terms of KPI. “It is difficult if we think of e-sports from just tournaments and events point of view. It is not our core competence and we are not quite interested in that business.”

Having recognised the potential of data to be able to be close and really understand their customers, a content platform whereby consumers can constantly engage with, is what the organisation is definitely investing in.

“It’s a 5 to 10 year game, and we see the platform as a way for us to (build a community),” Cindy said.

When it comes to equalising latency across vast geographies so that there is true fair play among gamers in different locations, there are many components to consider, which aren’t within a telco’s control.

As elements which are within a telco’s control, Cindy commented, “It’s not just about zero latency only.

“It’s difficult to demonstrate what true premium (gameplay) experience would be, unless we partner with game developers and e-sports experts to see how we can bring it even more ‘alive;”

“Are there elements in tech development when it comes to gaming and game publishing that could also be supplementing new unique experiences, on top of the network and 5G?” she asked hypothetically.