eSports in Malaysia: What Awaits Competitive Gaming?
By Alexander FernandezMay 2023 FEATURE
WHEN LAN GAMING cybercafes first emerged in the early 2000s, they were all the rage. They provided a social and competitive environment for gamers to gather and compete against one another, eventually laying the foundation for the country's eSports – electronic sports – scene. The Malaysia Cyber Games in 2007 was the first national eSports tournament held in Malaysia.
Since then, the number of players, teams, events as well as sponsorships has mushroomed. Malaysia's gaming market, according to a 2021 report, is the third largest in Southeast Asia, valued at USD786mil. Even though Covid-19 negatively impacted the eSports industry, as it did many other businesses, the global gaming industry still managed to generate revenue of over USD201bil in 2021.
The growth of eSports in Malaysia can be attributed to the increasing availability and accessibility of high-speed internet. Social media platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, where viewers go to watch gamers live stream themselves gaming, have also made it easier for gamers to showcase their skills and for eSports events to be shared globally, while apps like Discord facilitate knowledge sharing among gamers.
Compared to traditional, physical sports, eSports is much more fast-paced and scalable, transcending physical and spatial limitations in the virtual arena. While traditional sports are reliant on a venue’s capacity, battle royale online games, for instance, can easily cater to an unlimited number of participants and spectators.
In an eSports tournament, prize pools are split among the competing teams, with the winning team taking the lion’s share. The International (TI), a world championship for the wildly popular game, Dota 2, has a prize pool that keeps increasing over the years; it has grown from USD1.6mil in 2011 to a staggering USD40mil in 2021, the biggest in the history of any eSports tournament. The numbers, however, plummeted for the first time in 2022, to USD18.93mil, likely due to the pandemic.
Prize pools are garnered through various means, including crowdfunding through the sale of in-game cosmetic items; sponsorships and partnerships; tournament organisers paying out of pocket and later earning back through the sale of tickets and merchandises; or through the game developers themselves.
Since 2013, the Dota 2 community has been able to contribute to the prize pool by purchasing the Battle Pass, which grants access to tournament and event features, as well as a wide variety of earnable in-game cosmetic items. As much as 25% of the sale goes to the prize pool.
At the time of writing, the top three earners in Malaysia’s eSports tournaments are Dota 2 – a game where two teams of five battle it out using their chosen “heroes” with special abilities, while aiming to destroy the opponent’s “Ancient” structure, at USD12.9mil; PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUND (PUBG) Mobile – a battle royale game where the last player standing emerges victorious, at USD1.5mil; and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang – a mobile multiplayer online battle arena game, at USD0.9mil. Other notable tournament games include Free Fire, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Valorant and Overwatch.
Yap Jian Wei, a former member of the Chinese team, PSG.LGD, and better known by his online moniker xNova, is Malaysia’s highest-earning player, with USD2.03mil in Dota 2 prize money.
Nurturing Seeds From Home
Malaysia’s eSports industry made significant headway when Esports City, the largest full-service eSports facility in Malaysia (and even Southeast Asia, at the time) was launched in Quill City Mall, KL in 2020. The sprawling 65,000-ft2 venue features a production area for top-tier tournaments, a stadium that fits up to 1,000 people, event halls and eSports cafés with high-performance computers, among others.
Closer to home, the Penang state government, through the Majlis Sukan Negeri Pulau Pinang (MSNPP) launched its first eSports academy to encourage its growth in the state. Situated at Level 3 KOMTAR, the Penang Esports Centre is open to the public and is a designated practice venue for Sukma eSports players.
The Pulau Pinang Esports Association has also set up an eSports facility in Kepala Batas, known as the Esport Youth Cabin (EYC), as a centre for all activities. The president of the association, Mohamad Khir Md Noor, notes that they are collaborating with a home-grown eSports team, Homebois, in a one-year academic programme to provide professional training and guidance.
Penang’s eSports scene is active, and plenty of competitions are held. Penang Youth Development Corporation (PYDC), a government agency under the Exco for Youth and Sports, Soon Lip Chee, has also been actively organising, collaborating and supporting various parties such as youth associations, clubs and even academics, to enhance eSports among youths. Khir, however, says that Penang is a small state, and furthermore divided into a mainland and an island. “Most of the programmes and participants come from the island, and it is a challenge for them to attend competitions that we organise at the EYC in Kepala Batas.”
It’s Not All Fun and Games
In traditional sports, it is common for athletes to retire by the age of 30, usually due to declining performance or injury-related reasons. eSports athletes tend to maintain their careers for a longer period of time. “The industry is more open to various age groups. Even if special conditions are placed in the state Sukma games, there are still plenty of other competitions out there that are less restrictive,” Khir says.
Like in traditional sports, eSports players who “go pro” need to put in as many as eight to 10 hours a day (even up to 13 hours a day), practicing a game of their choice to hone their skills, which includes solo and team plays, running drills, drawing up strategies and performing in-depth team analysis. Contrary to common thought, the world of eSports can also be mentally and physically demanding.
Furthermore, spending long hours in front of a computer screen may lead to physical issues such as back problems, eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome and obesity. The stress of competing in high-stakes tournaments may also take a toll on an athlete’s mental health, and like other jobs, one is susceptible to burnout and fatigue.
In terms of job security, transitioning to a different career path can be difficult due to the niche skillset development involved. That said, former gamers may opt for opportunities in the production or marketing team, be a full-time streamer or even take on the role as a coach.
Ranked 19th on the global charts for earnings won from tournaments and with over 1,400 players, the eSports market in Malaysia is rapidly growing. In August last year, the country’s eSports contingent won three gold medals at the Commonwealth Esports Championship held in Birmingham, England; in the 2021 SEA Games held in Vietnam, Malaysia came away with three bronze medals. With better training facilities and resources, it is easy to imagine Malaysia becoming a prominent eSports hub.
 List of eSports games: https://www.esportsearnings.com/games
is a budding plant enthusiast, feline fanatic, Netflix junkie and gaming buff. He hopes to one day travel to Japan.