As much as we desktop and console purists may dismiss smartphone games as serious business, it’s getting harder to ignore the truth: mobile gaming is a legit industry, particularly in Southeast Asia.
With over 45 million downloads across the region, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang serves such a massive market that it’s an esport in itself — heck, the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game will be the first title that will be included as a medal event in this year’s Southeast Asian Games.
But before the SEA Games hits the Philippines this November, next week will see a regional Mobile Legends tournament at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre. It’s important to note that major Mobile Legends regional championships have been going on for years, but this would be the first one ever held in Singapore.
Top teams fighting it out in the inaugural SEA Clash of Champions include the likes of EVOS Esports (Singapore), Burmese Ghouls (Myanmar), Rex Regum Queon and Team Flash (Indonesia), Cignal Ultra (Philippines), as well as Geek Fam (Malaysia). The Singapore Esports Association (SGEA) and sports marketing agency Redness Sports are getting involved in the tournament as organisers too, with the event itself taking place within the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)’s SG:Digital Wonderland soirée. Even Toggle wants a slice of the pie — the tournament will be streamed live on Mediacorp’s video platform.
Aside from SGEA, the involvement of IMDA and an agency for traditional sports might seem out of place for a Mobile Legends competition, but Reddentes Sports Managing Partner Yip Renkai explains why he got involved.
“Why not esports? Just look at the numbers of youth being engaged — even the Singapore government wants to make an effort to reach out to them through esports as well,” he noted.
“It’s definitely an industry of the future. Esports and traditional sports complement each other.”
Singapore’s lagging esports scene
Even so, one has to admit that Singapore doesn’t exactly rank high up in the world of esports, even if professional Dota 2 and League of Legends veteran Benedict “hyhy” Lim did make an appearance in Valve’s documentary Free to Play.
“Singapore is actually lagging behind a fair bit in esports,” admits SGEA’s Ng Chong Eng. He attributes one of the reasons to the country’s lightning-fast internet connection speeds and high purchasing power, which doesn’t really inculcate a culture of gamers coming together in LAN shops and building a strong community of competitive gaming.
Ng also points out that there’s a need to change the perception of gaming within society — more Singaporeans need to be aware that gaming can be a totally viable professional career.
EVOS Esports team captain Robert “Oh Deer Bambi” Boon also pointed out that priorities may be different in Singapore, compared to those of its neighbours. The toughest part of running an esports team here is finding the time to train together, as its members usually have clashing schedules due to work or school. Where teams in other countries could train for as long as eight hours a day, Singapore’s esports groups would be lucky to fit in two hours together, he mentioned.
Nonetheless, Boon remains confident that his team is perfectly capable of taking on his regional rivals and looks forward to the showdown on May 18.