HYPE embarks on a quest to find out the prospects of having an active eSports culture in Singapore.

By Wong Si Jia

With eyes glued to screens, 43 million viewers around the world held their breath as two opposing teams duked it out in the last seconds of the tiebreaker match. An intense moment of concentration, then a collective whoop of joy from the official champions of the 2016 League of Legends (LoL) World Championship.

It had garnered more viewers than the National Basketball Association league finals that same year. There’s no denying that eSports – also known as electronic sports or competitive video gaming – has grown in popularity over the past few years, extending its influence to many parts of the globe, including Singapore.

Due to events like GameStart 2016 and Singapore Media Festival Ignite 2016 alongside a $20,000 fund from supporting organisation Singapore Cybersports & Online Gaming Association, the local eSports scene is expanding rapidly.

Mr Benjamin Pommeraud, 35, general manager of Riot Games in Singapore and Malaysia, said: “I think the eSports scene is finally moving. It’s been a bit stagnant in these last years…but lately, we see much more traction in the community.”

With 5.1% of the online population being eSports enthusiasts, Singapore has a lot of potential to grow into a eSports nation. | Infographic courtesy of Newzoo, screenshot courtesy of Wong Si Jia

However, he acknowledges that it could be “bigger and more structured” as unlike Malaysia, Singapore doesn’t push gamer teams to the world stage on a regular basis – although not for the lack of a talent pool.

In fact, local eSports players have seen a series of small successes, with the Singapore teams representing Asia for the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) World Championships in October 2016 and qualifying for the Overwatch World Cup finals a month later.

“I’ve always believed that Singapore has the talent, it’s just that we don’t have the opportunity to showcase it nor the time to practice,” said Mr Eugene Tay, 32, founder of No Use Talking, a local-based semi-professional squad. He had once led Singapore’s national team to place top 15 in The World Championships 2015 for CS:GO.

Singapore semi-professional eSports team No Use Talking displays their gaming prowess at GameStart 2016, a game convention that is based here. | Photo courtesy of No Use Talking

Between National Service, school and work, many players find themselves juggling commitments that can be difficult to balance. The negative stigmas associated with video gaming also translate to insufficient support for the eSports community, especially in Singapore where education is held above everything else.

“What’s missing (in the local gaming scene) are not the people and fans who are going to watch the events. What’s missing are people who are going to support the sector, the industry,” Mr Pommeraud shared.

These local eSports players are proof that there is a talent pool here, but most of them have switched over to overseas teams in search for more opportunities in the market. | Information from esportsearnings.com, infographic courtesy of Wong Si Jia

Both Mr Tay and Mr Pommeraud believe there’s much room for the eSports community to thrive, with the latter explaining how homegrown gaming companies Garena and Razer have gained international respect and brought pride to Singapore.

Meanwhile, Mr Tay said that “people (need) to change their stubborn thinking and take the jump to see how far we can go” and already has plans in mind to further thrust the local eSports scene into the limelight.

Referring to scholarships and structured programmes for eSports offered in Western schools, he enthused: “I hope to see an academy (for competitive video game players), an academy that I wish to create someday. Something similar to the Singapore Sports School, but with a gaming concept, much like what the colleges in the United States are doing.”

Certainly a grandiose dream, but it might just become reality in time to come.