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  • Tracy Cabrera

When esports and traditional sports face head on . . .IT’S A CLASH OF TITANS

GrindSky Eris Wild Rift SEA Games gold medalists 'Hellgirl' Rose Anne Marie Robles and Charize Joyed 'Yugen' Doble with well-known influencer Yskaela. (Photo: GrindSky Media)

WITH viewership and revenue booming, esports is set to compete with traditional sports and when this happens, which side will win?

Late last year, activate projects in the United States esports generated more viewers than every professional sports league but the National Football League (NFL) and analysts project that there will be more than 84 million viewers of esports—higher than the 79 million MLB viewers or the 63 million NBA viewers.

This is still dwarfed by the 141 million NFL viewers, but according to Eunkyu Lee, professor of marketing and associate dean for global initiatives at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University in Onondaga, New York, though the popularity and pay of gamers is rare and the industry is still new, “everyone has to take note of how fast it’s growing.”

The fact is that unlike football or cricket, esports is not rooted in any region or culture, so it has a more global appeal, Lee adds.

“In today’s world, being able to reach . . . billions of eyeballs is very important for building the product’s commercial value,” he points out.

In the Philippines, esports has become widely popular and to date, the country has been tagged as one of the leading countries in the esports industry. The local scene alone boasts of diverse leagues with a lot of esports titles having a big fanbase, which in just two years from 2020 to 2021 saw Filipino gamers dominating the world stage in different esports titles.

In the recently concluded 31st Southeast Asian Games held in Hanoi, Vietnam, both the women’s and men’s teams from the Philippines figured prominently to neutralize opposition from crack players in Wild Rift and Mobile Legends from Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. The Filipinas blanked the competition 4-0 while their male counterparts registered a clean slate to win their respective titles as champions and gold medal winners.

This just goes to show that the future of esports and how it can secure its own niche of expansion. And not to mention the streaming aspect of the esports industry, it’s big business for everyone involved. Approximately, the size of the streaming industry, which includes esports and other streams, was placed at US$10.1 billion in 2018 and this reached to more than US$13.1 billion in 2019.

Esports is no longer just an online phenomenon or a niche interest but a growing sporting industry with hundreds of investors, sponsors, and advertisers. The next level is in capitalizing growth in the Philippine esports market that is home to over 43 million active gamers—steadily increasing by 12.9 percent yearly since 2017. This growth is supported by the growing accessibility of smartphones and mobile internet.

Leading the gaming sector is Mobile Legends, one of the country’s most popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games, which reached a whopping peak of 2.65 million active users daily in April 2019, and has grown consistently at a compound and annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.78 percent. However, the local gaming community’s interest has not yet translated in favor of homegrown esports leagues. As a result, gaming publishers have struggled to generate long-term, mainstream success in the Philippine professional realm.

The challenges mainly stem from the difficulties in proving the consistency and lifespan of video games as a professional feature. Esports titles have always been deemed as “just another fad,” but international leagues have proven their global success through a stable source of viewer engagement, further inviting outside investments and generating revenue streams.

Creating solid esports growth in the Philippines would depend on how both private players and the national government invest in support for tournaments and other esports-related activities. Three success drivers have been identified to uplift the sector out of the nascent stages, namely competition, production value and accessibility. All three key drivers highlight the need for coordination and substantial effort for the online game industry in the Philippines to resolve its challenges and gain mainstream success. Exploring how industry players and the government could revolutionize the Philippine esports ecosystem would mean converting potential to exponential numbers that would prime the industry to succeed in the coming years.

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