In Thailand, e-sports is rapidly gaining in popularity. The Sports Authority of Thailand last year officially recognised e-sports – competitions facilitated by electronic systems, particularly video games – and there are moves to have some e-sports included in major international sports events like the Asian Games.
Over the past three months, 120 teams from 16 universities around Thailand competed in an e-sport called Overwatch.
The telco companies are high on the list of winners from all of this as they make money from players and viewers spending more time online – not that Thais need much encouragement, as we already spend more time online than anyone in the world.
E-sports is not only booming as a new independent business and industry, it is also accelerating the convergence of various established industries. For brands, media, and entertainment companies, e-sports provides a chance to capitalize on the favourite pastime of digital natives and millennials: playing games and watching game content.
With live streaming and events, broadcasters and media can apply their advertising business models to a market that was previously out of reach for them.
The global e-sports audience is estimated at around 385 million, made up of 191 million e-sports enthusiasts and a further 194 million occasional viewers.
The number of e-sports enthusiasts is expected to grow by another 50 per cent by 2020, totalling 286 million.
E-sports may be popular in Thailand but it’s China’s players who are setting the pace. China has more than a thousand professional players, and it’s estimated that the top 20 each earned more than US$1 million (Bt31.6 million) last year in competition prize money, not including sponsorships. Tournaments and live streaming are major revenue earners for the industry, and there are hundreds of millions of amateur players, who also want to watch the pros play, with annual revenues believed to be rising by well over 25 per cent.
China’s professional soccer teams, which regularly disappoint their fans in international competitions, have even embraced the trend, setting up an e-sports professional league. It’s safe to say that China has more chance of winning the e-sports world cup than the “real” football world cup anytime soon – perhaps in a final game against Thailand.