Understanding Why Malaysia Is Big Into Esports (Or Rather, Dota)

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Over the years of my time covering games with Gamer Malaya (and now with Gamer Matters), I always thought of the ordinary mainstream games coverage- reviews, previews and news of the new games coming to consoles and PC. Never did I expect I had to watch game tournaments, follow personalities, and be invited to various esports events in Malaysia. Yet here I am.

I know, there are many mainstream gamers- as in gamers who play the latest releases on consoles and PC- here in Malaysia. Look at the crowd at PSX SEA earlier this month, the first public event for upcoming mainstream (and indie) games. But most events here focus on esports. Or even worse, just Dota. Dota. And only Dota.

Which irks the heck of the rest of the gaming community here. I get it. I used to be one of them as well.

I want to argue more about how to bring more publisher interest here in the Southeast Asia market, but that’s a topic for another time. Here, I want to share what I see to be why esports has such a major appeal in Malaysia.

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Cyber Cafes

Remember cyber cafes (CCs)? There were a major part of any young gamer during the 90s-00s. When consoles are still considered expensive at the time, paying an hourly rate for PC games were a better alternative. Sure, we mostly pirate those consoles, but on launch the PS2 was RM2000 and the PS3 was a whopping RM4000. Way too much for most households.

With the popularity of CCs comes the popularity of games that most of them have- Counter-Strike and Dota. These games don’t need much hardware power to run. Plus, the core gameplay is pretty well-designed despite their origins as mods for Half-Life and Warcraft III respectively.

As such, there are more people that could afford gaming thanks to Dota and these free (or really cheap) esports titles. Compared to mainstream gaming that you need to buy a new console every few years (despite a PS4 right now being more affordable than an iPhone) and the need to buy original games, that’s way too much money to invest. Sure, there are now more gamers that can afford that, but the number of gamers playing esports titles eclipse that.

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Rise Of Talents

Not only were these games popular in CCs, they spawned great talents. Malaysia has always have representatives playing in The International, Dota’s premier tournament with the highest prize pool of any esport event ever. We haven’t seen much CS, but that has more to do with a not-so-strong community in Malaysia and Southeast Asia. SEA is a strong force in Dota internationally in comparison.

The success of these talents have captured the imagination of many aspiring gamers who play Dota, and also makes a good headline in the news. Fnatic’s 4th place finish was mainstream news since 4 out of five players were Malaysians.

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Sponsors Want A Safe Bet

And with all the reports of how big the esports market is, of course brands want to try and capture the market, and more importantly the demographic. Again, the success of games like Dota has fueled brands to throw money at safe bets. There’s plenty of people play Dota, there’s plenty of people that watches Dota, makes sense to do Dota tournaments here in Malaysia, right? Plus, running events with mainstream games takes more work- either knowledge of the game or costly setups- so Dota is a much safer bet. Plus, publishers of big games don’t really have a presence here, so why bother doing all the work to get them in touch to work on a promo using mainstream games when they are not interested with gamers here? So Dota it is.

Same goes to other esports events. Usually these events are not just one-offs from one crew. There are experienced organisers that have handled tournaments countless of times. The experience they have make it an even safer bet to try and woo in gamers, even though not all gamers play esports titles.

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So, What To Do?

For me, I think it’s healthy that brands are getting more interested in esports and indirectly, gaming. Right now brands have money, but there needs to be a community or crew that can do the job. Esports are big here thanks to the titles being easily exposed to a lot of gamers and how these gamers have found success internationally.

So, for us to see the growth of mainstream gaming events, similar to what we see in PSX SEA, there needs to be a community. Not just an online community, but one that can be physically see. Meetups. Gatherings. And then start doing community events. Malaysian gamers should take a look at Visual Art Expo, Comic Fiesta, Animangaki and the like for inspiration. It’s possible to do those kinds of events- and not just esports-focused- but it takes a strong community (and a strong team of organizers) to try pull off a PAX SEA or something similar.

Don’t worry about publisher involvement just yet. Prove them there is a crowd and brands will start to take notice. Bring in media folks to help out as well and we might see a gaming convention in Malaysia for all kinds of gamers in the future.

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