Garena World offers a preview of what e-sports at the SEA Games could be like

Large crowds soaking in the action for mobile game Arena of Valor at the Garena World e-sports tournament held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center on April 7, 2019.
Large crowds soaking in the action for mobile game Arena of Valor at the Garena World e-sports tournament held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center on April 7, 2019.PHOTO: GARENA

BANGKOK - At Garena World, the gaming company's eponymous flagship e-sports tournament, the noise level was within expectations for the 269,500 people who had thronged the three exhibition halls at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (Bitec) over Saturday and Sunday (April 6-7).

It was loud, but this crowd's excitement had a distinctly lighter timbre than the guttural roar of football fans packed into a stadium because the fans were much younger. The bulk were between 13 and 18 years old. Some of the younger ones were accompanied by grumpy-faced parents who stared in uncomprehending silence at the seven huge screens set up around the area, one for each game title being contested.

This is what e-sports' SEA Games debut in November could look like, from the scale of the competition down to the possibility of onlookers who have no idea what e-sports is about.

The parallels with Garena World are clear. The SEA Games will also feature multiple game titles - five in total - and gather the top e-sports players in South-east Asia.

The two events even share a common game on their slates, the multiplayer online battle arena (Moba) mobile title Arena of Valor (AoV) which accounts for 10 million baht of Garena World's total prize pool of 17 million baht (S$721,631).

The other four games are Tekken 7, Starcraft 2, Dota 2 and Mobile Legends. Each of these is owned by the company that developed them and support from the developers for prospective e-sports events is crucial.

Garena, which developed AoV with Tencent Games, has offered advice to the Philippines on its role as this year's host country.

 
 

"It's about getting the basics right, figuring out the right format, the right venue for running an event like this," said Mr Jason Ng, Garena's vice-president of strategic partnerships.

"We have the prior experience, from small things like setting up a network which has not been needed at a SEA Games before, to how you make an experience where all the action takes place in a grey booth engaging and accessible."

Mr Ng also highlighted the importance of commentary when e-sports is showcased to the wider sporting community, such as having commentators include basic details about the games for people who are unfamiliar with them.

Garena World also attracted various national e-sports associations from across South-east Asia, which were keen to learn from the experience while in the midst of organising their respective national qualifiers for the SEA Games.

In the group was Singapore Esports Association (SGEA) president Ng Chong Geng, along with his counterparts from Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.

"The most relevant thing to Singapore from Garena World is to show that there can be an audience," he said. "Gamers here tend to have no incentive to leave their homes to play games or watch e-sports because of our uniformly good connection speeds."

 
 

But gamers can be attracted to an e-sports event if production and marketing are done well, he said, citing Garena World as an example.

Singapore will hold its national qualifiers for the SEA Games later this month.

Mr Ng provided an update on the response to the qualifiers, which he described as "encouraging but not record-breaking". While he did not reveal the total number of sign-ups, he said the most entries the association received for a particular game was 30, with the least popular seeing just five.

"This is reflective of the games' popularity in Singapore," he added.