The year is 2019 and esports is even more ubiquitous than ever. With much of the industry’s growth kindled and fuelled by advancements in technology and swelling fan bases, the world of competitive video games presents itself in multifaceted forms—often as a first-person shooter genre on PC or mobile phones, and a multiplayer online battle arena on similar mediums.
This year, the industry is expected to cash in more than US$1 billion in global revenue. Such is telling that the scene is nothing short of profits and popularity. Earlier in July 2019, 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf of Pennsylvania had won US$3 million playing Fortnite at the first-ever Fortnite World Cup. While in August 2019, Dota 2’s The International prize pool has surpassed USD$30 million.
Two months later, League of Legends announced a collaboration with luxury fashion giant Louis Vuitton, who designed an exclusive championship trophy case as well as a limited-edition in-game character skin.
The recently concluded Overwatch World Cup 2019, which took place at the Anaheim Convention Centre in California back in early November, saw more than 30 nations competing against one another to be crowned world champions.
Founded in 2016, Overwatch is a first-person shooter team-based video game in which two teams of six compete to complete mission objectives (escorting a payload or securing an objective etc.) with characters selected from a pool of 31 pre-made ones. Throughout the year, several large-scale tournaments, such as the Overwatch League and Overwatch World Cup, will be organised by Blizzard Entertainment; the former is known to attract more spectators and has a larger prize pool.
For the Overwatch World Cup 2019, players put aside their professional team rivalries to contest for their countries on the big stage. Singapore, too, also entered the fray with a team of young, but semi-professional gamers.
Team Singapore, otherwise better known as the Crimson Manes, comprises Figo Chua (“Azalea”), Timotheus Yeo (“Bubblekitty”) and Jasper Yue (“yuris”) who play the role of damage dealers, Asri (“Sachokk”) and Syafiq (“Xenofly”) who play tanks, while Alston How (“Jervyz”) and Marcus Kwa (“Akame”) take on the role of supports.
They are led by Competition Committee members—esteemed individuals on their own grounds—Seetoh Jian Qing (“JohnGalt”) as Coach, Teo Chun Chieh (“TCC”) as the General Manager, and Nicholas Tay (“Caldoran”) as Community Lead.
“To be able to represent Singapore on a global scale is not easy and it is a rare opportunity. To me, it’s stars aligning. We’ve always wanted to put Singapore on the big stage, give the world a good look at how far we’ve come, and help Singapore get more exposure,” says Jasper. “When we were there, we definitely tried to give our best. I think everyone gave it their all. It’s prestigious but also very intense on us.”
Training for the lads began months prior to the preliminary games. The boys would meet, often at Boutine Arena, three to four nights a week in the earlier months to practice. The pace and intensity picked up in the last month when Seetoh, who is presently the Head Coach for Overwatch League team Washington Justice, returned from the States, and the team trained daily. “We’d split up play time and coaching sessions. Those who needed more attention would get private coaching sessions,” says Jasper.
“We also took part in other tournaments, such as the Open Division, Contender Trials and Contenders too,” Alston elaborates.
With a prize pool amounting to USD$205,000 and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (at least, for our Singaporean sons) to get scouted and picked by professional teams, much is at stake. But, how well the Crimson Manes did?
Unfortunately, not as well as they hoped. The Crimson Manes was taken off the playing field after losing to Finland, with a team of six Overwatch League Pro-Players, in the single-elimination preliminary round. But not without reason.
An earlier favourable competitive line-up in the preliminary games was subjected to a last-minute swap when one team was denied participation reportedly as a result of suspected VISA problems, pitting our reps to compete against Finland much earlier. Even so, the Crimson Manes put on a valiant battle, clinching 1 victory out of 3 close fights.
“Finland has six Overwatch League players. So, I guess we were kind of unlucky,” Seetoh explains. “As a coach I think I could have prepped the team a little bit better, but I think the team played really well. I’m proud of them. They’ve worked really hard.”
For some countries, top video game players have become household names. The prowess of a single player on an international stage is a force to be reckoned with and to some, a form of national pride too.
Case-in-point: 29-year-old, Singaporean Dota 2 player, Daryl Koh Pei Xiang (“IceIceIce”) of team Fnatic. While Singapore has yet to rival with the likes of competitive gaming giants, such as South Korea or the EU, we have indeed come a long way.
Closer to home, government-backed organisations that support esports and encourage conscious gaming exist. The Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association, or SCOGA for short, is one such esports academy that has been endorsed by the National Youth Council.
Today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even knows how to play DOTA 2. And for the forthcoming SEA 2019 Games in the Philippines, 20 esports athletes will represent Singapore to compete in six medalled matches. In fact, Razer’s CEO Min-Liang Tan has even pledged to invest S$10 million to build up the gaming industry in Singapore by the third-quarter of 2020.
While stereotypes and negative labels stemming from dated societal stigma—“Warrants no future” or “Cannot earn money”—toward video gamers still exist, the situation seems to be changing for the better, albeit at a slower pace. For Nicholas and most of the Crimson Manes members, these minuscule changes are a silver lining to the scene.
“I believe we can be better given the constant support from the government and the changing mindsets. We do have the infrastructure to develop better. Our network speed is very, very fast,” says Nicholas.
Playing the devil’s advocate, Syafiq, who was preparing for his college’s finals examinations whilst back in California, reveals that sceptical parents have every reason to cast doubt onto the bleak future of esports in the Singapore context.
“There’re very few examples of people in Singapore succeeding,” Syafiq says bluntly. “What the parents are telling the younger generation is that esports are not really that worthy of an investment.”
While parents think esports are a distraction to education and career progression, children may view esports as a facet of their social existence; a means to navigate about in their social or cultural milieu.
“The players in your team come from different backgrounds and cultures. There are people who are rich, those who are not as well to do, and we are able to interact with everyone through a singular passion, that is esports,” Seetoh says. “Even though the idea of esports as a career may not succeed in Singapore, I think esports as a hobby might grow a little bit more rapidly here.”
The life of an esports athlete is not bridled with perks and definitely not all glamour. The Crimson Manes, along with any other professional players across the globe, commit strenuous hours to practice. Parents who know of this, Syafiq reveals, should remind their children of the reality and to not look through rose-tinted glasses.
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