By Rafidah Raffi and Jovi Ho
Gaming may be commonly regarded as a recreational activity in Singapore, but an increasing number of university students are turning it into a serious competitive sport.
Local universities are gradually changing perceptions of gamers through competitions such as the Inter-Varsity Gaming Festival (IVGF), hosted by NTU’s Cyberwellness Cybersports & Games Creation Society (C3), and inter-hall friendly tournaments.
The IVGF has been held yearly since its inception in 2014.
Participating universities include NTU, the National University of Singapore, the Singapore Management University, and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Leroy Lim, chairman of C3, hopes to build a community among gamers, in hopes of pioneering a generation of eSports enthusiasts.
“This is one of the few opportunities for gamers to meet their peers from other universities,” said Lim, a final-year student from School of Computer Science and Engineering.
“I believe the best way to understand eSports is to experience it for yourself, just like how we are exposed to traditional sports when we are young,” he said.
This year’s edition, held on 10 and 11 Feb, drew 165 players in the competitive matches of Dota 2, League of Legends, and Overwatch.
Acknowledging the stigma towards gamers in Singapore, Lim hopes that the IVGF will dispel the negative connotations associated with eSports.
“Some players are afraid of telling their peers that they are interested in eSports because most parents do not perceive gaming as a viable career in Singapore. We hope that through events such as these, people are able to gain confidence in a career in eSports.”
While competitive gaming is still short of being internationally recognised as a sport, many can attest to the rigorous practice that gamers put into perfecting their gameplay and strategy.
Lim argues that competitive eSports players, like athletes, require immense focus during tournaments.
“A professional player has to train constantly to maintain his skill level. He also needs to possess the required stamina to play multiple games,” he said.
Ong Kian Jie, a second-year student from the National Institute of Education, feels the same way about the skills required in an eSports athlete, having participated in inter-hall gaming tournaments in NTU.
“Even though it is true that there is no actual physical activity other than mouse movements, gamers will tell you that skill in a game comes only after intensive training, a hallmark of traditional sports,” says Ong.
NTU Sports Club president Tan Kian Meng feels that eSports “definitely deserves more coverage within NTU”.
“It has been garnering lots of passionate individuals. Just like traditional sports, it brings people together,” said the second-year student from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
However, Tan stopped short of placing eSports and traditional sports in the same category, pointing out some differences between the two.
“Traditional sports require more physical training and athletes constantly push their bodies to the limit. This risk of physical injury is not present in eSports.
“The environment is also a consideration. While eSports players are usually in a comfortable environment, most athletes are sweating it out under the sun,” said Tan.
According to Newzoo, a leading game and eSports market research firm, 73 percent of eSports fans are younger than 35 years old, showing its popularity among millennials.
Mr Terence Ting, 27, decided to start his own eSports company, after gaining some experience as a “cyber-athlete” in gaming competitions abroad.
His company Team Flash manages the grooming and development of selected eSports players in South East Asia to compete in tournaments worldwide.
“Unlike traditional sporting franchises like the Barclays Premier League (BPL) and National Basketball Association (NBA), eSports mainly runs on a decentralised approach, where revenue comes from corporate sponsors and private prize pools,” said Mr Ting.
For eSports to improve in the coming years, it needs to adopt a business model similar to professional sporting leagues like the BPL or NBA, so that viewership and revenue will be stable, added Mr Ting.
However, attitudes towards gaming in Singapore remain an obstacle to the growth of the industry here. Social stigmas that reflect immaturity towards gaming hinder the growth of local talent , said Mr Ting.
To counter this, organisations such as the Singapore Cybersports and Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) are developing digital literacy programmes and organising festivals to boost the image of eSports locally.
Initiatives such as these support the viability of eSports as a career among the youth, said Mr Ting.
“The eSports industry is still expanding in terms of production value so there are many opportunities in commentating, coaching, and content creation that have not fully developed yet,” he said.
Even while it may take time for eSports to be recognised as a medal sport in the Olympic Games, young players like Ong are still hopeful that the field will become a respected one.
“Our local culture is not for the idea of a risk-oriented career and it will take some time to transform mindsets about it, but I believe as eSports continues growing here, the stigmatisation will decrease,” he said.