May 6, 2019

Imagine a scrawny kid in a three-days-old shirt, hunched over a screen in a darkened room littered with empty soda cans and pizza boxes. Clocking 50 hours over the weekend in the middle of the year-end exams season, all biological and psychological needs have been thrown out of the window, as the player gets lost in a virtual world of sharpshooters and car chasers.

The word, “gamer”, tends to conjure a negative image of a junkie who is wasting his life away on meaningless RPGs, but these days, this stereotype is starting to lose its stronghold over concerned parents and clueless teens. Rather than gaming addicts, the burgeoning industry is turning the stigma on its head and introducing esports athletes.

Those hours your child has spent playing Dota could be considered training sessions for potential national, regional and international tournaments, commanding prize pools of as much as US$20 million. Reflecting the growth in the industry, the prize money for esports championships has doubled from 2018 to 2019. According to James Lewin, the head of esports strategic partnerships in SEA at Riot Games, teens and young adults across the Asia-Pacific region are spending at least half their entertainment time on games. Riot Games’ League of Legends is also surpassing the total time spent on Netflix each month around the world.

Not only has gaming become the leading form of entertainment for youths (and also a popular platform for social networking and group bonding), it is turning into a legitimate professional career. Some esportsmen are, in fact, getting the same treatment as physical athletes, all in the name of training and preparing for a knockout tournament.

In the States, many pro gaming teams live in a “gaming house” where the members enjoy a personal chef, nutritionist, personal trainer, maid service and training facilities, but are also required to adhere to a curfew, a strict diet (no breads for breakfast) and a daily workout plan. Unlike a college dorm, these players get an annual salary that can reach six figures. While sports athletes wear compression socks, esportsmen use hand warmers to increase circulation. Rooms are also kept toasty to prevent stiff, frozen fingers.

Closer to home, esports has been making leaps as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games. This year’s SEA Games is taking one step further by introducing esports as a medal sport, for which the first local team has already gotten a sponsorship from Singtel. As the telco is preparing to unveil two new e-gaming leagues, Singapore’s Cybersports & Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) has announced the first inter-tertiary esports league in the country that focuses on education and career guidance.

Backed by the National Youth Council as part of the YOUTHx festivities and sponsored by OMEN by HP, the league (dubbed Campus Legends) features a prize pool of $10,000—part of which will go towards a scholarship for the champions. The grand finals will take place from 3 to 4 August 2019 at the Singapore Sports Hub. In the meantime, students participants and public visitors will get to engage in a plethora of esports-related workshops and masterclasses on the art of marshalling and officiating esports events, being a shoutcaster, game commentary, sports science, and the value of sportsmanship, discipline and resilience, among others.

“In this exciting time where esports is increasingly recognised as a legitimate discipline, Campus Legends is a platform designed for the holistic development of esports players, providing them with the proper foundation to pursue their passion and fulfil their potential, and allowing them to explore the variety of career pathways in this burgeoning industry,” shares Kelvin Tan, the president of SCOGA.

He adds, “A number of talents we have worked with have gone on to garner international achievements, and it is our hope that Campus Legends will similarly benefit many more of our local esports talents.”

Rather than an ordinary gaming tournament, Campus Legends offers an all-rounded approach to groom the next generation of industry-ready esports athletes in Singapore, and doubles as a scouting platform for major esports organisations. At its core, it works to dispel the notion of gaming as a taboo subject, and promote esports as a viable career path.

It won’t be long before esports makes its way into the Olympics one day. Analysts, meanwhile, have predicted a global revenue of £1 billion by 2020 in esports, fortifying the future of gaming as a recognised mainstay.