Cultivating competitive gaming

A decade ago, schoolchildren huddled up in smoky, dimly-lit internet cafes, the seats soaked with the sweat, furiously clicking away while virtual carnage transpires on their monitors would be seen as a social pandemic.

But when 23-year-old Malaysian Tue Soon Chuan and his China-based team, LGD. Forever Young, attained a third place win at The International DoTA 2 tournament in August, where the group walked away with over US$2.6 million (RM11.2 million), the notion of eSports being a viable "occupation" has become a- hard-to-ignore reality.

Yet, this is not the first time a mark was made by a Malaysian or a Malaysian team, overseas. Previous wins received little fanfare, and by extension, not that much support. To put the situation into context, the prize purse of eSports tournaments are almost five times higher than traditional sports, yet there is a larger degree of publicity given for the latter.

"It has become a joke. People think it's a simple thing, where you just become famous overnight. (He) has been working hard for the past five to six years of his life, but nobody noticed or knew about him or eSports. In the end it paid off, some sponsor, coach or team from abroad found this talent and bought him," says Thaneesh Ganesan, an eSports coach.

Where competitive gamers enjoy celebrity status in countries such as South Korea, Malaysians might consider themselves lucky to even have their wins celebrated in the media for anything longer than several days.

Seeking to capitalise on the booming local competitive gaming scene and to provide a sufficient platform for Malaysians gifted enough to participate competitively, whilst bringing awareness to the eSports scene, several parties have set up programmes geared exclusively towards achieving these ends.

First to do so was Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovations (APU) with APU eSports Malaysia Academy, then came the Academy of eSports (AOES) Iskandar Puteri by Iskandar Investment Berhad, both offering extensively detailed programmes that help students to improve themselves, while providing them with the chance to be scouted as either professional gamers or to play a different role in the industry.

"The Academy of eSports is not purely focused on playing games. It opens a holistic field of work for students to choose from, like being involved as a manager, coach, analyst, commentator, or as a streamer," explains Kieran Lam, CEO and principal of AOES, via email.

"There is also a programme particularly for event management in eSports, focused on students understanding the different setups for events."

Thaneesh, who is attached to APU, echoed the exact sentiment, claiming that their programme is not geared exclusively towards churning out solely competitive gamers but is holistic in equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to penetrate the field either through gaming or managing events related to it.

Zierasmayu Abd Rahman, manager of APU eSports Malaysia Academy, claims, "This platform was created so that people can come, find where they're most comfortable in, and get the right help, so that they can get scouted."

"It's not just asking them to play games. It's actually developing their soft skills, personality, confidence, and communication," adds Thaneesh.

As student Lee Siang Lim gained a competitive edge with the dramatic increase in his performance at the start and end of the first semester, another student Ahmad Syakhir Fitri, started to grow out of his introverted shell.

"I used to be shy. I stayed in a corner, never talking to anyone, but this programme has given me the necessary social and leadership skills through constant communication with others in the programme," says Syakhir.

Syakhir's father, Mohd Shahril Mat Ali, recounts his own experience with the change in his son, claiming that "throughout the weeks after joining the course, I noticed the improvement in him, particularly his performance in vocational school. When I saw that the programme was good for him, that he could still perform in school, I gave my wholehearted support".

"We want proper recognition for eSports. For it to be accepted and embraced by society, and that's how we can create even more winners. People need to believe that this is an acceptable career path, because there are a lot of opportunities in here," Zierasmayu concluded.