Singtel, AIS and SK bundle together for gaming JV

SK Telecom has joined forces with Thailand’s AIS and Singapore’s Singtel to launch a new partnership to develop new gaming-related revenue streams.

The investment in a regional joint venture builds on an earlier Memorandum of Understanding with the intention of pursuing riches in the increasingly popular gaming sector. Designed to be a venture relevant across the South-east Asian region, the trio will partner with various international partners to leverage their presence in various markets.

“Gaming is growing in popularity as digital entertainment for our customers in the region,” said Arthur Lang, CEO of Singtel’s International Group. “There are some 200 million gamers in our markets, and the numbers continue to grow.

“In the past two years, we’ve worked with various partners in the gaming ecosystem on regional esports efforts, such as PVP Esports, to connect with Gen Z and millennial audiences. This has received strong support from the community and spurred us to deepen our engagement beyond esports into gaming content distribution.”

Although gaming is already incredibly popular in some markets around the world, improvements in connectivity and mobile devices have opened this segment up to new audiences, new experiences and new ways to make money. 5G is also touted to bring new elements to this segment, thanks to higher download speeds and improved latency.

“The games market in Thailand is showing remarkable growth,” said Alistair David Johnston, MD of New Business at AIS. “There are over 27 million active gamers across all platforms, with revenue in 2019 exceeding 23 billion baht, and expected to increase to 27 billion baht in 2020. AIS has been a pioneer in the Thai esports space, hosting several successful tournaments. AIS’ industry-leading fixed and mobile networks also provide a great gaming experience to our customers.”

While AIS will bring experience in esports and digital content to the partnership, SK Telecom is bringing expertise from the hugely successful Korean entertainment and gaming industry, and Singtel’s is said to bring deep regional knowledge, digital and telco assets. With 800 million gamers across the region, it certainly does look like an attractive proposition.

$100 million prize show eSports is the real deal

Epic Games has announced it will provide $100 million to fund prize pools for Fortnite competitions, an eye-watering amount of cash to demonstrate the rapid emergence of eSports.

Managing the increasingly intensive flow of data across a network is a tricky task nowadays, and that’s even before technologies like virtual reality and autonomous vehicles become a certainty. eSports is a cog in the machine which doesn’t seem to be taken too seriously as of yet, but $100 million from Epic Games demonstrates the segment is rapidly gaining traction in the world of normality.

“Grab your gear, drop in and start training. Since the launch of Fortnite Battle Royale we’ve watched the passion for community competition grow and can’t wait to empower you to battle with the best,” the company wrote on its blog.

“In the 2018 – 2019 season, Epic Games will provide $100,000,000 to fund prize pools for Fortnite competitions. We’re getting behind competitive play in a big way, but our approach will be different – we plan to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game.”

While many would brush the geeks aside, do so at your peril. Unlike many of the top-titles in the eSports arena, Fortnite goes beyond the PC platform onto mobile. It is the exception as it stands, but this is a trend which we are likely to see a lot more of over the coming years as unlimited data plans become more common and device specs improve. What is also clear is the strain on the network will also become a lot more tense.

Single player formats have decreased in popularity in recent years, though these games are much more common on mobile. On the traditional gaming platforms, multi-player formats are much more common nowadays, and this trend should be expected to migrate onto mobile as well. Before too long, eSports could be considered one of the biggest strains on the network.

Tencent is a company which has recognised the potential of this segment and the Epic Games business, having purchased 48.4% of the business in 2012 and announcing a further $15 million investment for on esports, marketing and infrastructure in China. Fortnite will get a notable push in the country, but its popularity is already evident worldwide. Epic Games announced in January 45 million people had already played the game. Alongside Epic Games, Tencent also has ownership stakes in Riot Games, Activision-Blizzard and Ubisoft.

MNOs already have a lot to think about, but this is a factor which should not be ignored. eSports are no longer for geeks, and it is destined for mobile.

Man City sign eSports star – not something you see every day

Friday isn’t the most serious day in the world, so here’s something from the lighter side of the tech industry. Premier League leader, Manchester City, has signed its second FIFA eSports player, Marcus ‘ExpectSporting’ Jorgensen.

18-year old PS4 player Jorgensen will join Xbox player Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown in Man City’s stable of eSports stars, demonstrating the potential which is quickly developing in the eSports world. During 2017, Jorgensen became inaugural champion at the FIFA Interactive Club World Cup in Aug 2017, beating competitors from top European football clubs, and also reaching the FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final in London.

“We’re really excited to be signing Marcus to represent Manchester City in tournaments and fan events around the world. He has already demonstrated that he can compete amongst the best esports FIFA players around so we can’t wait to see how he progresses,” said Nuria Tarre, Chief Marketing Officer for City Football Group.

“The growth in eSports over the past 18 months has been significant and our increasing presence in this field has provided another exciting platform for us to engage with City fans, both here in the UK and further afield.”

The growth in eSports over the last couple of years has been staggering. Once considered a shelter for geeks and misfits, eSports is now penetrating the mass market, proving the most popular past time in certain markets in Asia. For those of you who are new to the area, here are a few of the numbers from the Intel Extreme Masters, a series of international eSports tournaments held in countries around the world:

  • $5,593,650 in prize money awarded so far
  • 113,000 attendees at the Katowice event in 2016
  • 1,300 crew members at the Katowice event
  • ESL One Hamburg powered by Intel, Europe’s largest Dota 2 festival, had 25 million unique online viewers

Considering the price of entering into the sports content market, perhaps this is an area telcos should seriously start thinking about. The popularity of eSports is growing incredibly quickly, and is starting to generate fan bases not too dissimilar from physical sports. The emotional connection is almost certainly there, but we doubt there will be many who will have the foresight to actually consider such a bet.

Telcos are hardly the most adventurous, usually waiting for a trend to prove it’s a genuine thing before investing. By this point, the telcos have to overspend to catch up with the early adopters, meaning a lot of the value is lost in overpriced assets. Maybe someone will prove us wrong, Telefonica is having a go at eSports in Spain, but the majority will probably stick to the same risk-adverse path which is taking the industry towards commoditization.