E-sports will throw up lot of opportunities, says expert

June 15, 2018 15:18
People watch a gaming competition at a venue in Seattle, US. E-sports are gaining in popularity, drawing lot of publicity and commercial sponsorship. Photo: Reuters

E-sports has a rather short history in Hong Kong, but the city has set aside HK$50 million to pursue initiatives aimed at making the place an e-sports hub in the region. Plans include hosting professional gaming competitions and venue innovation.

Meanwhile, Cyberport, a government-owned tech incubator, has joined hands with Hong Kong University School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE) to launch a "Diploma in eSports Science" program, aiming to equip the young generation for career opportunities in the billion-dollar industry.

In an interview with the Hong Kong Economic Journal, Ryan Chow, chairman of the Hong Kong E-Sports Association and the founder of the Cyber Games Arena (CGA), an organizer of gaming event and e-sports tournaments in Hong Kong, shared his experience on how he built a career in e-sports and how Hong Kong can tap into the field.

HKEJ: How did you get into e-sports in the first place?

Chow: First of all, I love playing video and PC games more than anyone else. The two partners of the company and me studied in the same secondary school in Hong Kong and we have been playing games since we were young. From 2000 to 2003, we won in several gaming competitions and got a championship in a competition for APAC region.

My two partners then studied abroad, in the US and Canada, but we loved gaming so much that we could find time playing together over the internet even we were in different time zones!

At that time, I had started to work in digital marketing, and I came up with the idea of creating a business plan about gaming, a field that I was excited about, to see if it can work.

After doing some research, I figured out that gaming had been regarded as "electronic sports" in the US and Canada, and gaming competitions had been successful events that can attract significant publicity and commercial sponsorships.

That had broken our understanding of gaming: We noted that E-sports competitions were held in large exhibition venues, with live broadcast over the internet. And it became a new kind of sports. The industry has been growing fast, with professional gaming leagues established in many countries and gaming competitions becoming an entertainment event for the masses.

Q: Recently, Timeless Software, a company listed in the Growth Enterprise Market (GEM), acquired a stake in your firm. What are your plans for the next step of the company? How would you make use of the fresh capital?

A: Before this new financing, we had raised funds from angel investors. When we first received the funding, we didn’t think much about how to keep expanding the business; even worse, we had spent almost all the money we had saved that time to launch our first few gaming competitions, setting up a studio, buying fancy and expensive equipment, trying to figure out how to do the live broadcast. At that time, we didn’t know whether there was any capital left to host the next competition!

The whole picture has changed in recent years, with the government promoting and offering support to the industry. We plan to expand our business to Taiwan, and we would add in other kinds of services in our offerings, besides focusing on e-sports.

Q: It is estimated that in China, e-sports has grown to a 65.5 billion yuan (US$10.2 billion) market last year. Do you think Hong Kong e-sports can keep up with the fast-growing gaming industry in China?

A: Hong Kong is very well fit for hosting mega e-sports events. First of all, Hong Kong is an international city, and for foreign travelers, a travel visa to Hong Kong is easy to obtain. We have a large number of translators in the city, and there are large venues, like the Hong Kong Coliseum and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, which are suitable for e-sports events.

It is also worth mentioning that there are lots of local businesses and international brands interested in event sponsorship. Though Hong Kong started late and the market is relatively small, we have seen a fast-growing pace. Besides, Hong Kong people, in general, have a high spending power, and they are willing to spend on entertainment.

Q: Besides being an e-sports player, what are the career opportunities in the industry?

A: There are various roles in an e-sports competition. We have anchors and commentators, just like what other sports games have, delighting the audience. Also, there are analysts reviewing real-time figures about the players’ performance.

Behind the scenes, there are supervisors responsible for the stage effects of the event, as well as the stage design and the coordination between various parties. We also have directors to control the camera setting and other equipment.

Meanwhile, there is a huge amount of video-editing for every gaming competition, such as designing computer animation effects and producing video highlight clips. Those people need to be very familiar with the gameplay, as well as the specific game rules and systems. Also, we have the promotion team to design and develop marketing campaigns.

Q: What advice do you have for young people who want to get into the industry?

A: The first step is to find out what expertise you have. If you want to enter the e-sports industry, it is not feasible to rely on your interest and enthusiasm alone. Secondly, you need to be very familiar with e-sports. If you have the director’s skillset, all the firms in the industry, like us, would fight to recruit you!

The whole industry is still short-staffed now. Some foreign companies have invited our live broadcast team to Southeast Asia to help broadcast live events. People in this industry have to travel and work overseas from time to time. All around the world, there are just so many competitions to be held.

I believe that if you find your own skillset, and you like what you do, it can be your expertise.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 15

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal