By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
LONG considered a “niche” market, E-sports has steadily grown exponentially throughout the years with its upside still deemed very high. Such being the case, many have taken notice, including businesses.
And it is not confined to game developers and tech companies as also those considered “mainstream” have dipped their hands into it.
In the Philippines, among those which have tapped into E-sports are TV5, PLDT, and Smart Communications and Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.
Said companies shared that they recognize the burgeoning E-sports scene in the country and have made efforts to cater to the demand for it while also adding dimension to what they are as brands.
TV5, the country’s biggest sports TV network, has added E-sports to its roster of sports programs, regularly showing the biggest international E-sports tournaments both on free TV and through the digital platform.
It is still forging partnerships with different groups to expand its content and was a key proponent for the establishment of The Nationals, the first-ever E-sports franchise model league in the country.
“E-sports was already there even before we partnered with ESPN but now it allows us to cover it even internationally and allows us as well to have bigger opportunity to raise the stakes locally,” said Ralph Aligada, head of E-sports and Gaming for ESPN5, in an interview with BusinessWorld at the recently held E-Sports and Gaming Summit, speaking of the kind of dimension E-sports has brought to their group.
“Technology primarily drives it and us being sister companies with Smart and PLDT, it is logical for us to continue with everything. Our goal is to really make sure that everyone in the industry will get a platform, be legit and to be covered like a sport should be,” he added.
As to the Road to The Nationals, which was launched early this year, Mr. Aligada said reception to it has been warm and it has only encouraged them to keep on going.
“Locally is where the focused of The Nationals is, it is really supporting the ecosystem around E-sports here. And it has been very interesting. Some of our Road to The Nationals events would actually rate higher than some UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines) games,” the ESPN5 official said.
Mr. Aligada went on to say that moving forward they are bent on raising their involvement in E-sports.
“So what we are planning now is professionalizing everything, treating it like how we do it with the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association) and [volleyball league] PSL (Philippine Superliga),” he said.
Adding, “The thrust right now is to build the whole infrastructure around it, including finding shoutcasters. Think of it as looking for the next Magoo Marjon (PBA commentator) for E-sports, or the next Andy Jao, or Ed Picson (PBA analysts), because aside from the players, the people covering E-sports are actually celebrities in their own right.”
For PLDT and Smart, the growth of E-sports has also challenged them to up their game in providing the proper connection that is free-flowing and smooth for players to enjoy their games.
“E-sports is a perfect fit for us. For E-sports athletes to really excel they really need good connections to make playing smooth,” said Andrew Santos, FVP-Consumer Marketing Head for PLDT and Smart, in a separate interview.
“We are inspired by the E-sports players, which is why we are really expanding our network. In fact by the end of this year we are going to be covering 90% of all municipalities with Smart LTE. We continue to invest quite significantly in the infrastructure and even Fibre connection, We are expanding very rapidly to ensure that every home and individual, whether at home or on the go, can gain access to good connection,” he added.
On the part of RCBC, meanwhile, it sees value in providing gamers a secured and safe platform to make their in-app and in-game purchases.
In line with this, the bank launched its MyWallet Virtual Card, a reloadable prepaid card for purchases that gamers can use.
“RCBC recognizes the growth of E-sports which has been in existence for years. The games are evolving and it is far from the days when you would queue in the arcades with tokens. The need of the gamers is evolving and that is part of the financial services that we are trying to tap,” said Alvin Perez, portfolio head for digital banking group of RCBC.
“That is why RCBC launched the MyWallet Virtual Card with gamers in mind, to help them in their in-app and in-game purchases. We want to provide our local gamers, both professional and casual ones, that opportunity to have that convenience and sense of security,” he added.
At the current rate things are going for E-sports, Mr. Aligada said it can only be expected to expand in more ways than one moving forward.
“E-sports is the “in” thing now but unlike other sports that is here now and gone later, E-sports is here to stay,” the ESPN official said.