Can an eSports organization in Singapore be financially sustainable?
Last Tuesday, Singapore eSports team [Bf.Nut] organized and produced their first triple A launch event. The Battefield 4 launch, held in Colosseum LAN shop, was quite the success, drawing about 150 participants in spite of being held on a Tuesday.
It was also the first event they had been paid for organizing. This is a group that has been in existence for nine years, and they were paid for the first time last Tuesday.
It begs the question of whether an eSports organization in Singapore can be fiscally responsible for itself, given this abysmally low rate of income.
How eSports teams in Singapore can earn money
There are several ways for eSports players to earn money in Singapore. First, they can win competitions. Local competitions can have prize pots for up to S$20,000 ($16,162) if you’re lucky, as evidenced by Armaggeddon’s Grand Slam Asia Dota 2 tournament earlier this year. If they’re good enough, they can also aim for major international competitions, like Valve’s Dota 2 The International tournament, which has a minimum prize pool of $1,600,000, or Riot Games’ League of Legends World Championships, which has a $2,050,000 pot.
Second, they can offer their time, such as streaming or playing exhibition matches at a venue for a brand. Team Eve and PMS Asterisk* have engaged in such activities. Companies occasionally need their gear or peripherals promoted, and what better way to engage the crowd than with a rousing friendly competition between the best players in the game?
Third, they can organize their own events and charge people for attending. Individuals and organizations in Singapore have been known to organize their own competitions and leagues, and to charge entrance fees for them. The community-run FIFA Cups is one example; the fighting game community’s weekly BattleField Fridays is another.
Finally, they can get themselves sponsors. Many of the better-performing Singapore eSports teams have sponsors ranging from local lads like Aftershock PC to the bigger American players like ROCCAT and Alienware.
All these are viable methods of earning an income, with one main problem: they don’t happen often enough.
Why eSports teams can’t make a living in Singapore
eSports competitions in Singapore are organized infrequently enough that their winners cannot have a steady income. While the one-off tournaments can feature big prize pots, the majority of that value comes from sponsorships in-kind. You do win loads of money from international competitions, but opportunities to participate in these are as few and far between as being talented enough to even get there in the first place. The same goes for streaming, or playing exhibition matches for a brand: opportunities like these — while sometimes well-paid — just don’t come by often enough.
“[...]a game or product launch will occur maybe twice or thrice a year,” said Mohamed ‘Xtr3me3’ Phirkhan, one of Singapore’s most well known cyber-athletes. Even if they paid well, the infrequency of the product launches or exhibition events just can’t keep a player’s rice bowl filled, to say nothing of the rest of the team. Sometimes, payment can even be in-kind, and one can hardly eat a keyboard, can one?
Getting a sponsor for your team in Singapore is also pretty tough. eSports teams here are usually sponsored in-kind. “[Sponsors] don’t give a salary because it doesn’t really do anything for them. By giving products, there’s branding. Having a player on payroll is costly and ‘unnecessary’,” Alaric ‘EveRekanise’ Choo, captain and co-founder of Team Eve, told us. It doesn’t help that the Singapore market is small enough to make even sponsorships in-kind a tough decision. Without a big enough market, the sponsor isn’t going to get enough returns from his sponsorship, and it’s hard for it to justify the spend.
Organizing your own events is a different kettle of fish. You could go the way [Bf.Nut] did, and work on the same timeline as distributors and publishers. Or you could do what Flash eSports did at the beginning of this year – set up your own Dota 2 league. There are pros and cons to both these routes.
If you work with the distributors and publishers, you face the same issues. You’re at the mercy of when they want or need the events to happen, ensuring that you’re most likely going to have an infrequent income.
Going your own way, like Flash eSports did, allows you to organize these events as and when you wish, which means you can plan for a steady income. But to do that you need to have capital to start with, because organizing a full-blown competitive gaming league takes someone on the job full-time. Sourcing for sponsors, prizes, venues, and then creating marketing collateral and marketing plans is already enough work for eight hours a day. And if you include the stream of QQ from angry, entitled players, it bumps things up to a 16 hour day.
eSports teams in Singapore just can’t earn money
In truth, there are no real pro players in Singapore if the definition of being a pro player is being one who can support himself through his eSports earnings alone. Nearly all eSports players — be they Street Fighter players or Dota 2 players — have day jobs, or else they are still in school and provided for by their parents.
Those who do try to venture into the fray with the intention of earning an income from eSports have to either be flying solo (think Tammy Tang of PMS Asterisk*, who last I heard was freelancing as a consultant for gaming events) or backed by investors (a.k.a. parents), like Flash eSports’ owner Terence Ting. You do get supremely talented individuals like iceiceice once in a while, but donations from one man’s livestream (check the right sidebar for his top donors of all time) just aren’t enough to support an entire team.
For the majority of established and wannabe eSports players in Singapore, it remains true: there just aren’t enough ways to make money.