The mobile gaming scene in Southeast Asia is growing exponentially, thanks in large part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and Singapore-headquartered ONE Esports, Asia’s largest championship esports series, has a front row seat in one of the most active gaming regions in the world. CEO Carlos Alimurung speaks to WARC about developing rapport with the region’s gamers and how brands should be enablers.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands can play better with Southeast Asia’s mobile gamers. Read more

Key insights

  • While PC and console gaming are here to stay and will continue to grow, there is huge headroom for growth in mobile gaming and esports in the future.
  • There is enormous upside for the brands that enter early and future-proof their businesses by accessing SEA’s Gen Z and millennial audience gravitating towards esports.
  • Brands taking a holistic marketing approach to gamers by activating across multiple channels, experiences and content create an opportunity to engage with the community.
WARC: From your vantage point, what have been some key shifts in SEA’s gamer communities and their behaviours/preferences?

Not everyone can afford a high-end gaming computer or the latest console but everyone owns a smartphone and has access to Wi-Fi. Mobile games level the playing field and promote inclusivity in the gaming world.

Widespread adoption of mobile phones and the rise of new players in the video streaming market have enabled easier access to gaming content, especially within the female community. Today, female fans account for half of the esports/gaming market in Southeast Asia (51% male vs 49% female). ONE Esports’ in-house insights team found that 87% of female fans prefer mobile games and indicate that the #1 device they use to play games is their mobile phone.

Mobile gaming has also been rising in popularity in Southeast Asia, India, Brazil and the Middle East. In fact, 87% of gamers in Southeast Asia use mobile to play games, which is significantly higher than North America (60%) and Europe (59%). We found that Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and PUBG Mobile are the top gaming titles played and watched among fans in Southeast Asia, including female fans.

While PC and console gaming are here to stay and will continue to grow, there is huge headroom for growth in mobile gaming and esports in the future.

WARC: What is your take on how game developers/publishers in Southeast Asia have adapted to increasing advertiser interest and involvement as an additional revenue/marketing stream?

Although opportunities for brand involvement with esports are far more established today compared to five years ago, the industry is still in its early days. This means that there is enormous upside for the brands that enter early and future-proof their businesses by accessing the Gen Z and millennial audience which gravitates towards esports in Southeast Asia. We will continue to see more brands, especially non-endemic brands, enter gaming and esports.

In fact, the world’s best brands partnered with ONE Esports for the recent ONE Esports Dota 2 Singapore Major, including JBL, TUMI, DBS, Logitech, Foodpanda, Secretlab, Tinder, Shopee and the Singapore Tourism Board.

ONE Esports also saw great results in its brand partnerships for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB). We hosted the ONE Esports Mobile Legends Professional League Invitational (MPLI) last year, where we partnered with brands like Samsung, Red Bull, Unilever and Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy. This year, we will once again team up with Moonton to host the MPLI in the final quarter of 2021. Keep a lookout for more exciting brand partnerships and campaigns!

Carlos Alimurung, CEO, ONE Esports

WARC: How have such conversations with brands changed in the last 8-10 months?

Esports, including mobile esports, is part of mainstream culture now and so marketers and brands realise that they need to consider it. Brands also understand the importance of forging an authentic relationship with esports fans, instead of merely being a logo sponsor on an influencer’s stream or a team’s jersey.

For example, we partnered with Indonesia’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy during last year’s MPLI to shoot a branded tourism video in Bali with a famous MLBB influencer. The video was aired during the live broadcast of the tournament (which generated 68 million total views) and was well-received by fans across the region. We also worked with them to air an MPLI talk show during the tournament, showcasing MLBB influencers in an engaging fireside setting between breaks.

Those are a few examples of how we work closely with brands to bring true value to esports fans. ONE Esports places a huge emphasis in helping our brand partners build an authentic relationship with our esports community.

WARC: What would be your message or advice to brands that want to reach SEA audiences via mobile games?

Brands should take a holistic approach when marketing to gamers by activating across multiple channels, experiences and content. This creates an opportunity for the brand to reach and engage with the community across the entire fan experience.

Participating in one-off events or activations may not drive a huge or lasting impact for brands. When fans engage with a brand consistently across multiple activations and platforms, it becomes a long-term opportunity to create awareness and genuine relationships.

ONE Esports is a full content stack for esports and we help brands connect and engage with the esports community in an authentic way. We host some of the biggest esports events in the world:

  • We own and operate, which is the biggest esports news site in Southeast Asia and top five globally
  • Our social media is massively scaled with close to 300 million monthly impressions
  • We have our own studio that produces long-form, short-form and streaming content
  • We work with a wide range of esports teams and influencers
  • We also have an in-house analytics and insights team that publishes proprietary esports reports

Fans adore brands that add value to the ecosystem and show that they are committed to the space. Our unique formula of values, heroes and stories resonates with world-class brands, including foodpanda, JBL, Lazada, Netflix, Shopee, Tinder, Toyota Motors Asia Pacific and many more.

WARC: There’s an undeniable connection between the mobile gaming space and the world of esports. How should brands navigate this connection?

My advice to marketers and brands would be to focus on storytelling.

We see a massive gap and a huge opportunity to be the industry’s storytellers. This is why our mission at ONE Esports is to share and celebrate the stories of esports heroes who ignite the world with hope, strength, dreams and inspiration.

We firmly believe that compelling storytelling is the key to opening esports to more people who appreciate the struggle and achievements of athletes, regardless of the sport. Our stories elevate esports heroes to the same tier as icons of traditional sports like Messi, Ronaldo, LeBron, Serena Williams, Hamilton and more.

One of the quickest ways for a brand to build a strong rapport with the esports community is to be an enabler. Our partnership with Unilever is a perfect example. The engagement involved Unilever’s brands Axe Gaming, Master and Clear. The campaign not only targeted fans who were watching the MPLI but also engaged them through Unilever-branded grassroots community tournaments. These brands were positioned as enabling the community to engage in pro-am competitions to hone their craft and gameplay and compete for small prize pools.