Rahul Sachitanand
Sep 23, 2020

Asia-driven esports growth offers new opportunities for marketers, says Google-Niko Partners report

With the pandemic driving people indoors, gamers have responded by turning to esports in droves across APAC, creating a potentially lucrative opportunity for brands.

The pandemic has driven gamers from internet cafes and arenas to dens and living rooms. (Shutterstock)
The pandemic has driven gamers from internet cafes and arenas to dens and living rooms. (Shutterstock)

With declining hardware prices and wireless and mobile rates, Asian consumers have led the rapid adoption of esports, reveals a new Google-Niko Partners report. Three-quarters of the way through 2020, Asia has led the evolution of esports from audience-driven events at physical spaces ranging from internet cafes to stadiums, to gamers remotely linking up from their gaming dens or couches.  

According to this study called For the win: Breaking down the preferences of Asia’s mobile gamers, this region is a market on the move. In 2018, 3.6 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) used their mobile phones to go online. The number of mobile internet users is projected to rise to five billion by 2025, and emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia are already beginning to make a dramatic impact on mobile gaming, the report notes. In 2019, China and Southeast Asia alone were home to a combined 850 million mobile gamers and generated more than $28 billion in annual revenue. 

By some accounts, the growth of esports, especially in Southeast Asia, may just be getting started. The authors cite IMF data that shows that in 2017, 62% of the population in Southeast Asia had internet access. This rose to 70% in 2018, and by 2021, IMF projects that over 90% will be online, paving the way for rapid growth. 

The smart money is following this evolving market. In 2019, revenue from mobile esports titles in China outpaced the general mobile games market by nearly 10%. And, between 2018 and 2019, mobile esports competitions helped drive up the total prize pool value for tournaments in Southeast Asia by 244%. 

These numbers are a good reason for brands and marketers to invest in this market. With the largest audience of mobile gamers in the world, Asia is primed to lead an esports revolution. Expect to see media rights, team franchising, and sponsorships become cornerstones of mass participation from devoted players and fans. After all, in 2019, mobile esports games generated $19.5 billion in global revenue—and 68% of that revenue ($13.3 billion) was generated by Asia alone.

For marketers and game developers to ride this wave, the report notes, they need to quickly do a couple of things. First, they need to track the market closely—top mobile esports titles in Asia show more genre diversity than PC and console games—and second give gamers the power to participate in this fast-growing market. 

Winning with Asian gamers hinges on not just being cognizant of these differences, but in fact, celebrating them. There is a huge opportunity for brands to “dial up” the cultural nuances that make a game popular in a specific market. For example, the popularity of anime in China or manga in Japan. Similarly understanding the social nuances of game play—for instance the increasing preference for competitive play in Korea and India—are critical factors to driving brand love. 

While 60% of gamers in China and Southeast saying they’re strongly drawn to esports, only 10% have participated in mobile esports competitions. Marketers could consider building or sponsoring tournament platforms for popular games, to stoke consumer interest and attention, the report says.

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