In the Asia-Pacific region, esports events have blown up so quickly and surely that brands are scrambling to get on board despite limited knowledge of the industry. But low-cost airline AirAsia has managed to avoid that route by putting in due diligence—thanks to plenty of research and an average employee demographic of 25-year-olds.
Head of esports at AirAsia, Allan Phang, said the one advice he would give to non-endemic brands is to take the time to engage with the community before going in. Because the industry is a shape-shifter and moves at a great speed, keeping the community close will help brands comprehend those changes.
“Don’t base your research off paper reports—you really need to talk to them,” said Phang. “We did plenty of market research for about six months, we immersed ourselves into the esports events space and companies such as ESL. We went to events on the ground because you can’t make armchair decisions—you need to talk to the community.”
AirAsia has gone on to sponsor teams including Mineski Pro Team, a DOTA organisation with players from Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia. In April, the airline acquired a majority share in Team Saiyan who specialise in Mobile Legends; the team was rebranded to AirAsia Saiyan following the acquisition.
In June, they partnered as official airline for the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG), a major international competition by Alisports with a prize purse of US$5.5 million. For this, the partnership included flights, media value and cash prizes as well as the opportunity to offer various ancillary products and services at the event including online stores and ticketing agents.
This all began with Phang initiating an internal esports team after gauging interest among his colleagues. “There are gamers in the [AirAsia] community so I started an esports club. After 6pm, we gathered and played. Eventually, we joined external tournaments to rep AirAsia and it was a huge success. A lot of media picked it up.”
It didn’t hurt too when newly minted Minister of Youth and Sports Sqed Saddiq—a 26-year-old gaming enthusiast himself—announced that the airline would invest in Malaysia’s first esports hub. The shopping mall-turned-hub would be used to host future tournaments and to ultimately build the country’s gaming community.
“The hub would be a few floors and we’ll have a theatre arena, and space for R&D and vocational training. We’ll also have back-end and front-end support, production, telecasters… get other industry experts to come for things such as game design,” said Phang. Today, the AirAsia Allstars Esports Team has even signed sponsorship deals with gaming companies who will provide equipment for the gaming room located inside AirAsia's headquarters.
“In the world of esports, 100 days here is like 1,000 days elsewhere. It’s a shape-shifter, [brands] have to learn to adapt,” added Phang.