Southeast Asia is a fast-growing region for the gaming industry. Niko Partners estimates that total mobile & PC game revenue will reach $6.7 billion in Southeast Asia in 2025, with an estimated CAGR of 7.8% for 2021-2025. Esports is an important segment of the games industry, especially in Southeast Asia where there are over 100 million esports enthusiasts, many of whom are part of the 269 million gamers in 2021. Esports is becoming a part of mainstream entertainment, even included as a medal title for the first time at the Olympic Committee-sanctioned Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in the Philippines in 2019 and at the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam. The region boasts prominent esports organizations, such as EVOS Esports, Team Flash, Fnatic, and ONIC Esports. Southeast Asian countries have also presided as the location for major global tournaments such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang M1, M2, and M3 World Championships and Free Fire World Series.
Niko Partners surveyed 2,400 gamers in Southeast Asia in 2021, most of whom are Gen Z and Millennials – between the ages of 18 and 29. Many respondents are students or recent graduates with an interest in gaming and esports. Whether casual fun or competitive action, gaming is an important part of growing up in Southeast Asia. As a part of the competitive gaming industry, many collegiate and school-level esports tournaments were held across the region. One of the most notable events is Valorant First Strike where Riot partnered with local esports organizers to host a collegiate-level tournament for Valorant.
Source: Niko Partners 2021
The rising popularity of gaming and esports has driven schools to incorporate related activities and courses into the curriculum. There is much to observe on the current state of gaming and esports in the school curriculum, particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. An adjacent topic is investment in gaming and esports skills as something important for students in the 21st century, though there are challenges to doing so. This article also comments on steps to be taken by gaming industry stakeholders to improve school gaming studies and organizations, which could contribute to higher games industry revenue and player base in the region over time.
Integration into education
Integrating gaming and esports courses into the school curriculum requires structural adjustments and awareness among education stakeholders. Support is often provided by gaming or esports business entities. For example, Tier One Entertainment partnered with Lyceum of the Philippines University for its gaming and esports program. Generally speaking, there are more courses for game development than esports. Gaming clubs or esports extracurricular activities are also catching on. While organizations such as the Esports Federation of Indonesia have expressed their intention to include esports into the national school curriculum, the inclusion would need the approval of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, i.e., the effort would take a long and winding path. Therefore, continuous cross-sectoral cooperation is something that would need to happen to build the foundation of gaming and esports in curriculum across the region.
Initiatives are being taken by individual gaming stakeholders including telco companies and esports organizations in providing programs to nurture esports talents. The first esports academy in Indonesia, EAID, was established in 2021 by an Indonesian public figure Edho Zell as he is personally interested in esports. EAID recently partnered with the National Sports Committee of Indonesia to deliver gaming programs further at grassroots level. In the Philippines there is Acadarena, a campus gaming and esports education platform that provides access to develop careers in gaming and develops the capacity of gaming communities. Additionally, AcadArena is partnering with several gaming organizations and companies such as Riot Games, Bren Esports, Rumble Royale, and Twitch Student.
We have noticed higher education institutions in the region have also implemented gaming and esports courses within their curriculum. Major institutions that include a bachelor’s degree in game development include Arts and Game Design at the Singapore Institute of Technology, Games and Multimedia Computing Track at the Asia Pacific College in the Philippines, and Game Applications and Technology at Binus University in Indonesia. Besides offering a program in Computer Games Development, the Asia Pacific University (APU) Malaysia along with Esports Malaysia also initiated APU Esports Malaysia Academy.
How esports and gaming benefit Gen Z
In analyzing the trend of including gaming and esports in Southeast Asia’s higher education curriculum, there are some factors that we should be aware of. First, Gen Z is growing up in a digital-first world where different sets of skills are required compared to prior generations. The skills that are needed to survive in the digital first world include communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. To ensure the youth can learn those skills, schools need to adopt an active learning methodology that encourages self-regulated learning. One of the best options to fulfil that is by inserting video games and esports into the school’s curriculum. Video games and esports encompass the competencies of the skills through an engaging format. Communication and collaboration are improved through the team-based aspects of esports. Creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving are also improved as esports provides complex challenges that require out of the box solutions.
Second, video games and esports unlock new job opportunities both within the growing esports industry and beyond. Some of the opportunities within esports include being a professional player, coach, content creator, and many more to be listed. Based on data from Hitmarker, the number of full-time jobs in the esports field in 2019 (8,330 jobs) increased 118% year on year. The high demand for esports in the region is also leading to an increase in prize pools across esports tournaments. Jianwei Yap, a Malaysian Dota 2 player, has earned $1,903,965 from prize pools alone. He is the highest earning among all players in Southeast Asia. This proves that the inclusion of video games and esports in the curriculum can have a positive outcome for students both in terms of skills and job opportunities. Gaming industry stakeholders can utilize that fact as a unique proposition to attract students as potential professional players and game developers.
Among all the benefits of including video games and esports into the school’s curriculum, we acknowledge that challenges remain. First, parents across the region (see here, here, and here) are still skeptical about video games and esports. Video games and esports are often seen as having bad impacts on children, such as causing addiction, bad behavior, and poor social skills. Second, expertise and experience in the higher educational institutions regarding gaming and esports are still lacking. For these reasons, the gaming industry stakeholders need to collaborate with higher educational institutions as well as government entities to further the advancement of integrating gaming and esports into the curriculum.
Gaming industry stakeholders can also take a role in awareness-raising campaigns around gaming and esports as well as providing expertise in the field. By doing so, gaming industry stakeholders will be profiting from the collaboration in terms of marketing and company’s development. Promoting gaming and esports directly to students will widen their market segmentation and audience. Closely nurturing potential talent of gaming industry and esports (developers and players) will ensure the quality of the talents and accelerate talent-pooling process. As gaming and esports steadily becoming mainstream activities across Southeast Asia, the inclusion in curriculums would accelerate the process, and Niko Partners’ estimates that total game revenue will reach $6.7 billion in Southeast Asia in 2025 might come even sooner.