The dust has settled in what has been a successful outing for National Youth Council (NYC)’s YOUTHX Weekend Festival that occurred during 3 and 4 August 2019. A 60,000 strong crowd turned up to support what was the culmination of a month-long celebration of youth aspirations and talents, attending highlights like the Super 24 Dance Competition, performances for SHINE and also newcomer Campus Game Fest.
Campus Game Fest itself isn’t a new event, as the annual gaming event is a significant feature every year in Singapore ever since its first show in 2013.
However, the event organiser Singapore CyberSports & Online Gaming Association (SCOGA) opted for a shift in direction, moving from their previous venue in ITE College Central to the Singapore Indoor Stadium instead to join as part of YOUTHX ’s programme line-up.
A change of venue is one thing, but joining the YOUTHX festival also meant that scheduling also had to shift. The usual June timeline had to be moved to now, in August.
This shift was something that Nicholas Khoo, Chairman and Co-Founder of SCOGA had concerns about prior to the event, though it was safe to say that his broad smile was a good indication that those fears were allayed.
“This is an interesting time to do it. We’ve not done a major event in August before, we always do it during the school holidays in June, September, and November. What surprised us was that the gamers still showed up in force. We were not sure (about the outcome); new location, new timing,” he said.
Campus Game Fest was just a small portion of a growing esports scene in Singapore, with next month’s Esports Festival Asia seen as another major highlight for this year.
All these seem to be a precursor to the upcoming Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), which many have credited as one of the big reasons why esports is suddenly surging into public’s mind space by including it as a medal event.
Mr Khoo also agreed on how the SEA Games brought about relevance in the news space, though he was quick to add that happenings worldwide also helped to add talking points; citing how the success of a 16-year-old at a recent Fornite tournament in America also made headlines.
The growth of the esports scene in Singapore was something I was keen to explore with Mr Khoo, an experienced mind who has probably seen everything there is to see since the inception of SCOGA way back in 2007. He was optimistic about the outlook of esports’ future in Singapore, though he himself is uncertain on how much or how fast it could grow due to how unpredictable the gaming market is.
“We think that the stable player base for esports is slightly north of 500,000, and we are only capturing part of it here (YOUTHX). Would it grow by that much in the future? I don’t know. Esports as a trend is certainly growing but the harder thing to pin a finger on is which title will be relevant. Right now Mobile Legends is the biggest game, but will it be dethroned by another title? At that level, we try not to be a fortune teller.”
Mobile Legends was something that came out of nowhere in 2017 to take the gaming world by storm. Mr Khoo himself was surprised that it is still popular among gamers, especially when there have been new games released since that have managed to pry away the attentions of gamers like Apex Legends – another example on how erratic the gaming industry is.
He was more forthcoming in regards to the viability of esports as something that people can do as a living, pointing out the partnership he has with Informatics Academy that had recently launched an esports specific diploma – the Diploma in Esports and Game Design – a first in Singapore.
He explained how the diploma aims to equip students with knowledge of different aspects of the esports scene, including shout-casting and live-streaming. Something he hopes that students ultimately take away from the experience is a broad perspective on the whole industry, seeing how transient it is.
Intrigued, I asked him how SCOGA aims to educate parents, especially with Singapore being stereotyped with having a “tiger-mum” mentality when it comes to education. Mr Khoo’s response surprised me.
Admitting that while speaking to parents not one of SCOGA’s skillsets, he still gets positive feedback from them. Whipping out his smartphone, he showed me several pictures that he received through the SCOGA Facebook page from a mother who was at Campus Game Fest just the day before with her family of two children.
“When we ran some of our workshops for gamers, there was one class we ran a few weeks back where more parents showed up than the kids, and it was about professional gaming, the life of a professional gamer. The class was held here (Sports Hub); we had about 35 people and the guys there texted me excitedly and said: “There are more parents than kids! In this class!”
The esports scene is also getting more competitive as its relevance rises in Singapore, as the prize money gets bigger and bigger.
Competition is something Yip Ren Kai, Co-chair of YOUTHX Steering Committee is familiar with, having been involved in Singapore’s national water polo scene in years before. In his role, he was also involved in the recent Clash of Champions tournament.
He mused about how he wants to bring his experience with traditional sports in the esports scene, something he feels isn’t too dissimilar from.
“You have your individual games, similar to individual sports, you have your team games like Mobile Legends, which is similar to your team sports like football, and the values that you learn is actually the key thing. Values in sports, values in esports, it’s all the same – sportsmanship, determination, resilience, which is what we want to see in our youths as well,” he said.
Physical activity was a major point that was eager to bring up for esports, seeing it as a crucial aspect that needs to be integrated for future esports competitions in order to prepare players for the rigours of the tournament.
In fact, he spoke about how his work as Managing Director of Reddentes Sports has managed to cater to esports activities, such as their collaboration with professional esports organisation Team Flash, a team that his company invests in.
“We brought in Fitlion, which is a nutritional platform. They provide players with nutrition products like healthy snacks, healthy bars, specs that help to cut out UV rays. We also did a deal with Under Armour, to try to get them active. We have done gym memberships for the players as well so that they have the proper gym regime to go to. In that sense, we are very plugged into the whole esports scene.”
Since he is co-chair of YOUTHX Steering Committee, his involvement falls under the umbrella of the whole YOUTHX, and he wants people to feel that YOUTHX is the perfect accompaniment to Campus Game Fest.
He says: “Basically what we try to do is we bring them here, but we also expose them to all the other activities around. That’s why when they go outside they see that there’s a lot of physical activity outside. What we’re trying to inculcate is that to be a good gamer, not only do you need to train, you need to have structured training, apart from that you need to have proper recovery, proper rest, proper nutrition and proper diet.
He highlighted how YOUTHX various activities like the Super 24 dance competition and the SHINE Festival are great foils. Destressing players by listening to the music at the festival or entertaining themselves by supporting the dancers. “All those aspects will help in their esports,” he said.
Finally, I also had the chance to speak to veteran player Wong Jeng Yih ( also known as ‘NutZ’), who is the Team Captain of Reality Rift (Singaporean Dota 2 team). I was curious to know how he got started in esports, and his reply was something that I had seen during my schooling days, which was hanging out at cyber cafes with schoolmates to play Warcraft 3 and DotA. What separated him from others was having the courage to take the next step – joining competitions.
He said: “Occasionally, we would challenge people in the cyber cafes to some friendly matches. We always thought we were much better than the other players in the cafes and so, we went on to test ourselves out at a local tournament. It was a thrilling experience and it got me interested to check out the higher level of gameplays. Slowly, our gaming group expanded to include more gamers we met online and at the cyber cafe. We were able to form stronger stacks to compete in tournaments. Gradually, our results got better, and we became a notable team that competitors were wary of.”
Time management was something that always got to my schoolmates eventually, making some of them leave the gaming scene entirely. So I was surprised to hear how NutZ turned this instead into opportunity.
In fact, he highlighted how National Service (NS) was a very significant part of his journey in competitive esports.
He explained: “ While serving NS, I also spent a lot of my free time in the bunk crafting gaming strategies or heroes’ combinations/counters in my notebook so that I’d be able to test them out once I’ve booked out during the weekends. Time was limited each week, but I felt more focused when I spent time practising with my colleagues. Coincidentally, it was during this period when my team and I won a significant national tournament to represent the country to compete against the best teams from the region.”
My final question to him what was his next plans were, whether he wanted to stay in the scene after his retirement.
“There is no real solid plan as of now. I did hold my own tournament sometime back trying to promote the competitiveness of the game I like. In the future, who knows, maybe (I will) pass down my knowledge to people who are interested in pursuing the path I’ve walked. Actually, why retire?”
Indeed, why retire when esports is only getting bigger from here?
Photos courtesy of YOUTHX Weekend Festival presented by National Youth Council.