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The Rise Of Esports Culture In Asia

Gaming across Asia has always been raging in popularity.  In terms of numbers of players and fans, gaming has out performed interest in the Western hemisphere for decades. In the earlier days of 8bit and 16bit gaming we all know of the legendary Nintendo and Sega booms that came out of Japan and took the world by storm.  

Arcades were the battle grounds for some of the first major esports competitions but outside of Japan, arcades were less of a trend and consoles did really well just like they did in the West. Piracy proliferated games to the underground scene and peaked interest even more.   In fact piracy accounts for lackluster numbers in console games sales in China and SouthEast Asia. For this reason, official sales figures for games in Asia are all understated during the period.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, following on from the trends of console gaming and PC gaming, there was a massive proliferation of internet cafes (often called Cyber Cafes) in Asia.  Originally, just like in the West,  the main services offered were simply web surfing, printing facilities and CD burning. 

Gamers soon began hacking ways to install games on the internet cafe’s PCs and more and more people showed up just to play games.  Sometimes this involved writing BAT files or copying installers from CDROM or USB drives – if there was a way to get around the security then it was exploited. In the end the Cafe managers and software vendors just went with the flow – it didn’t matter what the customer was doing, so long as they were paying by the hour and the PC wasn’t being damaged.

In the early 2000’s home internet was available but the reliability and pricing wasn’t great in most Asian cities.  Not every gamer (or their parents) could afford fast internet. Internet cafes were the perfect hang-out spot for gamers to play LAN (local area network) games and socialize with fast Internet on tap.  The big attraction was the multiplayer over LAN aspect.  Gamers could meet up with friends, make new friends or play against random strangers using the local network connection with lower latency.  The Internet also made it possible to further widen the competition.  If you were to play at home, you were limited in the number of players over LAN by availability of extra PC's and the quality of the internet connection meant high pings when trying to play online.  Gaming spec PC's also cost serious money - so it made sense for gamers to pay by the hour instead.

Internet cafe software soon evolved and the cafes started preloading the most popular games to deliberately attract more gamers. The games were mostly MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role playing games) such as World of Warcraft and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (later to become DotA and Dota2).  Multiplayer FPS (First Person Shooters) like Counter Strike also dominated the terminals. The cafes started to compete with each other for customers and upgraded their PC’s hardware, graphics cards and networks.   Game offerings improved but were dictated by demand, usually for the top 2 or 3 trending games at any given moment.

In Asia, internet cafes realized their youthful clientele would also pay good money to spend time renting console time on Playstations and Xboxes. In Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand for example, most internet cafes had added as many consoles as they had space for.  

In China, internet cafe’s just like many other things were delivered on an epic scale – most internet cafes boasted many 100’s of terminals. By 2009 it was not unusual to find cafes with 500 or more terminals and spread across multiple floors of buildings. Almost all of the patrons were male and almost every single terminal was showing a game in action. In fact, there were hardly any productive tools or browsers even installed other than QQ, there was no demand for more.

Internet cafes became a popular trend in small business ownership and branded franchises became a regular feature.  Big money started to flow and more internet cafes opened. Soon enough there were internet cafes in every town and then eventually the expansion in some more populated areas meant internet cafes could even be found every hundred metres.  Demand came 24 hours a day for a seat.  It became common for internet cafes to operate 24/7 with rotating staff schedules and they sold food and drink to keep gamers sustained.

These internet cafes set the stage for LAN games and esports competitions and players could sharpen their skills day and night.   The resulting culture gave birth to the grassroots esports scene in Asia at the time. Local competitions and wider area competitions were held between gamers. It was highly competitive and entertaining and spawned huge profits for games producers too. Warcraft apparently had taken over $11 billion by 2018. Following Warcraft's success came DotA2, a sequel to Defense of the Ancients (DotA). DotA2 is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game developed and published by Valve and spawned from a community-created mod for Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

Internet cafes became far more than just gaming and esports centers.   They became a part of an enduring Asian lifestyle. Most importantly for esports - these cafe's served as the training ground for thousands of talented gamers - many of who went on to turn pro, get famous and some became wealthy esports champions.  Esports teams were formed out of friendships and competitions.  The lasting effect of the LAN Esports era in Asia is still apparent today as esports has gone mainstream as an accepted modern professional sport.

I hope you enjoyed reading this retrospective on the emerging gaming scene in Asia and how it ties in with demand for esports betting. Today Asia is the largest and most mature market for esports betting in the world and it’s a market EsportsConstruct has the most valuable experience in. If you are an operator in Asia and looking for a new esports betting product or to replace an existing one – contact us. We know Esports and we know Asia.