Is the Western Esports Industry Heading East?

While the U.S. currently leads the esports industry in revenue, China and South Korea are not far behind. According to Newzoo’s Database-Link-e1521645463907 2019 Global Esports Market Report, the Asian Pacific (APAC) region will account for 57% of all esports enthusiasts in 2019, with China, in particular, to overtake Europe as the second largest region, with $210.3M USD in revenue.

Gen.G Esports Database-Link-e1521645463907, an esports organization born out of Silicon Valley, launched into the industry not with rosters from its native country, but by purchasing a Korean Overwatch League slot, and the entire League of Legends Database-Link-e1521645463907 World Champion squad from Samsung Galaxy. In the most recent episode of the TEO Podcast, Arnold Hur, COO of Gen.G Esports, sheds some light on where the allure of the South Korean market comes from.

“If you look at the sponsorship dollars and the media value, the business side seems to point to the West,” said Hur. “But if you look at the long-term view of what’s going to make a successful esports team, it’s really being able to have an advantage in fielding competitive talent.

Arnold Hur, Gen.G Esports: “Finding talent that is bilingual, that is interested in this expansion, is extremely difficult.”

“If today soccer was on a level playing field, and everything was just as global as it is today, you probably want to start your soccer team in Brazil, knowing that all the eyeballs and everything will be allocated based on where the talent is.”

It’s worth remembering that not all esports have star players in Asia. Counter-Strike Database-Link-e1521645463907 is just now finding its feet in China, and Dota 2 Database-Link-e1521645463907 is practically non-existent in South Korea. Nevertheless, the acquisition of APAC brands is a hot trend in esports, with some Western sports teams even marrying their brands to those in the East. Soccer club Paris Saint-Germain F.C.  Database-Link-e1521645463907 partnered with Chinese esports organization LGD Gaming last year, with the resulting PSG.LGD squad emerging as finalists of The International 2018. Most recently, Philadelphia Fusion Database-Link-e1521645463907 owner Comcast Specatcor Database-Link-e1521645463907 created a joint venture with SK Telecom, picking up the latter’s three-time world champion League of Legends team in the process.

There are also small, exploratory missions to be found across the lower leagues of Korean esports. In the League of Legends Challengers Korea, tier-two organization bbq Olivers became the first to add western players to its otherwise native line-up. Most recently, the Korean King Pro League (KRKPL)—a spinoff competition for Chinese mobile game Honor of Kingsexpanded its list of franchises with one team from Europe and another from North America.

As more Western media outfits seek opportunity in East Asia, there has also been an uptick in esports stars raising their voice on western social media. On the day the T1 Entertainment & Sports was announced, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, one of the most accomplished LoL players of all time, opened an English Twitter account. A week later, so did Chinese esports icon Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao—who, if you remember, caught international attention after being featured in a Nike campaign for Lebron James’ Shut Up and Dribble documentary.

Since its launch, Gen.G has produced content around its players that featured both Korean and English subtitles, which Hur said has been a consistent challenge. “This business is really simple. It’s about talent,” he said. “Finding talent that is bilingual, that is interested in this expansion, is extremely difficult. There are times that we fail; translations are a little off, cultural messages are a little off. We really struggle with it quite a bit, but I always say every struggle is an opportunity…if we figure it out, that’s an amazing moat for the business.”

Tucker Roberts, Comcast Spectacor: “There’s a tonne of SKT T1 fans in China that we would like to do a better job of serving with the content.”

Tucker Roberts, the president of Spectatcor Gaming and the Philadelphia Fusion, will join the next episode of the TEO Podcast on March 21, alongside Chief Business Officer Joe Marsh. During that discussion, Roberts said that South Korea was a way to reach an underserved part of the market, rather than repeat the standard team brand model that’s taken hold in North America and Europe.

“We’re all really excited about taking what was a marketing department within the [SKT] sports group, and building it into a standalone entity, where we have a lot more support, a lot more professionalism,” said Roberts. “Focusing on growing their brand, growing our brand…just like we’ve done with the Fusion, we want to really blow this up a lot more than what it’s been in the last couple of years.”

The same language and cultural barriers between East and West can also be found between the APAC nations themselves, something which ties into T1’s longterm strategy. “There’s a tonne of SKT T1 fans in China that we would like to do a better job of serving with the content,” said Roberts. “Just localizing it in a native language is massive.”

The TEO Podcast is available on both iTunes and Spotify.


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