E-sports Explosion: The Role of Live Streaming in Singaporean Gaming

The rise of competitive gaming as a global pastime and potentially lucrative profession has led to an increase in competitions, prize money, and media coverage. E-sports has exploded in popularity all over the world, including in Singapore, where the local e-sports industry, which includes competitive gaming and game development, has shown tremendous growth in the past decade. The Media Development Authority reports that the local games and game art industry has grown from a mere $20 million in 2005 to $104.8 million in 2010. The game industry is a booming sector and is considered one of the key sectors under the Interactive Digital Media (IDM) master plan, which hopes to grow it from S$100 million in 2008 to S$1.2 billion by the year 2015. With this growth in gaming interest and game-related revenue, there has also been growth in the competitive gaming community and e-sports following. Local e-sports organizations such as the Garena Cyber Athlete League (GCA), Singapore e-Sports, and the Singapore WCG (World Cyber Games) Committee have done a lot to promote e-sports and cultivate an e-sports culture by hosting competitions and providing exposure for Singaporean teams to compete overseas. This has led to the formation of many professional gaming teams in Singapore who vie for gaming sponsorships and overseas exposure in international competitions. Live streaming Singapore has been a very recent innovation in Singapore with the potential to greatly enhance the local e-sports scene. Streaming technology has expanded exponentially in recent years, largely due to the streaming of live sports events and music concerts, but there has been a recent upsurge in the popularity of streaming video games. Major console gaming tournaments in the US such as Major League Gaming (MLG) have already begun to incorporate streaming in their events, and this has prompted the competitors to do streaming of their individual game plays. With the advent of game console streaming software and the tremendous growth of PC gaming and internet connectivity in Singapore, live game streaming has become a feasible reality for the local gaming community.

The rise of e-sports in Singapore

There are an abundance of local tournaments catering to different types of gamers. These include fighting game tournaments such as Street Fighter V, and also first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. These tournaments are held regularly and in the case of Wasteland Gaming, there are weekly tournaments. This undoubtedly creates a flourishing environment for e-sports. The rise has also seen the formation of professional gaming teams such as the Resurgence and Flash Tyrants. These teams primarily focus on a specific game and aim to compete at the top level with the best teams within the region. A significant event signifying this period will be the acknowledgement of e-sports as a legitimate sports affiliate. In December 2016, the National Olympic Council has declared its interest in e-sports and will begin discussions with the aim to “fairly consider the possibility of e-sports’ admission into the Olympic Movement”.

The rise can be seen in the number of tournaments held in Singapore. In 2006, the CPL chose Singapore to be the host city for their grand finals. The event spanned over a period of 10 days and had a total prize money of USD 500,000. Singapore also played host to the WCG Grand Finals in 2005, where national teams from all over the world competed for the championship title. In that year, Singapore teams won several titles in games such as FIFA, Warcraft 3, and Dead or Alive. Recently, the focus has been on regional events. In 2016, we saw the Game Start Asia, SEA Major, and the Hearthstone Singapore Major. These events cater to the vast interest in gaming, as local gamers have the opportunities to meet international players of high caliber.

Importance of live streaming in gaming

The idea and concept of live streaming Singapore isn’t new; in fact, it has been around for a number of years. However, what has been a part of the unknown and cast aside has now blown up into an enormous system today. People from across the globe have come to be known as “streamers”. These people spend a majority of time broadcasting contents of a specific game. This is no different from what a television network might do, and the streamers do it on live camera, expressing their opinions or teaching people things with commentary. The only difference is that the camera has now turned into a computer monitor and the teaching is of how to get better at a video game, which is now considered to be in a much larger context than it was some 20 years ago. And with the power of e-sports, live streaming is a great way to spread word of the work that goes on beneath the surface. Live streaming the competitive events that take place, whether it’s over net play or in a local area with a doubles bracket. Due to many would rather kick back at home and watch a match unfold instead of participating in the event themselves. It’s also a better way to get a better understanding of one’s gameplay by seeing how they have performed for better or for worse. For instance, Super Smash Bros; a document in how the game was intended to be played. People can see things that happen in high level play and try to imitate that. By knowing that it is easier for people to play when there is something a goal.

Live Streaming Platforms in Singapore

While not a huge game changer, YouTube Gaming is providing Singaporean gamers with an alternative to Twitch. As the platform has grown, it has become a viable option for gamers to livestream content while also having the benefit of having SEA servers for better stability. As YouTubers and content creators are already well-established on the regular YouTube platform, YouTube Gaming provides an easy transition and the opportunity for improved viewership due to the way it is closely integrated with the main site. With the increasing trend of battle royale games and shooter games in Singapore, YouTube Gaming may potentially take up a larger share of the market as Singaporean gamers seek a streaming platform that is more well-integrated with Google’s services and YouTube’s accessibility for video on-demand content.

As with its global popularity, Twitch in Singapore holds a similar status. Being the leading live streaming platform for gamers, it has the largest market share and is well integrated into the esports scene. With high viewer numbers and an active community, Singaporean gamers are drawn to Twitch as a platform for gaining exposure as a professional gamer and getting involved in the competitive gaming scene. In recent years, Twitch has hosted several large-scale esports events in Singapore, including the finals for the Mobile Legends SEA Cup, the Singapore PUBG Series, and the GameStart Asia Indies showcase. These events have helped to push Twitch further into the Singaporean gaming community and establish it as a staple in the local esports scene.

Twitch: The leading live streaming platform

With the rise of Twitch, it has attracted various talent, developers, and media around the esports industry looking to get involved in their games being a part of the most watched games on streams. This has, in turn, led to an exclusivity of some games, with Overwatch being a recent example having signed a deal with Twitch to make it the main streaming platform for Professional and Amateur Overwatch esports, with approximately USD 90 million been said to have changed hands for a two-year deal starting in 2018. This would paint a clear picture of how influential Twitch has been in an industry taking esports and competitive gaming to a new level.

This, in turn, has led to a dichotomy of casual streamers hoping to make a casual living and professional gamers. Twitch has since been the go-to platform in the burgeoning boom of game streaming and esports, being in the backdrop of the rise for games such as League of Legends and most of their World Championships, and the avenue which the Capcom Pro Tour and Team Spooky have used to stream Street Fighter V and other fighting games.

Twitch has strived to offer many features to users, such as the ability to donate to the streams they watch, communicate with streamers through a chat window, earn special emoticons to use in said chat if enough time is spent watching the stream, and various other incentives. Twitch also has a program which allows affiliates and partners to gain access to more features such as additional monetization options, speedier customer support, and the ability for fans to show support for their favorite channels through a subscription system.

Twitch is a live streaming platform launched in 2011 as an offshoot of the general-interest streaming platform known as Justin.tv. Its primary focus is on video games, allowing users to broadcast gameplay, as well as music broadcasts, creative content, and more recently, “in real life” streams. Content on the site can be viewed either live or via video on demand.

YouTube Gaming: A growing alternative

YouTube Gaming’s reliability is its selling point, with an infrastructure backed by Google servers. This ensures a stable connection with a global audience. Its emphasis on gaming content might one day lead it to be the prime location for a gaming live stream, bolstered by its existing offerings from personalities and an existing viewer base. With Twitch competition, there is potential for this to escalate into an industry standard for live streaming.

Live streaming is available for any user who wishes to pursue it, a similar approach to Twitch’s open broadcaster software feature. Company face claims that “It should be all gaming to you and gaming only”, and with the vast array of gaming related media content on YouTube’s original platform, it will likely eclipse Twitch and its equivalents at some point in the future. YouTube also has its own live stream monetisation tools for content creators and sponsors are likely to follow, supporting those who wish to pursue content creation and streaming as a career. This also includes some exclusive content from gaming entities and personalities, foreseeing a future where additional content will entice fans of these personalities into a dedicated gaming platform.

Launched in 2015, YouTube Gaming is an alternative to Twitch with live streaming content. This single URL will lead viewers to a media platform that is entirely focused on gaming entertainment. This includes game videos, live streams, and also socially contributed content such as let’s plays.

Facebook Gaming: Expanding presence in the market

Gain in the compliant market suggests that Facebook has a considerable quantity of skill in turning into a prospective competitor in the industry. Twitch retaining the most important market percentage is largely attributed to the fact that it has an organic first mover advantage. A few years ago, a company like Azubu, who had 20 million in investment funds and legendary reputable gamer Alexey “Alex Ich” Ichetovkin from Moscow Five, tried to compete with Twitch. However, it ultimately fell short and in July 2017 arranged for a reverse merger with another corporation. Other site platforms, including Dailymotion and YouTube, have also attempted and failed to take a dent out of Twitch’s market share. This changed when Microsoft’s acquisition of Beam in 2016 led to the platform being renamed as Mixer in an attempt to create stronger competition. This was accompanied by $100 million contracts to well-known Twitch streamers, including Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek. However, with the shutdown of Mixer on July 19th, 2020, and the subsequent transfer of the signed contract streamers to return to streaming on Twitch, it became evident that it was largely unsuccessful. The most notable attempt, however, could have been in 2016 from YouTube Gaming, where they tried to entice streamers from Twitch with higher revenue offers. This was evident with the temporary name change from the already established streamer “Oddshot.tv” to “Oddshot.Facebook”. The project ultimately ended in 2018 and the modified name reverted to its original.

Impact of Live Streaming on Singaporean Gaming Community

With the ease of accessibility to various genres of games, live streaming enables gamers to spectate gameplay by others from around the world, offering those with similar interests to connect and communicate through the internet. This has brought forth the globalization of online gaming communities where players are able to connect with others internationally and break the barrier of gaming locally. With the case of Singapore, an emerging country in the e-sports scene, live streaming provides a channel for local gamers to interact with international communities and gain more insights on various games in the world. This would, in turn, help in creating an environment where gaming is no longer restricted to what is available locally but an experience of games from around the globe.

Increased accessibility and globalization of online gaming communities has somewhat created a space for an emerging e-sports culture in Singapore with the help of live streaming. Live streaming provides a platform where gamers are able to broadcast their gameplay to others in real time. This activity is made possible through various platforms available on the internet. Live streaming has impacted gamers in numerous ways. As an alternative to social networks, live streaming creates an interactive and, most of the time, an informative online environment for gamers through the act of experiencing a game in progress by an individual player.

Increased accessibility and exposure for gamers

At the same time, anyone who enjoys a certain game can also aspire to stream it himself. This ease of entry into both watching and creating stream content means that anyone who is interested in a particular game has the potential to join a community of like-minded individuals, which is something that is not feasible for all games through other forms of media.

Live streams are one of the easiest forms of gaming-related content to produce. All that is required is a computer of a reasonable specification and an internet connection, which is relatively easy to come by in today’s age. Because of this, there are streams available for a vast assortment of games. A person who enjoys a certain game can simply search whether it is being streamed at any given time and if so, can begin watching it immediately. Compare this to the time it may take to find a VOD for a specific game, or to wait until a scheduled game is broadcast on television, and it is clear that streams are the most accessible form of gaming-related media.

When the only options for watching a game being played were either to be present physically in someone’s living room or to watch it as a spectator, it severely limited the potential audience. This is because the majority of games have been played online since the release of the first game to connect to the internet, which was The X Band for the SNES way back in 1995. Although a games and technology enthusiast could speculate that competitive gaming would eventually be a big thing, it is only recently that it has achieved both mainstream acceptance and popularity. With the advent of live streams, watchable competitive gaming has found its first real platform and the potential for its growth is now essentially limitless.

Formation of online gaming communities

The advent of online gaming communities has allowed gamers to connect, strategize and compete with one another even if they are geographically apart. The convenience and informality of online gaming have allowed friends, family members and acquaintances to delve into gaming as a leisure activity, reinforcing existing social ties. Another form of online gaming community is the clan, which is a group of gamers who usually play under a similar tag and are involved in a gaming community for the purpose of multiplayer gaming. Clans are known to organize their own events and competitions and have a hierarchical structure with leaders and administrators. Live streaming has bolstered the formation of online gaming communities by providing a platform to exchange gaming tips and knowledge, to spectate others’ gameplay, and to interact with other gamers over a shared interest in gaming. In a qualitative study of young adults in the United Kingdom, researchers found that the participants were using YouTube and Twitch as a learning resource to improve their own gameplay by interacting with gaming broadcasters and spectating eSports tournaments. This is supported with the proliferation of content from game guide websites and wikis and an increase in user searches for information on game tactics and strategy.

Professional opportunities for gamers and streamers

Professional opportunities arising for gamers and streamers can be broadly categorized under full-time gaming as a professional e-sports athlete, live-streaming and casting, and content creation and management. As the popularity and marketability of e-sports increases and more organizations search for competitive gamers, there are increasing opportunities for gamers to turn to e-sports as a full-time job. Previously, e-sports was seen as a somewhat amateur and disorganized activity, but with the globalization of e-sports and its acceptance as a ‘real’ sport, many gamers are leaving the traditional workforce to pursue a career in gaming. Salaries for e-sports athletes have increased steadily, with many in countries with developed e-sports industries having teams that are salaried and sponsored to compete in regional and global tournaments. Prize money for major tournaments now often rivals those of traditional sports, and streaming and video services have allowed e-sports to reach a wider audience around the world. With the inclusion of e-sports in major gaming events such as the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, it is indeed possible that e-sports sees Olympic inclusion, further legitimizing e-sports as a professional career. Live-streaming platforms have provided an alternative form of employment for gamers, allowing them to broadcast content from their own home. High-profile streamers can generate considerable revenue through subscription and ad-revenue sharing. The success of some streamers has led to sponsorship deals and partnerships with e-sports organizations.

Influence on traditional sports and entertainment industries

Mobile live streaming gained much attention with the entry of Meerkat and Twitter-incorporated Periscope in early 2015, but quickly ceased to be a stable platform for content creation. The vacuum left by these apps was filled by live streaming gaming platforms such as Twitch and Azubu’s mobile application. These platforms are supported by various e-sports organizations and professional gamers, mainly those playing PC games, but have potential to reach out toward mobile gamers. This ultimately allows for an interconnected network between gamers and their viewers. E-sports has already had an impact on other forms of digital media, shown by a partnership between Activision Blizzard and Facebook which granted Facebook exclusive broadcast rights to Activision Blizzard e-sports events in 2018. This progression will likely take viewers away from traditional forms of sports, shown by declining television viewership of the English Premier League in Singapore, from 156,000 viewers in 2015 to 91,000 viewers in 2018. With the recent announcement of e-sports being a medal event in the 2019 SEA games, the gap and viewership disparity between e-sports and traditional sports will likely narrow.

E-sports has gained significant attention in Singapore and around the globe, providing an alternative form of entertainment for youths. In the earlier days, gaming was relatively independent from other forms of media and entertainment. However, the current generation of youths has been shifting away from traditional entertainment such as watching television and listening to the radio. With the help of live streaming, gaming has managed to integrate with other forms of entertainment, potentially taking viewers away from traditional media. This integration was made possible through the convergence of different forms of digital media, mainly social media and the prevalence of mobile devices.

Challenges and Future Outlook

Engagement and loyalty are two important factors to streaming success, whether it is to improve a player’s own content, promote an organization, or a product. High viewer numbers and increased viewer return rates can be directly related to the success of a stream. Engaged viewers are much more likely to respond to ‘calls to action’, follow a streamer’s social media, or even directly donate money. According to Wang and Kruger, the main goal for streamers is to convert as many one-time viewers to repeat viewers, in which loyalty is a measure of success to keep them returning. Failure to engage viewers can turn a once promising stream into ‘audio on in background’, meaning the stream is still running but the viewer’s attention is elsewhere. Viewer habits are important for the Singaporean audience, considering that traditional sports are widely broadcast on pay-TV platforms and attempts to move content to online distribution have been met with resistance. Step one to viewer engagement may be distributing more localized content, considering that most local gaming streams involve general gameplay with English commentary. High production events such as the SEA region’s The Manila Major Dota 2 tournament may have attracted more local viewer interest had there been live streams with language options to include commentary from popular local casters.

Copyright laws and issues have always been grey areas in the digital entertainment era, especially when it concerns live streaming with copyrighted elements. This issue is increasingly relevant to live streaming esports as games such as Dota 2, League of Legends, and Call of Duty all have high levels of copyrighted content. Wang and Kruger suggest that the implementation of strict copyright laws in Singapore may directly affect esports live streams. This may force esports organizations to acquire costly licenses to permit them to stream and conduct tournaments. Should the cost of streaming these games become too high, organizations may opt to change to less restrictive games or cancel tournaments altogether. A significant increase in licensing fees may also result in premium content and content paywalls, reducing the amount of free streaming content and ultimately viewer numbers. An example of this was seen in 2015 when ESL signed an exclusive streaming deal with YouTube Gaming for Dota and CS:GO content restrictions.

Copyright and licensing issues

This puts Singapore’s e-sports community in a difficult position as there is much investment into creating a successful gaming event, but the legal considerations often make it too risky for the event to go ahead.

Usually, these agreements involve payment of a lump sum amount for rights to use a game and further revenue sharing through a percentage of the tournament’s profits. While licensing agreements are useful for securing rights to use a game without facing legal trouble, it is a costly method for small tournament organizers often involving many thousands of dollars. The risk of game developers changing the terms of the contract or suddenly revoking rights is also a factor that could potentially cripple tournaments in the future.

Many popular tournament titles such as the Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. series have received cease-and-desist letters from developers to stop the tournament from taking place. In these cases, negotiation with the game developers is possible to overturn the decision. However, the safer option would be to obtain express permission for use of the game in a tournament. This is where licensing agreements come into play.

In Singapore, organizing competitive gaming tournaments is not as straightforward a process as one would think. The main barrier of entry is the legal risk whereby tournament organizers or the game developers themselves could be taken to court for breaching intellectual property laws. This would usually occur when the game company perceives that there has been use of their game to generate profit without their consent.

Maintaining viewer engagement and loyalty

Live streaming has played an integral role in the success of modern-day eSports, turning a casual gaming hobby into a legitimate form of entertainment. According to a report by SuperData, more than 6.6 billion hours of video were watched on gaming streaming platforms in 2018. This has surpassed the overall viewership of the NBA’s most recent regular season games and playoffs combined. While it is clear that there is great demand for video game content, it is oversaturating the market and making it difficult for viewers to find and remain loyal to a specific streamer or eSports organization.

Champions of online gaming throughout the years have often found ways to renovate familiar industries. Now, competitive gaming is doing the same with a spin on live streaming and on-demand content delivery. The business hurdles and associated rewards in this budding entertainment subsector are many and sundry, rich with possibilities for those willing to roll up their sleeves and innovate. But nothing comes easy. This paper will identify and classify these issues and opportunities, preparing content owners with a roadmap that will help them navigate the complex ecosystem of online video.

Technological advancements and virtual reality integration

Other than that, gaming is no longer considered a niche activity. The games and media industry has recognized gaming as a massive part of pop culture. Some have even gone as far as to acknowledge competitive gaming as a sport. Of course, with competitive gaming being compared to conventional sports, it was only a matter of time before virtual reality would attempt to breach the scene.

In a recent report, it was found that 86% of an average e-sports viewer’s gaming time is spent on playing the actual title, as opposed to the standard European gamer who divides his time between playing the game, watching other players in-game, watching game tutorials, and game-related TV programming. This is because gaming has turned into a form of entertainment, and e-sports spectators would much prefer to watch their favorite gamers in action, as opposed to watching game-related content.

Technological advancement within the e-sports industry has fueled a swift rise in the popularity of competitive gaming. The improvement of technology has also led to higher adoption of video gaming as an occupation or an enjoyable pastime. Nearly everything that has made a splash in gaming today, from better hardware and faster internet to mobile gaming and free-to-play titles, can be traced back to these advancements. As a result, e-sports and the demand for competitive gaming has never been higher than it is today.

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