The hobby is gaining momentum thanks to advances in smartphone computing power
More affordable gaming computers, the rise of mobile gaming and a new generation enthusiastic about e-sports is giving rise to a massive and fast-growing gaming industry in Thailand.
According to NewZoo, Thailand ranks 20th globally in terms of game revenue, worth US$692 million, and is the second largest in Southeast Asia behind only Indonesia, which ranks 17th.
NewZoo forecasts the Southeast Asian gaming market will generate $4.6 billion in 2019, up 22% year-on-year.
Jirayod Theppipit, chief executive and founder of Infofed, a Bangkok e-sports arena startup, said e-sports is gaining momentum in Thailand with the advance of smartphone computing power that enable games to reach mass users, compared with past games that required special devices like a game console or computer.
Globally, e-sports is growing 30-40% each year in terms of viewership.
“I believe Thailand’s e-sports viewership will surpass traditional sports in 3-4 years, thanks to activities in professional leagues and amateur league tournaments, including offline activities,” Mr Jirayod said.
By having more viewers, e-sports players can earn 50,000-400,000 baht per month from prize money for tournament wins and sponsorship deals with gaming equipment companies.
Beyond that there are job opportunities in the e-sports industry such as game casters, who provide live commentary during tournaments, and live streamers who earn from fan donations on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitch.
E-sports tournament organisers can earn from ticket sales, advertising and sponsorship. E-sports is also a channel to sell merchandise, gaming gear and computers.
Mr Jirayod said the government and the industry needs to build an “academy” for e-sports to train new players and develop new technology such as gamification, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality, including business development related to gaming.
The academy could bring more new skilled jobs to Thailand in the future.
He estimates Thailand has a few hundred professional gamers who earn a living from gaming. Mr Jirayod expects multiplayer online battle arena games and survivor games will be two most popular types of games.
“Games have been growing more popular in the past 10 years, but not as much as they could because of arguments about the negative impact of gaming addiction,” said Chrisada Chiaravanond, president of E-sports Thai Leagues and managing director of Lynx TH, an e-sports team that encourages Thais to become global e-sports players.
2017 was a turning point when the Sports Authority of Thailand accepted e-sports as a legitimate sporting activity, boosting the industry as a lifestyle trend in Thailand.
E-sports reflects the cultural change to a society fuelled by new technology for the generation born in the digital era, said Mr Chrisada. He said traditional sports like American football and golf are declining in viewership, mainly consisting of people aged 30-60.
The US, China, South Korea and Japan are leading in e-sports that generate growth for their economies.
Mr Chrisada hopes the new government will focus on promoting e-sports properly by developing rules and regulations for e-sports tournaments, as well as minimum salaries and welfare for e-sports athletes.
Roughly 10 Thai e-sports players are skilled enough to compete in global leagues, surpassing the number of Thai footballers who can play internationally, he said. But Thailand still lags behind powerhouses like the US, China and South Korea, which have thousands of e-sports players competing globally.
Mr Chrisada estimates there are 11 million e-sports fans in Thailand.