COMMENT: If Singapore wants esports, it needs to be a national priority

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League of Legends players compete at Hyperplay, an esports tournament held in Singapore in 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Feline Lim)
League of Legends players compete at Hyperplay, an esports tournament held in Singapore in 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Feline Lim)

Singapore's plan to become an esports hub in the region is slowly picking up steam.

The country has played host to plenty of events since the beginning of the pandemic, including the ongoing Mobile Legends: Bang Bang M3 World Championship.

While there may not have been many with live audiences due to restrictions, that hasn't stopped the island-state from continuing to promote these events.

But despite the investment into the world of esports events and tournaments, an industry, mind you, is projected to reach US$50 million next year and US$70 million in 2024, there's been no official direction on actually training and growing our own champions.

The Singapore government continues to invest in developing sports — most recently, a S$25 million package for COVID-19 relief, and plans to make football great again (a waste of time, in my opinion).

There's barely any whisper about esports. Sure, they can see where the money is, but that seems to be the only thing in the government's eyes, bringing in the big events without investing in the development that would allow Singaporean players to participate, and more importantly, excel, in them.

Contrast this to Malaysia, where there's been some dedicated funding initiatives (even if it was reduced for 2021), or Indonesia, where it's recognised as an official sport.

Perhaps Singapore will finally do so one day, when it can once again call upon its favourite playbook of using a committee populated by veteran sports officials to take charge of the esports ecosystem, with no knowledge of the games, how it works, and how it should work, coupled with hiring expensive foreign consultants and MBA-equipped CEOs with no knowledge about the scene except for the ability to spout numbers on the spot.

For now, it falls upon the members of the local scene to run their own programmes, initiatives, and trade associations.

So far, we've had few esports champions that have put us on the map, familiar names such as Street Fighter legend Ho Kun Xian (Xian) or new Team Secret offlaner Daryl "iceiceice" Koh.

But some of these players are unable to ply their trade here — they have to seek opportunities in other countries.

If they do get recognition, it's only after they win big, and someone wants to sweep in to claim credit by association. And it's not like I'm making this up, just look at certain recent events in the local sporting world.

I'd argue it's probably easier for us to create esports champions, to bring us glory and recognition. If we put the effort into it, if we start now. If we start changing our focus.

Instead of making excuses about needing time to look into it, I say, tap on our experts, the players and professionals who have put in the legwork over the years and know what needs to be done. Stop with the meaningless humouring by politicians that show up to give a condescending pat on the back.

Let's have a national squad of players we can tap on to win at the 2022 Asian Games, selected by professional coaches and team managers who are familiar with the games and their respective meta.

Make it official, provide them with the resources, even as they compete professionally in leagues around the world. Pay them salaries they can live with. Make esports an official CCA in schools.

Consider adapting the South Korean model of national service, where athletes can defer national service but apply it for esports athletes, too.

Let them serve when they are no longer at their peak of their esports performance, instead of robbing them of the time when they are playing their best.

Educate parents that it's okay to play games on your phone or PC, and that you can reasonably make a career and living, just like any other job.

And perhaps one day, Singapore won't just be known as a place with great infrastructure for esports.

It will be known as a breeding ground for the best talents in the world. Players from all over will want to travel here to train with our best.

It sounds like an impossible dream, but why can't we make it a reality?

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at

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