Thailand expands mobile games and eSports activity with 5G rollouts

Greg Sigel, VP – Partnerships

Forecasts compiled by market intelligence firm Newzoo estimate that South-East Asia (SEA) is the fastest-growing mobile games market in the world, having expanded over 17% year on year in 2019 to be worth US$3bn. Six countries currently contribute the majority of that revenue - Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Though its population of roughly 70m is small compared to some of its neighbours, Thailand has one of the most active contingents of mobile and eSports participants anywhere in the world. It has around 18.3m gamers,20th globally according to the 2017 Global eSports Market Report from Newzoo, which estimated the value of Thailand’s eSports gaming market at US$308m two years ago.

Statista is more conservative, forecasting the total video games market in Thailand to be worth US$249m in 2020, with mobile games being the most significant segment at US$134m (Newzoo too estimates that 69% of all games revenue in the SEA region comes from mobile).

Both awareness and participation in eSports – either as a player or viewer – are growing fast after Thai e-sports teams won two gold and two silver medals at last year’s SEA Games 2019 eSports tournament, held in the Philippines (the Olympic Council of Asia has also announced that eSports will be included as part of the Asian Games in 2022). Estimates now suggest Thailand’s eSports community comprises more than 30m people who either watch or participate on an amateur or professional level using a variety of different devices.

A long list of commercial enterprises is helping to grow that community. PC manufacturer Acer, for example, established “Thailand eSports Federation”, recognised by the Sports Authority of Thailand and a member of both the International (IeSF) and Asian eSports Federation (AESF), and additionally sponsored the Player Unknown Battle Ground (PUBG) Predator League tournament.

Elsewhere Thai start-up Infofed spent US$1.6m opening the Thailand E-Sports arena in Bangkok in 2018, a tournament venue, knowledge centre and hub for international e-Sports collaboration and has since enlisted the financial backing of Japanese gaming media firm GameWith to help fund further expansion into Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia this year.

Facebook Gaming, the live-streaming hub that allows players to watch and broadcast their games over the Internet, launched the Facebook mobile gaming app in Thailand last November [2019], with the country ranking as the fifth most popular for watching Facebook Gaming live streams in 2019.

Singapore-based live streaming and video broadcasting company Bigo Technology launched its live-streaming mobile game app – Cube TV also authorised with rights to broadcast mobile eSport tournaments such as League of Legends and Dota 2 - in Thailand in 2018, with plans to make it available elsewhere in SEA over the next couple of years.

Nimo TV, the live streaming platform for PCs and smartphones owned by China’s HUYA, launched in Thailand in late 2018 exploiting its existing partnership with Tencent Games to offer games such as PUBG, Fortnite and Minecraft. The company entered a commercial partnership with Bacon Time, the Thai youth eSports team that won various local and international tournaments, to raise awareness and attract new streamers and viewers to its platform.

Given the high penetration of smartphones amongst Thailand’s population (around 93%), the country’s telcos and mobile network operators (MNOs) have an equally, if not more, important role to play in building Thailand’s eSports ecosystem, however.

Roughly 88% of internet users aged 16-64 in Thailand played games on their mobile devices in 2019 (and 67% downloaded mobile games apps) - much higher than do so on PCs (46%), tablets (28%) or games consoles (18%). Around 8% of those mobile players purchased game add-ons in 2019, while 13% played games on a cloud streaming platform, 25% watched a live stream of others playing games, and 17% watched an eSports tournament.

Thailand already has some of the fastest average mobile data speeds in South East Asia, estimated at 26Mbit/s in 2018 having increased 48% year on year (YoY) since 2017 as MNOs upgraded and extended their 3G/4G networks. But participation and viewing of eSports tournaments via smartphones are likely to expand further as faster, more reliable fifth-generation cellular networks which will deliver better multiplayer performance and interaction by reducing latency and jitter come online in the next couple of years. Thai mobile network operators (MNOs) – True Move H and Advanced Information Service (AIS) have already launched limited 5G services, with Total Access Communication (DTAC) set to follow by July 2020.

Telcos and MNOs also have an opportunity to grow their revenues and expand their customer base by sponsoring eSports events, supporting advertising, selling tickets to online viewers and allowing gamers to purchase downloads and add-ons to their smartphones through direct carrier billing (DCB) relationships.

Some are already doing just that. AIS collaborated with SingTel Group and others to launch the PVP e-Sports Championship based around titles such as Arena of Valor and Dota 2. More recently, AIS partnered with Facebook Gaming to offers its subscribers unlimited access to playing and watching live video game streams on the platform when signing up for AIS’ eSports add-on packages starting at less than US$1 a month. Elsewhere MNO TrueMove H joined Garena’s Arena of Valor RoV Pro League in Season Two and offers subscribers a customised eSports SIM package.

But to really make the most of those opportunities and fully exploit the surge in mobile gaming and eSports participation, Thailand’s operators will need to establish closer partnerships with a broader array of games publishers and live streaming platforms and make it easier for them to reach additional subscribers and collect payments for their content via DCB.