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Analysis: Gamers seize on 5G to unite esports in Asia

As faster mobile networking technology arrives in the Asia-Pacific countries, the region's fragmented multiplayer online gaming sector stands to benefit from new investments by livestreaming platforms and gaming companies.

Industry-watchers predict that new 5G networks, which offer faster, more reliable mobile streaming capabilities, will usher esports into the mainstream, making the video games sector ripe for a new "Netflix Inc.-like" platform that would bring together various gaming opportunities.

Livestreaming platforms and gaming companies in the region have already begun preparing for 5G. Executives at China's recently listed DouYu International Holdings Ltd. said 5G will usher in a "new dawn" for the company's esports and livestreaming platform, and the company is "actively investing" in esports-related technology. Tencent Holdings Ltd., a regional leader in online games and social networking, indicated that it will step up its esports strategy by investing in esports tournaments in China.

The popularity of esports in Asia-Pacific is limited today by the fragmented nature of the market, with high-definition content hard to find by the casual gamer, said Fabian Birgfeld, co-founder and CEO of IT consultancy TCS Interactive Design Studio W12. With improved mobile streaming capabilities, he and others predict increased demand for easier-to-access esports entertainment.

"The arrival of 5G will lead to the need for a single destination for esport gamers similar to a Netflix platform," Birgfeld said in an interview. Such a platform could offer several content streams, similar to the video model popularized by the U.S.-based streaming entertainment leader.

China, South Korea and Japan, which are leading the race to build 5G networks, should see the impact first. Revenue from the global esports industry is pegged to exceed US$1 billion this year, and China will account for US$210 million of that amount, according to the China Internet Report 2019.

The combination of new 5G networks with emerging edge computing services could quicken the arrival of "something similar to Netflix [for video games]," said Vijai Karthigesu, founder and CEO of network intelligence company UBIQUE Networks Inc. Edge computing benefits latency-sensitive activities such as online gaming by processing data closer to the source.

A subscription-based esports streaming platform could offer users access to a catalog of multiplayer games accessible across multiple devices. Birgfeld and Karthigesu pointed to Microsoft Corp. and Google LLC as potential contenders to build such a platform, given their other recent game-streaming initiatives.

Google's cloud-based streaming service Stadia is scheduled to launch in November in 14 countries, including the U.S. and several European markets, but not in Asia. Microsoft also recently unveiled a global game-streaming technology, Project xCloud, which will let users play console and Windows PC games on mobile devices and tablets.

Regional telcos have also indicated an interest in developing streaming platforms.

In July, South Korean operator SK Telecom Co. Ltd. rolled out three virtual reality and augmented reality services over its 5G network in a bid to create a better experience for esports users. Last year, Singapore-based Singtel signed a memorandum of understanding with a number of regional players including Indian telco Bharti Airtel Ltd. and Philippines carrier Globe Telecom to grow the broader gaming ecosystem and scale its esports ambitions.

"Telecom operators are an important influence and key factor in driving 5G in the esports world largely because of their distribution reach," said Benjamin Assarasakorn, executive secretary to the president of the Thailand Esports Federation. He noted that South Korea and Japan have a jump on the infrastructure required to develop country-specific platforms over Thailand and India.

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