It’s gaming, but not as you know it | Virtual games could become tourism offering in entertainment-driven Macau

Frederico Santos Rosário (left) and Fernando Pereira

Frederico Santos Rosário (left) and Fernando Pereira

Leaders of a recently established eSports (electronic or virtual sports) association told the Times last week that through the growth of eSports in the city, they hope to turn virtual gaming into a distinct tourism offering. This would  complement the government’s vision of an entertainment-driven Macau.
Founded only last year, Grow uP eSports is a non-profit Macau association whose objective is to create and develop the eSports industry, not just in Macau but also throughout the ASEAN region. It operates as an expansion to Grow uP Gaming association in Portugal, which was founded over a decade ago and is today one of the largest and oldest such groups in Europe.
Frederico Santos Rosário, the chairman of Grow uP eSports, said that key to establishing the activity as a driver of tourism growth is recognition from two essential government bodies; the Sports Bureau (ID) and the Government Tourist Office (MGTO).
With regards to the latter, Rosário noted that Grow uP eSports has already enjoyed success in securing both institutional and financial support, which he believes can be used to better the position eSports as a tourism offering in Macau.
“[Virtual] gaming is an interesting channel to promote tourism,” posited the association’s president, Fernando Pereira “because we are attracting a new set of specialized tourists to Macau – Millennials – who are not currently being targeted with the gambling offerings.”
“Things are changing in Macau,” he added. “It is becoming an entertainment city, so there is potential for the development of eSports.”
The association seeks to develop residents’ interest in virtual gaming and eSports in order build a budding, home-grown community, but also seeks to position the activity as an area for the MSAR’s economic diversification.
Grow uP eSports promises that eSports can “complement the rich entertainment industry that is currently diversifying Macau [… and support] with the 15,000 seats eSports arena [which] opens in 2017.”
An announcement in 2014 by Major League Gaming (MLG) publicized the construction of the world’s first eGaming arena, which is planned to be built in Hengqin. The 15,000-seat arena is scheduled to open in 2018 as part of a project with a total investment of MOP22.21 billion.
The market growth and sponsorship money being invested into eGaming worldwide is truly staggering, the association’s co-founder Andrew Pearson wrote in an email to the Times.
“I’ve seen nothing like it before and I doubt we’ll see anything like it again,” he wrote. “The sponsorship money coming into eSports is phenomenal […] by 2017 or 2018 eSports sponsorship money will eclipse the NBA [the National Basketball Association in the U.S.], which is a staggering statistic, as it took the NBA 40-plus years to reach its current level, while eSports will have done it in about 10.”
“I believe that the casinos will start preparing for the virtual gaming market,” added Fernando Pereira. He noted that this could be an opportunity to establish an entirely new betting market in the city, which he added “would rather bet on which [eGaming] player will win rather than a baccarat game because of [the former involving] skill and not just luck.”
“eSports are bringing in a young and highly coveted demographic that normal marketing channels won’t necessarily reach,” explained Pearson, who agrees that casino operators are beginning to scope out the opportunity as a means of becoming less reliant on gambling revenue.
“It’s an enormous opportunity [… since] gamers and eSports fans are highly sophisticated tech users [that] the casinos marketing departments aren’t going to find on normal marketing channels,” he wrote. “[Casino operators] are going to have to revamp their marketing departments, especially their social media departments, to connect with them.”
What’s more is that “three of the top four [eSports] revenue-generating countries are in this region – China, Japan, and South Korea – and these are the countries that provide a large portion of Macau visitors. Holding events here could draw some of these eSports fans,” noted Pearson.
In April, Macau’s Grow uP eSports held it first tournament in the territory for the football game FIFA. According to the organizers, the tournament had around 50 participants. “Next year, we want to organize big competitions in Macau and create a university league to compete against Hong Kong and Taiwan,” noted Pereira.
However, before this can occur, the association needs to flourish within the city. One of the biggest priorities in the years ahead will be to have eSports formally recognized as a sport by the territory’s authorities, said Fernando Pereira, and this requires acknowledgement from ID.
“They [ID] have previously refused to meet us because they say that it is not a sport, even though China [PRC] have recognized it as a sport,” he said. This is important because recognition would provide the group with government sponsorship as well as making it easier to promote the activity, Pereira explained. The Sports Bureau did not immediately respond to a Times enquiry on the matter.
Separately, the senior leaders of the association say that their objective, aside from promoting the activity as an economic market, is to encourage social exchanges within the gaming world.
“We want to avoid the stereotype of gamers who [are often thought to] stay at home, isolated from society and playing by themselves,” said Rosário. “It’s actually a very social experience.”
Rosário gave the example of a player that he met online some years ago, with whom he initially traded “insults” and “abuse.” He assured the Times that it was all friendly in nature and after they finally met in person some two years later, Rosário invited the gamer to his wedding.
“We don’t want gaming to be something bad… like an addiction,” said Pereira. [The usefulness] of gaming is often questioned, including how you can transfer the skills of gaming into the real world,” he added, arguing that to the contrary, there are many transferable skills, such as dexterity, multi-tasking competency, and leadership.
In regards to leadership, Pereira referenced a 2007 IBM study titled, “Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders,” which found that risk-taking in virtual gaming was conducive to decision-
making in modern, fast-paced business environments.
Additionally, the group is seeking to develop precautions against the negative consequences of excessive gaming. The group’s leadership cited as an example their Portuguese mother organization, which has affiliated itself with members of Portugal’s Order of Psychologists in order to gain access to qualified practitioners who can help players to avoid or remedy gaming addiction. Macau organizers say they want to seek out a similar arrangement locally.

Grow uP eSports sets date for 2nd tournament

After the success of the organization’s debut tournament in April, a second tournament is now set for the last weekend of the month on August 27 and 28. It will include tournaments for two distinct games; collectible card game Hearthstone and the incessantly popular League of Legends, which recorded an average of 27 million worldwide daily players in 2014.
Pereira and Rosário said that they are unsure over the number of participants for the tournament but noted that is it likely to be in the hundreds. They add that there are as many as 7,000 League of Legends players in Macau today.
Six “champions” from the Macau tournament this month will be sent to Jakarta in October to participate in a world championship for the two games where they will compete against individuals from more than 40 countries. Organizers said that the local winners will be awarded an “all expenses paid” trip to the championship.

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