Esports, competitive video gaming in a wide range of games and platforms, are growing exponentially in terms of players, audience size, and business. Some of the prestigious esports tournaments offer prize pools of as much as $25 million and are watched by massive audiences that can reach millions—both live and streaming. Reports by Newzoo published early last year stated that the global esports market will reach nearly $1.1 billion and have an audience of 453.8 million worldwide in 2019. An estimated 82% of this value will come from investments in the esports teams in the form of media rights, advertising, and sponsorship.
Southeast Asia, where mobile penetration and internet use have been rapidly increasing, provides the perfect climate for esports growth. Esports were added as a demonstration sport during the Indonesia-hosted Asian Games 2018 and as a medal event at the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games in November. In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo has been vocal in his support for the industry. Upon noticing how esports began to pick up in 2016, Ivan Yeo, Harris Hartman, and Michael Wijaya cofounded EVOS under their holding company named ATTN. The three have been friends since high school. They were motivated to address problems in the industry, such as the issue of poor management and career development for the players, and to create a profitable business model. So EVOS aims at being more than just a group of gamers. Instead, it focuses on the teams’ marketing, social media, and building the brand and content. The company also plans to expand further as a holistic entertainment company. Now in its third year, EVOS has more than 15 teams and operates in six countries in Southeast Asia. Eight are from Indonesia, and the rest from Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“With our experience in multiple industries, we’ve adjusted the business model to smooth our way, and fortunately for us, it’s been going quite well right now. We saw that as our entry point, meaning that we could leverage games, build our influence, build our brand, and leverage social media and marketing to boost our reach in the market,” says Ivan, EVOS CEO.
Looking at the population size and user base, EVOS chose to start the business in Indonesia despite its holding company being Singapore-based. The company headquarters is also in Jakarta. The first team to join EVOS was the PC-based multiplayer online battle arena Dota 2. However, Ivan says PC gaming in Southeast Asia is slowing down. Thus, the company has been expanding more into mobile games.
“If you’re in Indonesia, you’ll probably know EVOS for our Mobile Legends team or Arena of Valor team,” says Ivan.
EVOS and its professional players can monetize esports through several channels: competition prizes, video streaming, and sponsorship. Ivan explains that EVOS takes a cut from competition prizes – although the majority of the money still goes to the players. The money is used to invest back in the players by providing them with facilities, coaches, nutritionists, and psychologists.
Video streaming, which is becoming more popular on community platforms, is more than just a revenue generator. It is also essential for EVOS’ players to build connections and interact with fans. Fans can watch and learn how to play the games better by watching the player’s videos on YouTube, Facebook, and Nimo TV. Ivan claims the overall number of views across the platforms to have grown significantly, from only 5 million to 250 million monthly views this year. The number of views amounted to nearly half a billion during the last championship.
“Esports is becoming more accepted as a form of entertainment. If the viewership continues to grow, then it will be more exciting for more brands and investors to look into,” he says.
The growing traction of viewers and solid engagement with fans, therefore, have become attractive for sponsorship brands. Ivan explained that a sponsorship ticket started at $100 in EVOS’ early days, but now has risen to $400,000 per sponsor. The sponsors come from a broad background, from PC brands to tech unicorns like Go-Jek, Tokopedia, Traveloka, as well as FMCG companies. The advertisement model has also evolved from views-based charges to image-rights purchases and creating exclusive products with EVOS. Ivan says that Indonesia, as the largest market, contributes 60-70% to total sponsorship deals and the rest comes from Thailand. Thailand contributed significant revenue in the last six months as a result of the country’s stronger purchasing power. Ivan says that this year EVOS nearly surpassed the eight-digit revenue mark in US dollar terms.
EVOS’ growth and influence as an esports organization, however, are only the beginning of what the company is trying to achieve in the future of entertainment. The company has gained strong backers along the way. In late October, EVOS became the first esports company in Southeast Asia to close $4.4 million Series A funding. Ivan says that EVOS initially closed the fundraising in January with Insignia Ventures Partners, but decided to extend the round to accommodate interest from Indonesian conglomerates and other top-level executives from big ecommerce players in China. The money will be used to develop another business vertical, a talent agency, and a content creator arm called WHIM Management.
“Our goal is not to be just an esports company, but our goal is to build a youth-entertainment company, which is anything and everything related to the young generation and what entertains them. We want to expand into those business verticals,” says Ivan.
Right now, EVOS is preparing for esports movies and TV-show production, which Ivan says will be announced early next year. Television serves as a better touchpoint as it boosts engagement with young people while adding more value to brands.
The esports ecosystem in Indonesia, as Ivan sees it, is more advanced in Southeast Asia. What needs to be explored further, Ivan believes, is how to grow esports awareness through offline channels, given that currently, the business is still mostly online, such as on social media, online tournaments, and streaming. One area that he focuses heavily on is to help create a career path into the esports industry.
EVOS currently aims to grow by five to ten times every year, and it is now investing a lot in Thailand. Being the only regional player, EVOS does not see much competition. EVOS is also open to the idea of expanding beyond Southeast Asia once it establishes a sound business in all the countries in the region.
“Our vision for ATTN is to turn dreams into reality and inspire the [young and future] generations. [...] If they look up to strong role models, if they have consistently good content that motivates and inspires them to do better, I think that’s what’s needed in Southeast Asia. A world where everyone is pursuing their passions and whatever they love, and being able to make money and careers out of it – that is the ideal world that we want to build,” says Ivan.
In August 2017, Ivan was diagnosed with Kennedy Disease. By the US National Institutes of Health, it is defined as “a gradually progressive, neuromuscular disorder characterized by wasting of the proximal muscles (those closer to the trunk) and bulbar muscles (those of the face and throat)”, which would limit his ability to walk, eat, or talk normally 5 years
from then. Currently there hasn’t been any cure found for the disease, despite therapy and rehabilitation. Nevertheless, Ivan found his purpose in EVOS, getting up to keep on building ATTN as the future media and entertainment empire in the region. His inspiring spirit shows
that despite challenges in life, people can still contribute positively to the society.