For many youths (and even adults) out there, being a professional esports gamer is the ultimate dream. Nothing beats the euphoria of earning ringgits while playing e-games that you love. However, is it really all that? Not many knows that life as professional esports gamers are filled with persistent training, round-the-clock competitions and uncertain futures.
So, just last month, we had the amazing opportunity to converse with Mr. Kenrick Tan. He is a fellow Malaysian gamer, one of the pioneers of Malaysian esports and co-founder of The Academy of Esports (AOES), a gaming school set up in Malaysia. Our team has reached out to him in conjunction with AOES’s milestone of hosting the Iskandar Investment Esports Carnival.
Despite being very busy with the esports carnival, he was kind enough to take some time out and share with us his stories and perspectives. Let’s dig deeper as Kenrick shares it all with us.
ABOUT KENRICK TAN
Can you tell us a bit about yourself in terms of family, education and career background?
Hi. Firstly, I’d like to say thank you for this interview. I am from a Chinese background, coming from Taiping, Perak. It is quite a small town, only a quarter million in size. I grew up with one younger sibling, I was a tennis player (national level) during my youth and had the opportunity to study abroad in Melbourne, Australia for a few years. I have obtained a Bachelors of Interior Architecture and now I am an esports professional.
Coming from an architecture and design background, how did you become involved in gaming and esports? Were you a professional gamer yourself?
I was lucky enough to be born in an era where it was the boom of technology and Internet in Malaysia. Around 15-20 years back, it was sort of the growth or I would say the birth of esports/competitive gaming for us. We had an excessive number of cyber cafes around and where I grew up, I had access to probably 3 cyber cafes. That’s where I found my interest in gaming. I played Dota back then — mainly with friend — and joined smaller tournaments around. When I was older, I tried getting serious into professional gaming for a bit but had to stop in order to further my studies.
ABOUT THE INDUSTRY
How does the esports business entrepreneurs sustain in terms of their growth and development in Malaysia?
I think the esports business is a really new niche at the moment, especially in Malaysia. We are at a point where the infrastructure is still in development, and it has not reached a self-sustainable point yet. But regardless, I think every esports business entrepreneur right now knows the potential scaling of this industry and it takes a lot of sacrifice to be a pioneer in this industry. I think the more successful ones mainly have the support of the community and brands when it comes to opening an esports centre or running an event.
What is the esports ecosystem in Malaysia?
Right now, the ecosystem consists of esports events, esports vendors, professional gamers, esports professionals, educational facilities and also esports centres.
How does sponsorship/partnership works in terms of esports?
Big brands right now take the opportunity to sponsor esports events/ esports ventures to understand the demographic which ultimately translates to conversion. In 2017, the Malaysian gamer demographic has reached 14 million users spending a total of 587 million USD thus making it relevant for big brands to invest into esports. In return of financial support, esports organisations and players provide their services in terms of winning tournaments, creating awareness for brands, reaching out to millions of users via streaming and so on.
Since esports is fairly new in Malaysia, stigmas towards gamers are still strong. Many are reluctant to view esports as part of other conventional sports like badminton, running and swimming. What do you think of this?
I agree that it is still a stigma to many at the moment. However, the younger generation of parents are more open towards esports as a professional sport. Personally, I was a conventional sports athlete first before being a gamer and my understanding of the situation is that esports may not have the physical element compared to conventional sports but requires the same, if not more mental energy, focus and will power. Secondly, the mechanics and learning curve for conventional sports will not be able to compare to esports, period. An example would be learning the game of Dota. It is like trying to achieve precise hand eye coordination, thinking and calculating strategically in advance like a game of chess and also micro managing your mechanical skills like playing the drums. All this while maintaining a high level of concentration and completing the objective of the game. The constant learning in esports is another huge factor that separates itself from conventional sports, where updates/patch will force the professional players to adapt to the changes and staying at their best. It is like a football, with rules changing every 3 months.
If we compare eSports to traditional sports, how many parallelisms could you draw? Are there any important differences?
- The effort and training time put into esports is as much as it goes for conventional sports.
- Adrenaline that is involved in esports as there are moments of “clutch plays” similar to how eports sometimes have the clutch moments with match points.
- Teamwork plays a big role in esports, which each esports athlete having a role to play similar to team sports where athletes have roles like attackers / defenders /playmakers.
- There are frequent updates in esports compared to sports where these updates will bring a big change to the game and esports athletes are required to be as up-to-date as they can before their peers.
- The amount of physical pressure your body goes through as in muscles, sweat and all. I am sure sports plays a bigger role in that area where as esports pressure plays highly on the mind
Of all the pro players that you know — that includes from any game — how many minutes/hours would you say that they invest in practicing on their own on a daily basis?
It would definitely be in the hours (on a daily basis) and ranges between 8 hours to about 13 hours. It goes from playing the game, watching analysis of the game, watching other athletes’ games, training with the team, team discussions and workouts.
What are your comments regarding the pay for South East Asia’s professional gamers are lower compared to their other European counterparts?
It should increase exponentially and it has already been rising. We do have professionals from SEA that are playing on an international level whom are being paid with high salaries. As a continent, we have only recently started adopting esports as an industry not too long ago.
What are some common misconceptions regarding esports and how do you deal with them?
The common misconceptions are that gaming is bad for health, having elements of being anti-social, and many more. We do have extreme cases where individuals do not take care of their health or spend excessively on games. But ultimately, this is not the games’ fault. In anything — be it recreational or professional — there should always be a balance. I believe it is our job to educate the importance of healthy gaming and creating awareness on the benefits of gaming as a learning tool. Once the general public has a better understanding of gaming, esports will be acceptable like the many other conventional sports industries.
ABOUT THE ACADEMY
If you don’t mind, can you share with us the whole process of setting up the academy and how did it all started?
My co-founder and childhood friend, Kieran Lam — who is our Chief Gaming Officer at the Academy — had the same idea of esports education with me at the time. I was in Melbourne, and he was studying in Sunway University. We sort of explored the idea on our own in 2015, but it was still pretty premature at the time. When I got back to Malaysia, he was the first person I already knew I needed to share this idea with and when we met up everything connected and the rest was history.
I think the early days were pretty hard. We started as a group of three people; Kieran, Kuan Sin who is our Brand Officer and myself. Our first ever meeting to set up the draft was in Coffea Coffee in SS15 Subang, a cafe similar to Starbucks. Our intention at the start was to understand the gamers who are trying to break out into the professional scene for esports. We took Dota 2 as a case study and proceeded with market research. We got Kieran to quit his start-up job at the time and made him go back into competitive gaming. We stayed with the team and attended countless numbers of tournaments. At the same time, we were looking everywhere for sponsors but none were willing to commit to such a crazy idea at that time. We had a chance to meet up with Livescape Group and Beatnation in 2017, who were pitching for an esports tournament to Iskandar Investment Berhad. Our goal was in line with what Iskandar Investment wanted for their space down in Iskandar Puteri and we got their support to set up the Academy. Up till today, I’m very grateful for this group of people that believed in our idea of creating a future in esports.
It will be the 2nd year of AOES’ inception this year. What are some of the challenges you and your team have faced and how did everyone overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge was to reach out to parents to educate them about the potential careers of esports and how the students who are signing up can use our platform to develop holistic skills more than just from the games. Secondly, building a team to work with us was very hard. We were clear that we needed to hire people who not only understand esports but have the passion when it comes to gaming. Thirdly, was the question of what our graduates will do once they completed our program. Many of our students in Year One has gone on to be playing in professional teams, some went on to be streamers and even team managers. Today, we have a great team on board and we are also very confident in our identity and the quality that we are producing. However, the biggest challenge now is to get more students as this is still a very new industry. We are really excited because we know that it will only continue to grow from here on.
What is AOES’s plan for the next coming 10 years?
There are a few things in mind at the moment, expansion is one of it. We are also very excited with the national direction for esports right now, the Kementerian Belia dan Sukan (KBS) office lead by YB Syed Saddiq has already begun initiating an Esports Blueprint, which is the national standard guideline for all things esports. We are looking forward to be able to assist in the education field for esports in the coming years. There are other programs that we are planning to bring in for the Academy. We can’t really say at the moment, but in our 2nd phase we will be introducing another four more programs that are skilled job-based tailored for esports.
What is your proudest moment as the CEO of AOES till date?
I have many moments that I am proud of in this field, and it is by no means that I have achieved everything. But some notable ones are being able to see our students leaving the academy and being able to make a living for themselves, having YB Syed Saddiq as a guest at the Academy and also being able to tell my family that I’m happy with my work.
How would you describe your early days of AOES? Is there a memory you could share with us?
Our very first AOES Bootcamp! The response was crazy as we had people coming to us from all over Malaysia. Some students even flew down from Sabah and Sarawak. In our early days, a lot of things were DIYs and it took a lot of hard work. Also, we were lucky with the opportunity given. Looking back now, I really think it was a crazy journey.
For the people who are watching you and seeing you as an esports role model, is there anything you suggest for them to do to get involved in esports?
Understanding the current state of the industry is something very important, where we are right now and what solution you can provide regardless of the scale. For us, we chose to tackle job creation and education. For anyone else, it could be anything else but solving problems would definitely be a key head start. Also, helping to grow the community would be a really good thing as this is what will drive the esports industry to be a self-sustainable industry and also set a standard and platform for the next generation of gamers.
That’s a wrap for this interview! We’d like to once again thank Mr. Kenrick for taking the time to sit down and offer his thoughts on so many different angles of esports. Who knew, there’s so much more to the esports industry than just playing games.