It seems rather ironic that in gaming obsessed Asia, home of Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Square Enix and a host of other video game companies, esports has yet to be recognised as a bona-fide career path worth pursuing. Perhaps it also has to do with the grade-obsession that Asian parents hold in high regard, but Razer is looking to change all that with its second Razer Invitational esports tournament that will serve as a foundation to drive esports in the region.
Often regarded as synonymous with the gaming scene, Razer is certainly not letting go of this chance to further develop the ecosystem in the region. The company’s in a good position to do so as well, as having a new Singapore headquarters makes it easier to be in touch with industry happenings and trends, especially since the country is also a part of SEA herself. But where separate regions exist, different preferences and modi operandi follow, the intent if for Razer Invitational to serve as a bridge between these varied parts of the world, and the middle ground between entry-level and top-tier tournaments.
“When it comes to SEA, it’s really a different kind of culture than in North America, Latin America, and Europe, [as] there are specific games that are hotter than others, types of genres and titles that are more difficult,” Razer’s senior global esports lead Khang Thai shares in a video interview with Geek Culture, “There are an amazing number of teams that need support to get to that next level.”
Luckily, the fast-growing potential and growth opportunities of the esports industry has been a buzz topic for a while now, but it’s only in the recent years that Southeast Asia (SEA) has had the platform to further cultivate its potential. With esports officially added to the SEA Games line-up for the first time in 2019, it’s now fixed as a mainstay category, as this year’s iteration looks to bring in professional players and teams across eight different games, including Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
Razer’s tournament, which started its inaugural edition in 2020 and kicked off its online edition amidst the pandemic, will span across Mexico, Canada, and the US for the North America division, alongside Latin America, Europe, and SEA this year. Moving forward, these regional categories are expected to stay in the line-up, with Khang expressing a keen commitment to continuing the Razer Invitation tradition here on SEA soil. “We definitely have our eyes on Southeast Asia,” he asserts, “I mean, it’s our home, it’s our backyard, so you’ve got to take care of that.”
Already, the man has some plans in mind. In addition to sponsoring players and organising tournaments to scout and nurture potential talents, the team is also looking to support more teams, work with relevant brands, and join forces with federations focusing on health and wellness. Combining all of these aspects would strengthen the existing ecosystem, and bring more structure into the overall process.
While the last objective on the list may come across as an unexpected pick, Khang emphasises the importance of maintaining the physical and mental well-being of professional players – a consideration that’s often overlooked by both the outside circle and the esports community. Addressing a common misconception about the job, he says, exasperated, “People think that esports players just, you know, sit around all day in front of their computer eating junk food. It’s so far from the truth; to play at your best, you have to fill your body with the best of ingredients and food, so that you’re always at the top of your game.”
In this sense, he likens the training regime and nutritional demands of esports players to that of the sporting world. A lot of the teams have worked, and are working with certified professionals like physical trainers and nutritionists to plan out programmes promoting better diet, exercise, sleep, and mental health. It’s a goal that Khang is slowly building towards, with his team currently exploring a project that talks about the mind, body, and soul of esports players.
“I think the problem we’re trying to solve is education of the masses,” he explains. “There’s a lot of mystery about what esports is, and we are in a position to really educate them using our brand.”
The player-centric approach is not a new undertaking for the company, with the “Quest for Glory” YouTube mini-series from Razer SEA-Invitational 2020 featuring the stories of selected competing members. Mirroring his feelings from watching traditional sports like hockey and basketball, Khang explains how it adds a more human element to seemingly “superhuman [and] untouchable” individuals, “You never see their pain, their struggles, or what it’s like to be on that journey towards being a pro. It’s really important for people to understand that you don’t just become a pro overnight, you go through a lot of struggles.”
As Razer looks to continue telling such stories in SEA and beyond, the man attributes the series conceptualisation and execution process to his love for storytelling. That’s hardly a surprise, considering that his favourite action-adventure franchises, including The Last of Us, Metal Gear, Tomb Raider, and Final Fantasy, are all heavy on lore and narrative.
“That’s why we try to push for storytelling at Razer, why we try to get fans closer to the players,” enthuses Khang. “We want them to fall in love with our players and associate themselves like ‘hey, I’m going through this struggle and you’re going through the struggle, [and] it just makes me want to follow you that much more.’”
Indeed, the presence of support and following is important in developing the esports scene, particularly so for the SEA region. While it has certainly evolved over the years, there’s undeniably still plenty of room for growth, as the Razer Invitational uses its regional-international influence to bridge the gap and offer a stepping stone to the next stage of the competition.
The Razer Invitational 2021 will begin first in North America from 7 May to 29 May, with broadcasted playoffs running from 14 May to 5 June. Event details for the Latin America, Europe, and SEA regions are expected at a later date.