An energetic people person, Debbie Lee has always been close to the media and tech industry. She has worked at Mediacorp TV as a senior account director, and was vice president of sale and marketing at the Asian Food Channel. Now, aside from running her own startup, she serves as a committee member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry on a pro bono basis to support women in business.
In 2015, Debbie founded TechStorm, a TV broadcasting channel covering tech and entrepreneurship. Over time, she became interested in e-sports due to its growing popularity in Southeast Asia. According to Statista’s estimation, the number of hours spent watching e-sports videos is increasing every year. In 2012, people spent about 1.3 billion hours watching videos of or about games, and that number nearly doubled the following year. By 2018, people watched around 6.6 billion hours of e-sports videos worldwide in that year alone. Moreover, the global audience base of e-sports has increased from 335 million in 2017 to 454 million in 2019, and 57% of them are in Asia Pacific nations.
TechStorm recognized this demand and shifted its focus to the gaming and e-sports scene at the beginning of this year.
“We started as a platform focusing on tech and entrepreneurship in Asia. Initially, we built a business model around it to see whether it is scalable regionally and globally,” Lee told KrASIA in an interview. “Last year, we got TechStorm commercially launched, meaning we introduced our 24/7 product and launched it on partners’ platforms in Indonesia and the Philippines.” Lee said the channel is designed to be “Asia’s fastest-growing e-sports media network.”
TechStorm broadcasts international gameplay reviews for popular titles such as Fortnite, Red Dead Redemption, and God of War. The channel also features an original segment called Storm Bytes, which tells the stories of Asian professional gamers and e-sports influencers.
“The e-sports segment is very broad, so we do a mix of content that will interest both e-sport fans and spectators. We stream gameplays and reviews, which we’ll take into the global market. We also make original content in collaboration with famous gamers in Southeast Asia,” said Lee. “Asia has lots of talents, but they are relatively not known outside of their ecosystem and their countries. So we want to give these influencers a wider network and platform to tell their stories—what drives them to the business, what makes them unique, and so on.”
Big names of Southeast Asia’s e-sports scene have already appeared on Storm Bytes, including Indonesia’s top gamer and streamer Sherlin Tsu, as well as popular gamer and cosplayer from the Philippines, Alodia Gosengfiao. Both have large follower bases on their social media platforms.
TechStorm is available on more than 20 over-the-top (OTT) platforms, satellite television networks, and cable network distribution, reaching 36 million viewers. As the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most people in the region at home, Lee is seeing positive growth for TechStorm. “COVID-19 is hitting a lot of business, but it also opens up a lot of opportunities for companies to be digitally resilient. We are in a sector that is benefiting in the sense that our content is fully digitized. People who spend most of their time at home relying on digital services to keep themselves entertained, and we’ve seen an uptick by at least 20% in the last two months,” Lee said.
The outbreak has not dampened TechStorm’s momentum. In February, it landed in Sri Lanka through a partnership with Dialog Television, the country’s premier subscription television provider. Sri Lanka is the channel’s fourth market after Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. And on April 20, the company’s third distribution deal in Indonesia, with an OTT platform called Genflix, went live. Before Genflix, TechStorm formed a partnership with MAXstream, a video streaming app owned by Indonesia’s largest telco firm Telkomsel. It also collaborates with cable TV network First Media Channel.
“We are lucky to partner with big companies. My team and I have more than 15 years of industry experience, so we have good friends and networks in this area to help us get started,” Lee said. “Another reason is we offer a unique preposition, as we are the first to launch a 24/7 media network that focuses on e-sports and tech content.”
TechStorm monetizes its business via a licensing model and advertising. “We take advertising deals, sponsorship packages, as well as brand and entertainment packages. Some partners also offered us to work on hybrid monetization models, so we have an open approach in terms of how we make money,” Lee said. “We are focused on driving profitability, and we aim to hit profitability by the end of 2020.”
Lee believes that the competition for e-sports video entertainment in Asia is still wide open, especially since there is no other network dedicated to e-sports like TechStorm. According to Lee, e-sports video entertainment is fragmented—there are gamers, fans, and spectators who may follow different types of gameplay or tournaments. Therefore, TechStorm defines itself like ESPN, where anyone can enjoy the channel’s content based on their preferences.
Going forward, TechStorm will continue to expand—even beyond the region. After Southeast Asia, the company is eyeing China and India as its next markets. Lee said that the plans have not been mapped out fully, but TechStorm will adjust its strategies to meet the needs of local audiences.
TechStorm is backed by Singaporean VC firm Majuven and several private and angel investors. The company is currently raising funds and expects to close the round this year. “We are seeing more demand for e-sports entertainment content this year, so I believe we are on the right track, serving a growing audience. As we scale beyond Southeast Asia, we are looking for investors who recognize and understand the value of e-sports as a global, multi-billion-dollar business,” Lee said.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.