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This startup wants to make e-sports content viable for everyone: Startup Stories

Written by Stephanie Pearl Li Published on 

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Media startup Ampverse believes that e-sports marketing is the next big thing in the region.

Southeast Asian nations have embraced e-sports with a fervor like no other country in the world, with audience numbers for livestreams, reruns, and other online content reaching almost 30 million in 2019, up 22% from the previous year. This staggering audience size points to a full-blown shift in entertainment and culture that captures the attention of Generation Z—people born between 1995 to 2010—showcasing the potential for marketers to ride on the tailwinds of e-sports.

Ampverse, a gaming and e-sports media firm that operates and owns e-sports teams, gaming channels, original content programming, and publishing assets, has jumped right into the fray. Launched in June 2019, the company started out as an influencer management firm, but then shifted its focus to the gaming and e-sports market to connect brands like Samsung, Garnier, Shell, and Tesco Lotus with gamers and influencers.

The firm was founded by former Twitch executives Ferdinand Gutierrez, Matthias Beyer, and Surasak “Yoon” Winij; Charlie Baillie, who worked for Universal Music; and Rob Gilby, who moved over from Walt Disney Company (Southeast Asia). Courtesy of Ampverse.

“We came together because of the opportunity of the connectivity between brands and gaming, which was a real impetus for us to start the business,” said Gutierrez.

Mobile e-sports spectatorship

Southeast Asia’s e-sports industry generated game revenues of USD 4.4 billion in 2019, with year-on-year growth of 16%. Mobile games accounted for USD 3.1 billion, or 70% of the total revenue, according to gaming industry analytics firm Newzoo.

Ampverse recognized this demand and beefed up efforts to acquire e-sports teams and form regional gaming communities such as Bacon Time, the champion of the first season of the Thai Regional Premier League of multiplayer online battle arena game Arena of Valor, as well as ROV World, an e-sports community for the same mobile game in Thailand.

“I think what makes gaming different from all other verticals is that gaming has a strong community. That’s why it’s important for us to be a driver and shaper of those communities, and really use the power they have to, first of all, help creators and teams. Secondly, [it’s important] for us to take the connectivity [between] mobile and the game that they play and really use it to our advantage to grow gaming in general, and to lead other regions,” said Gutierrez.

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Read this: What is it like to be a female e-sports player in Southeast Asia?

Last week, the firm bagged an undisclosed amount of pre-Series A funding in an oversubscribed round, five months after Ampverse partnered with video content creation firm Unruly to devise engaging video campaigns for the region. Gutierrez said that the firm’s current focus is to increase its e-sports revenues by forming partnerships with brands in the region, while the next step is to build its own e-sports content.

Breaking down preconceptions for brands

The e-sports market is no longer limited to brands in technology, video games, and consumer electronics. Others are making forays into the sector too. Coca-Cola, for example, has been a major sponsor of Overwatch League in recent years. The brand also developed League of Legends-themed bottles in Turkey, and runs a Twitter account, @CokeEsports, to promote its beverages among e-sports players and fans.

Users in the region spent over 98.5 million hours watching e-sports on their phones in 2019, up more than 540% from 15.3 million hours in 2018, thanks to the competitive market boosted by mobile games like PUBG Mobile and Garena Free Fire, according to Newzoo. Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash.

Despite the success of early movers like Coca-Cola, Gutierrez pointed out that many brands still stigmatize e-sports and perceive gaming as an industry with a high barrier to entry. Ampverse solved this pain point by letting the numbers speak for themselves. To woo prospective non-tech clients, had to acquire the sales figures of some brands that already have a presence at e-sports league events. “It’s like when I was doing digital marketing back in the early 2000s. We had to troll people and say, ‘Look, a lot of time is spent on the internet now, and it is relatively under-monetized,’” said Gutierrez.

While brands like Coca-Cola and Red Bull are early movers in the e-sports sector, Gutierrez believes that brands have to be where the audience is. He pointed out that Gen Z viewers don’t watch TV, they use ad blockers in their web browsers, and they’re not into advertising. So the way to reach them is to produce entertaining content centered around video games.

Gutierrez’s vision is to make e-sports content viable for everyone. That means setting out to change the general impression that video games and e-sports are solely for gamers. “Gamers are our people and they have lives, and those lives have relevance to any of the brands that are out there,” he said.

The way forward in Southeast Asia

Gutierrez believes that there are big opportunities for a company like Ampverse in emerging markets. “We believe in the early-stage and in Myanmar, I think there is an opportunity for us. The other two important markets would probably be Vietnam and Indonesia,” said Gutierrez, adding that he expects to enter Myanmar by the end of the year, and then venture to Vietnam and Indonesia in 2021, if the COVID-19 pandemic lets up and these countries open up again.

“We have the ability to affect a new market if we can find practical ways to get inside with our core team, [and] assess it properly, then accelerate these things. If not, we will cautiously keep on researching it until we can. In the meantime, we’ll just grow Thailand as big as we can,” he explained.

Ampverse has a new talent recognition software platform in the pipeline too. This new tool will identify and aggregate e-sports players and influencers in the region, and visualize market trends. Coupled with the partnership with video content creation firm Unruly and digital entertainment startup Pops Worldwide, the firm is set to develop authentic game content and expand its presence on all sorts of video streaming channels.

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.

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