Singapore esports player granted NS deferment, will play in Overwatch World Cup

Team Singapore OWWC (Photo: Overwatch Singapore Facebook group)
Team Singapore OWWC (Photo: Overwatch Singapore Facebook group)

UPDATE: Mindef issues statement regarding the basis for Figo Chua’s NS deferment

SINGAPORE — Singapore's team to the Overwatch World Cup (OWWC) in November will include one of its originally selected members, after he recently secured deferment from National Service (NS).

Figo Chua, 18, was not in the roster that was submitted to Blizzard, the game developer, as he was enlisting for NS on 14 August.

However, Team Singapore Community Lead Nicholas Tay, also known as Caldoran, revealed in a Facebook post on Monday (5 August) that Chua was originally the first pick for the team, and that his deferment ahead of the OWWC event was successful.

Chua, whose in-game name is Azalea, confirmed his deferment on Tuesday (6 August), telling Yahoo Esports that he was both "surprised and really excited at the same time".

"Everyone around me told me that I wouldn't get deferred, even I didn't think that I would get deferred, but I stayed hopeful," he said.

Tay, 25, together with his committee members, had helped Chua to draft a letter to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

"We made sure to highlight the prestige of the Overwatch World Cup and the rarity of such an opportunity, as well as the valuable qualities we found in Azalea during the player trials such as leadership, teamwork and communication, not to mention his mechanical skill in the game," Tay shared with Yahoo Esports.

"Most importantly, I took extra care to specify the date of departure and arrival back in Singapore, as well as the assurance that Azalea would fully commit to serving his National Service once the Overwatch World Cup has concluded," he said, adding that he had learnt from previous cases where athletes with "bigger opportunities" had their deferment rejected.

Support from Blizzard

According to Tay, Chua was allowed to defer based on the grounds of education deferment as he had not completed his tertiary studies, and was likely given leniency to use it so close to his enlistment due to the OWWC. Tay also said that Blizzard had been "incredibly helpful and supportive throughout the entire process".

On Wednesday, Mindef issued a statement on its website to clarify the reason for Chua’s deferment.

Mindef said, “The basis for Mr Figo "Azalea" Chua's deferment from full-time National Service (NS) was not for participation in the Overwatch World Cup, as reported. He was granted deferment to enrol for a NITEC course in January 2020. Under current policy, deferment from full-time NS is generally granted to enlistees to pursue educational qualifications up to 'A' Levels, polytechnic diploma or their equivalent, including the NITEC.”

The Singapore Overwatch committee had earlier made a decision to include another player, Marcus Kwa (Akame), in Chua's place, pending the outcome of his deferment. Blizzard allowed the roster change past its stipulated deadline due to the team's circumstances, Tay said.

In 2005, Counter-Strike player Stanley Aw, then 20, became the the first esports athlete to successfully apply for NS deferment, ahead of his participation in the World Cyber Games.

However, there have also been incidents where Singapore esports teams had to pull out of competitions after their members could not secure time off or deferment from their NS commitments.

Overwatch World Cup goals

Chua, who has played Overwatch since it was in beta, said that the day he was told he would have to be dropped from the team due to NS obligations was the biggest disappointment he had felt in his life.

With his enlistment deferred until December, he now hopes to help Team Singapore get out of the group stages of the OWWC.

"I believe that my team and I have the potential to do that, and will work hard to achieve that goal."

Tay echoed his belief in Singapore's Overwatch team, saying he hoped the country's participation would prove to the gaming world that Singapore has a lot of untapped potential and talent.

"I also hope that our dedication and drive will inspire the local Overwatch and esports community to strive for greater heights such that they too could one day represent our country on the world stage," he said.

On Chua's successful deferment, Tay also hoped it would bring about positive changes.

"It gives a great deal of hope to the entire esports scene in Singapore, regardless of the game in question, as it shows that our government's views towards competitive gaming are slowly but surely changing for the better," he said.

Adding that society's views towards gaming would not change overnight, Tay felt the deferment would go a long way towards legitimising competitive gaming and esports as a viable and respected career in Singapore.

The Overwatch World Cup takes place at Blizzcon in California, which is happening this year on 1 to 3 November.

In addition to Chua, Team Singapore also includes Mohammed Asri (Sachokk), Muhammad Syafiq (Xenofly), Timotheus Yeo (Bubblekitty), Jasper Yue (yuris), Alston How (Jervyz) and Hao Haiyang (ZeonFlux).

Overwatch is a team-based online shooter, where players can choose from a variety of characters that have different roles and skillsets, to compete against another team in a variety of formats. According to Blizzard in May 2018, the game had more than 40 million monthly players.

Released in 2015, Overwatch has since seen its competitive scene grow to include the OWCC, the Overwatch League and the Overwatch Contenders.