It’s the final day of 2020, and it feels like it couldn’t have come fast enough.
While almost all of us will be glad to leave this tumultuous year behind, there are still some silver linings amidst the gloom. For the esports scene in Southeast Asia, the coronavirus pandemic almost seemed like it would grind all activity in the region to a halt. Fortunately, Southeast Asian esports seems to have come out of the year stronger than ever.
So, with that in mind, here are the five best moments to celebrate in Southeast Asian esports in 2020.
#5 - SEA esports pros continue to gain recognition worldwide
Southeast Asia is a veritable hotbed for esports, boasting arguably the most passionate fans in the world and some of the most talented players across multiple titles. While the region continues to grow domestically, Southeast Asian talents also attract more recognition from all over the world — to the point where organisations from other regions have actively scouted and signed them.
In one of the most surprising roster moves in the Southeast Asian Dota 2 scene, regional superstar and Singaporean esports legend Daryl “iceiceice” Koh left his team of two years, Fnatic, and moved to North America to join Evil Geniuses (EG).
It won’t be the first time that EG acquired talent from SEA either, as they also signed Filipino prodigy Abed Azel “Abed” Yusop away from Fnatic back in September 2019.
While SEA fans would surely prefer to have their players stay here, gracing other regions with their talents and helping them achieve success should ultimately count as a win for the scene as a whole.
#4 - Esports enters the Asian Games, becomes a mainstay in the SEA Games
For the longest time, many have been clamouring for the inclusion of esports in the Olympics to further ‘legitimise’ it as a real sport.
While it would be overly optimistic to think it would be gracing the Olympics any time soon, esports has already been included as a new medal event in the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games in China, a huge step after its appearance as a demonstration event previously in 2018.
Of course, the Asian Games is not the Olympics. But it still is an official sporting event and remains one of the biggest in the world. For those who wish to see esports in the Olympics, its official inclusion in the Asian Games is a big step towards that elusive prestige.
Esports becoming a mainstay in the Southeast Asian Games surely would have contributed in its inclusion in the Asian Games.
After making its demonstration debut at the 2018 Asian Games, esports was finally inducted as a medal event in the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines. Following its success in that event, esports is set to return once again in the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam.
Appearing in the Olympics is, of course, by no means the be-all and end-all for esports. However, the added prestige of being in events like the SEA and Asian Games should only help the industry grow, especially here in Southeast Asia where the passion for esports and national pride often go hand-in-hand.
#3 - League of Legends’ Pacific Championship Series holds its inaugural season
Before 2020, the League of Legends (LoL) competitive scene in Southeast Asia was disjointed, so to speak, and as a result lagged behind in growth compared to the rest of the world.
This started in 2012, when the first professional LoL esports league for Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the rest of Southeast Asia, the Garena Premier League (GPL) was established.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau later had their own separate league from SEA, the LoL Master Series (LMS), in 2014. Vietnam followed in 2017 with the establishment of the Vietnam Championship Series. The year after, the GPL was rebranded as the LoL SEA Tour (LST).
But then in September 2019, it was announced that the LMS and the LST would merge into a single league accommodating Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, called the Pacific Championship Series (PCS).
The PCS kicked off in February after its initial launch was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, with ten teams from Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand participating in the league.
While the LoL esports scene in SEA still lags behind its Western counterparts, the establishment of the PCS should only help the region grow and become more competitive. Who knows, but it may only be a few years until we see a SEA team raising the trophy at Worlds.
#2 - The ONE Esports MPLI cements SEA as the heartland of mobile esports
Mobile esports has always found its strongest player base and most passionate fans here in Southeast Asia, as exemplified for the region’s love for Mobile Legends, one of the most popular mobile esports titles in the world.
Compared to other esports titles played on PC or console, mobile esports has been relatively unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.
For Mobile Legends esports, its professional leagues in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as Myanmar and the rest of the world, were able to continue holding competitions with some semblance of (pre-pandemic) normality.
All of it would culminate in the ONE Esports Mobile Legends Pro League Invitational (MPLI), likely the biggest mobile esports event in Southeast Asia in 2020.
From late November to early December, the best teams from the different leagues across Southeast Asia duked it out for the lion’s share of a US$100,000 prize pool and the right to be called the best Mobile Legends team in the region. Indonesian team Alter Ego ended up taking the championship at MPLI after sweeping Filipino team Bren Esports in the grand finals.
More than just being the biggest Mobile Legends competition this year, the MPLI was also a chance for the Mobile Legends communities in each Southeast Asian league to come together and enjoy some friendly competition.
It’s also a worthy opening act for Mobile Legends’ world championship event early next year and, ultimately, proof that Southeast Asia is the heartland for Mobile Legends esports, and arguably mobile esports as whole.
#1 - Moonton announces Singapore will host the M2 World Championship
The esports scene in Singapore, and the rest of Southeast Asia as a whole, was set for a big boost in 2020 when it was announced that the republic would be hosting the ONE Esports Singapore Major for the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) in June.
Unfortunately, both the event and the DPC was cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic in March. It remains a significant blow to the esports scene in the region, as an event as massive as a Dota 2 Major would have invited more esports events to be hosted not just in Singapore, but in other Southeast Asian countries as well.
As the global esports industry remained in limbo throughout the rest of the year, it seemed as if there wouldn’t be any major live esports events in Southeast Asia for the foreseeable future.
That changed when Moonton, the developer of Mobile Legends, announced in early December that they would be hosting the game’s annual marquee tournament, the M2 World Championship, at Shangri-La, Singapore from 18-24 January 2021.
While there unfortunately won’t be any fans in attendance for the M2 World Championship in accordance with health and safety protocols, how Moonton, the event’s participating teams, as well as Singapore will navigate the hosting of the tournament will no doubt set a precedent for how live esports events will be conducted in the near future.
Singapore’s hosting of the M2 World Championship will be a significant challenge to be sure. However, it surely will be a watershed event not just for the esports scene in Southeast Asia, but in the rest of the world as well, as the industry continues to adapt to a new landscape shaped by the coronavirus pandemic.