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Why gamers in Asia are the world's best eSport athletes

Andrew Groen | May 15, 2013
Hardcore games, ubiquitous tech, and Asia's economic rise helped the PC trounce consoles to become the dominant pro gaming platform.

Online free-to-play PC games are particularly popular in these countries because incomes in this part of the world are still much lower than in North America and Europe. In China, for instance, the average annual income per capita is still only about $6000. So it's easy to understand why even the most enthusiastic gamer may be reluctant to pay $60 (or much more, depending on local import taxes) for a video game. It also explains why software piracy is a huge problem across most of Asia.

Online games are much more difficult to play illegally compared to offline games. The free-to-play business model has successfully circumvented both piracy and poverty by enticing gamers with a totally free product that charges only for extras like new clothing for characters.

"Gaining mass appeal in a place like China is very difficult to do with a full-price game," says Ward. "So the flexible business models of the PC have provided an opportunity for lower-income gamers to still have fun with free-to-play games."

While full-price competitive PC games like Counter-Strike and Starcraft have enjoyed broad success worldwide, the massive success of the free-to-play game League of Legends is what catapulted eSports to new heights.

Roughly a quarter of the 8.2 million viewers who tuned in to the League of Legends Season 2 World Championship did so from Asia. Having easy access to a worldwide fanbase is a huge boon to the professional scene, and it could never have happened on consoles. The PC is a global platform that allows players to watch and play the same games around the world. What's more, services like GOMTV in South Korea and in the United States can stream the world's best action right to hungry customers on the very same platform they're already using to play the game and to communicate with their teammates/opponents/friends in forums and social media--something that consoles simply can't do.

The best possible news for eSports is the fact that the East Asian and Southeast Asian markets are still growing economically. As more wealth continues to flow into those regions, eSports stand to gain.

But while Asia represents a significant portion of the eSports market, it didn't single-handedly save professional gaming on the PC. Without a strong base of dedicated fans in the United States and Europe, the professional PC gaming community would have withered in the face of popular competitive console games like Street Fighter and Call of Duty.

Fighting for relevance

The PC's contemporary dominance of eSports owes as much to console gaming's failures as it does to the strengths of the PC as a platform. Only one significant console-based eSport has thrived over the years: fighting games. Big communities of professional players have sprouted up for shooters like Halo and Call of Duty, but they tend to lack staying power (the recent popularity of Call of Duty: Black Ops could change that very soon, however). Still, the competitive fighting game scene has grown steadily for 20 years--and to understand the long-running popularity of games like Street Fighter, you have to understand their roots in the arcades of the 1990s.


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