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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

A different kind of sports fever

Garena Stadium is set to start rocking in Bugis next month with a passionate gaming crowd cheering on players.
The Business Times - October 16, 2012
By: Jaslene Pang
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A different kind of sports fever 'We used to interact with gamers in the virtual world, so people know Garena only through the virtual online community. . . . But at Garena Stadium, they can interact with our staff and buy merchandised toys. This is all very tangible, and that's the wa

SPORTS lovers will have more than the Olympics and World Cup to look forward to with the promise of "sports fever" at Garena Stadium in Bugis Plus.

Slated to start operations next month, Garena Stadium is part of Garena's plan to get people to perceive gaming as a sport.

The company, which was established in 2007, is a game publisher of massive multiplayer online (MMO) games. When a game producer develops a game, he must find a game publisher to publish his game, just like how an author finds a publisher to publish his books.

In this way, Garena brings popular games such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth to the public, both of which are "wildly popular" multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, says Garena CEO Forrest Li.

He says: "Just like how supporters cheer on their favourite basketball players in a league, we want our gamers to have the same kind of support . . . That is why we plan to bring in the sports fever and let people compete in gaming."

Unlike most companies, Garena starts with online games before expanding into the offline part of its business. "We used to interact with gamers in the virtual world, so people know Garena only through the virtual online community. But they never get a chance to see the Garena people or visualise what Garena is all about.

"But at Garena Stadium, they can interact with our staff and buy merchandised toys. This is all very tangible, and that's the way we want to get closer to our customers," says Mr Li.

The stadium, slated to open in November, can hold more than 200 people at a time.

The first of its kind in the world, the stadium has an elevated stage on which two teams, comprising five people each, can face off in addition to the other stations at which gamers can game offstage.

Cameras are placed at strategic corners for the commentator to help explain or talk about the game as the competition goes on.

Images from the cameras are also projected onto big screens placed behind the stage to "maximize the watching experience" for the audience, who can choose to cheer on the teams inside the stadium or from the Garena Café just outside the stadium.

On why he decided on Bugis as the location of his stadium, Mr Li says: "We chose Bugis because it is a hotspot for Singaporeans. There are many non-gamers who have never gamed, don't know Garena exists or even think of gaming as a sport. So when they walk around this area, they get a chance to see what is happening here. As long as you are in this shopping mall, you will probably get to see what's going on. You see the audience cheer and get an idea of what the games look like.

"Moreover, we also want to take the gaming spirit to the rest of Southeast Asia. When you want to build up a professional team, there needs to be a home base for them. For example, if Singapore wants to build up a tennis team, it will build the best tennis facilities for the team and a place to host some competitions. So this is what Garena Stadium does."

As part of the company's move towards the offline platform, Garena has hosted many offline community events, including the Garena Premier League at the Taipei World Trade Centre in May and the Garena Carnival in Malaysia last year.

The stadium will hence be a space for Garena to host weekend competitions. Mr Li says he is confident of the stadium's success. Going forward, he plans to replicate the concept in other countries in Southeast Asia as well.

However, although online gaming is a "fast-growing industry worldwide", the online game market is still "quite fragmented" in this region and there is still a lot of room for the industry to grow.

Hence, Mr Li thinks the industry in Southeast Asia will continue to grow for the next 10 years. Hoping to ride on this wave is Garena, which aspires to be the market leader in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

According to Mr Li, Garena is on course to achieving its goals: it "already successfully" entered the whole region within three years, including Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand, with more than 6.6 million monthly active users in July.

He expects 240 per cent growth year-on-year in 2012 and 100 per cent growth year-on-year in 2013. Garena is also currently working with leading game developers in the US, Korea and China to bring online games of "high quality" to gamers in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

Mr Li attributes Garena's success to its platform-centric approach in game publishing, as opposed to the more common game publishers' game-centric model. "Gamers stay on Garena+ not only for the games they play, but also for the tight-knit community.

"Besides gaming, gamers can meet friends, form professional teams or grow their network on Garena," elaborates Mr Li, who believes that, as the platform user base grows, it creates a positive network effect for both users and developers.

Garena's diversified client base also allows the company to maximise its chances of creating the best possible experience for its users. "If we introduce our games to, say, Taiwan before coming to Singapore, we would already know what the best practices are, the key success factors as well as the areas to which we should pay attention, because we've already done it in Taiwan. This gives us lots of advantage over our competitors in this competitive market."

However, acquisition of talent continues to be a challenge. "This is a very young industry. So to make our growth sustainable, we need more talent. There is not much industry expertise here which we can just leverage."

To overcome that, Garena has started a management associate programme, in which it asks top talents from the universities to join Garena, offering them a one-year stint across different functions and even an overseas assignment. Mr Li thinks that this will give Garena a competitive edge in the long run, because "this business is all about people".

Moving forward, Garena is also contemplating moving strongly into the mobile phone area after witnessing the increased interest in technology such as the iPhone. But the main thing, says Mr Li, would be to continue to make Garena's users happy. One of the ways they can achieve this is to provide a space for passionate gamers to interact and compete with each other while getting supporters to cheer them on.

"Gaming is really just like any other sport. There is evidence that gaming, like other sports, builds up coordination skills and communication skills as well. That's why we want to bring the sports fever into gaming right here in Garena Stadium," Mr Li says.

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