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Is Malaysia Actually Ready For A National Esports League?

As most gamers and esports fans have heard by now, the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports Syed Saddiq has announced that the ministry will be organising a National Esports League starting next year. The question is: Are we ready for such a huge undertaking?

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that the government is paying more attention to esports and gaming as a whole. Saddiq’s strong support for the local esports industry has bored some fruits. The RM20 million funding for esports recently announced at the tabling of the Malaysian 2020 budget will definitely be helpful in further developing esports in Malaysia.

So What’s The Problem?

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The PUBG Mobile Malaysia National Championship 2019 hosted by Yoodo was a good example of how an esports event should be done.

My skepticism starts with a lack of accountability. Last year, RM10 million was allocated for esports. Where exactly did the money go to? What was it specifically spent on? I ask these questions because there’s quite a lot of politicking that has happened in the realm of competitive gaming in Malaysia.

The 2019 SEA Games happening in the Philippines in December this year will be featuring esports as a medal tally sports. The selection process for finding our esports athletes have not been a very smooth one.

Earlier this year, Esports Malaysia (ESM) accused the National Sports Council (NSC) for not providing them financial support to carry out the selection.

The NSC director-general Ahmad Shapawi then retaliated, saying that the NSC had already organised several meetings with ESM and agreed to contribute RM750,000 on the condition that an official request and a budget breakdown would be submitted. His statement also claimed that the official request was only submitted two days after the event.

So was ESM sluggish and neglectful or was the NSC not playing well with others? Either way, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture regarding how things are done here even when national pride is at stake.

Biting Off More Than We Can Chew?

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The first-ever Penang Esports Festival held this year had its shortcomings but was an overall good experience. It’s a good starting point for the local scene.

When I recently spoke to Esports Malaysia’s Head of Communications Muhammad “Flava” Farouq at the Taiwan Excellence Esports Cup Grand Finale, I asked him what he thought about the National Esports League. Like most of us at Kakuchopurei, he believes that we’re not prepared for anything of that scale.

Farouq’s biggest concern lies in the structuring of the league. It isn’t just about funding; duration is also an issue.

“Is it going to be a 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month league?” he states before expounding that a longer duration translates to a higher cost. There’s also the dilemma of teams potentially losing focus on other private tournaments while the league is ongoing.

Esports in Malaysia is still very young. Farouq acknowledges this as one of the challenges in establishing a strong esports ecosystem. Just pumping money into the industry probably won’t be enough to make people respect esports as much as they respect the traditional sports.

Without the right amount of attention and excitement, a national league is just another big “syok sendiri” party.

Being part of ESM, Farouq still wants what’s best for the country. Despite all that’s happened, he believes that ESM can still play a role in building up and growing the local esports scene. He just hopes that the authorities will talk to the right people so that the plans are executed properly.

“In any sport, you need to fully understand how it works and all the mechanisms. We wouldn’t mind working together with the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the National Sports Council in the future.”

– Muhammad “Flava” Farouq, ESM Head of Communications

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The Kuala Lumpur Esports Masters will also be happening next year. I’m interested to see what kind of dynamic it will have with the proposed national league.

Speaking of plans being executed properly, where’s that esports blueprint we’ve been teased about for so long? Saddiq initially promised that it would be ready by April this year but so far, it’s as plausible as Half-Life 3. It’s probably one of the reasons why there’s no transparency regarding the RM10 million allocation.

But wait, it gets even better. The RM10 million allocation wasn’t even given to the Ministry after the tabling of the 2019 Budget. Apparently, they only received the funding this week. You read that right.

The RM10 million that was supposed to be used to not only organise esports events but also to select and prepare our national esports athletes for the SEA Games happening in December was only given in October.

Outlook Not So Good…

Long story short, I don’t think we’re ready.

The Youth and Sports Ministry together with the National Sports Council should take more time to research the local esports ecosystem. They keep saying that they’re talking to the best people and yet we keep seeing incompetence and unnecessary problems popping up more often than they should.

That RM20 million funding is awesome news. However, if Saddiq wants it to actually contribute to the development and growth of Malaysian esports, he needs to focus on the smaller details rather than going straight for the big leagues in hopes of being able to produce another too-close-for-comfort selfie announcement.

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