The King of Kings In Video Gamedom. The Queen Of Singapore Gaming. Such regal titles, while initially comical, are only awarded to those who have proved their mettle in the industry. Elicia Lee, a longtime veteran in the Southeast Asian gaming industry, certainly has and then some.
The big boss of Eliphant Pte Ltd basically spearheaded GameStart Asia, the biggest gaming event in Singapore, for three years in a row. And if you see the visitor count and live stream numbers of each of them since 2014, they’re definitely growing and are pretty much in line with international game expos like Tokyo Game Show and Penny Arcade Expo in terms of quality & content.
With the next one happening in a few days’ time, SPOUT 360 felt it was appropriate to get a few words from the industry leader herself, especially since the esports aspect of the show has been growing exponentially thanks in part to the South East Asia Major fighting game tournament.
Despite her sterling reputation and impressive accolades, Lee exuberates a combination of honesty, camaraderie, and sincerity throughout the conversation, showing that she does, in fact, relate to her audience of gamers and pop culture fans.
On Its Esports Beginnings
For the benefit of our audience, can you summarize the story of esports growth in GameStart from the first one until now?
GameStart started as one hall at Suntec Convention Centre and back then the only esports thing we had was the street fighter tournament for the CapcomPro Tour Asian finals in 2014. That was the year that Razer was supporting it so it was held in their booth. And it was awesome because we had lots of top [international] players like Daigo Umehara coming down to compete. [Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori] Ono was also there, and it was a big deal because it was this small event on this little island, and all the top players came down.
GameStart has grown from 2 convention hallways last year to 3 this year. Esports have definitely grown alongside it. We officially brought in South East Asia Major last year. We did PC tournaments too [like the] Overwatch tournament last year. We expanded into other games other than the Street Fighter series.
This year, we have everything from League of Legends to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, to even mobile titles like Shadowverse and Vainglory. This year’s SEAM brings in Street Fighter V and Tekken 7. And I think the fact that SEAM is a big event for all these leagues is a big deal, at least to me.
As GameStart has grown, so too has SEAM and the esports component grown. I think this year, they take up one-third of the space.
Now that you’ve done three of these, what are some life lessons you have learnt after doing three, big expos like this?
I think I am a lot more organized, which you have to be if you are running an event like this.
Life lessons-wise, I think have definitely improved on my communication skills because in this role you need speak to and work with so many different types of people, speak to people from the seniors, the corporates to the community guys to basically everybody, right?
For example, 3 years ago when I had to do my own press conference, I did not sound as confident as I do [at this year’s GameStart Asia press conference]. Public speaking brought me out of my shell as I am naturally an introvert and would rather stay at home and play games than be out here.
My creative thinking has improved, I think (laughs). The great thing about running your own event is that you have the freedom to try all sorts of ridiculous things that you normally wouldn’t be able to.
I don’t have a boss to answer to; I just have to make sure I don’t lose too much money (laughs).
It’s been cool in the sense that I get to be creative, I get to do new stuff every year. Every year we try to improve and bring in new stuff.
What are some of the pros and cons of doing an expo and an esport event together?
There’s a lot of synergy between the two aspects to consider, right? If you really want the event to be big, you have to have both. It makes a lot of sense to have an esports event together with a gaming convention as they feed off each other and benefit each.
The downside is that because my team is very small for about 3 weeks before the event none of us gets any sleep!
The core team consist of five of us. Five people are putting this together. That’s why partners are very important to us, as we work with a lot of [them] to put all this together.
On GameStart Asia’s Esports Offerings This Year
Since you brought up Overwatch a while ago, that game is a pretty big deal even up until now. So why is there no Overwatch this year at GameStart?
I think it’s really down to bandwidth and working with communities. We ran Overwatch last year with Blizzard’s support, and we also had support from Armageddon and MyRepublic, who really wanted to push the game.
But as you know, new games always come up. We basically cater to what the community wants to do. Last year it was Overwatch and this year it’s PUBG. It boils down to what the people want in the end.
What are the factors that led you to highlight PUBG?
One factor is personal preferences. Half the guys in the office are playing PUBG, so that already [influenced our decision], just like how last year half the guys are playing Overwatch.
The other factor is the community. I always emphasize community because GameStart Asia wouldn’t be the same without all the communities we work with. For us, it’s who wants to work with us and their personal preferences.
We know PUBG is a huge game and no one has done any formal tournaments in Singapore yet. And we like to try new things and be the first to do stuff. So that’s how we decide what gets the spotlight.
What are your thoughts about the Singapore and Southeast Asia esports scene in your experience, and how can it improve?
I wouldn’t say it’s bad. It’s definitely growing. There are many challenges that other people have talked about before. The first one is the mindset; a lot of parents say things like “Boy, go and study don’t play game or you will grow up to be a road sweeper”.
A lot of people still don’t think a career in the gaming industry is feasible, not just esports, even just working in the gaming industry. That’s also part of the reason why we are doing the Southeast Asia Summit this year: to highlight that the gaming industry is thriving, legit and vibrant, as well as a feasible career option. People need to step out of their comfort zones.
Esports is still growing. It’s still a Wild West, so it really comes down to how risk-averse you are and how far and how much your passion can drive you.
There is huge potential in Singapore and Southeast Asia for esports. We have [players] who are really good, but they don’t have the opportunity to go out there, compete, and feel what it’s really like.
We try to do our bit here in Singapore but it’s not really enough. If you look at countries where good teams come out of, there a support structure in place like corporates or brands that support players, as well as organizers that organise tournaments for players to improve. To be honest, we don’t have that in Singapore.
What about the Esport Academy that has been going on for the past few months?
I haven’t really looked at them because we’ve been so busy putting GameStart together (laughs). But it’s great to see that someone is coming up to do something about this. Unfortunately, someone needs to also step forward and get things moving along or else nothing is going to happen.
Why does it seem that Singapore produces very little professional gamers that make it big?
I think it’s culture. Singaporeans tend to be a little risk-averse. The traditional path is to study hard, get a degree, get a job, be comfortable, get married, get a house, retire.
If you go into esports it’s not so easy. You’re gonna have to work really hard, sometimes for not much return. You’re going to have to preserve and do things that… if you want to get a comfy life you are not gonna able to get.
We are seeing more passionate people come out though. SG people need to be more supportive of each other. We would love to find another Singapore esports talent to manage, which we are looking out for, but we also face the issue of many people wanting to go pro but not being able to commit to the lifestyle or the journey.
A lot of them come in wanting to go pro and say I want this this this or I can only train on Saturday. That’s not gonna work. It’s not so easy. You are not going to play Heroes of the Storm two times a week with your friends and “go pro”. Unless you are ridiculously talented, that isn’t going to happen.
People are unsure about committing to this. I don’t blame them because they also don’t receive support from their family and friends. Their parents usually go “what are you doing” and say stuff similar to that. For us, we hope that as we build awareness about gaming and esports in Singapore, mindsets will change.
On The Future
Do you have plans to go to other countries other than Singapore?
Gamestart we are definitely looking out to go overseas. We just have to find the right partners.
We’ve never positioned ourselves as a Singaporean show; that’s why we use the tagline “Southeast Asia’s Convention” because we have always wanted GameStart to be for the SEA audience, not just for the SG audience. It’s just held in Singapore because we are in Singapore.
We need to understand the market better and understand the gamers better before we go out and do an event overseas.
What kind of advice would you give to someone else in the future who is also going to be organizing GameStart? Suppose after you retired or something.
I think to be honest to do what we are doing you need to really love what you are doing, you need to be passionate about it, you need to be smart about it. For us, we always do the things that we enjoy and we think our fellow gamers will enjoy.
We wouldn’t do anything just for the sake of making money. When we do something we are always 110 percent behind it and we want it to be something to be proud of it.
Making smart decisions, doing your research, make sure you know what you are doing, pay attention to details, and you just need to frickin’ love what you are doing lah.
This should be obvious, but are you proud of what you’ve accomplished so far?
There you have it; by gamers for gamers, straight from the leader’s mouth. GameStart Asia and South East Asia Major 2017 starts this October 14 and 15.
Image credit: GameStart Asia