Gaming, Esports to have ‘huge growth opportunity’ in the PHL

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By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran
Special Features Writer

ONLINE GAMING can present a ‘huge opportunity’ for the Philippines if the country can overcome technical roadblocks like bandwidth limitations to support its growth, digital content delivery firm Limelight Networks said.

Internet service and telecommunications providers (ISPs) should provide better internet speeds at lower costs if they wish to take advantage of the explosive growth in the online gaming sector, said Jaheer Abbas, senior director for Southeast Asia & India at Limelight Networks.

“Esports and online gaming is growing rapidly. With devices becoming cheaper and available to everybody…users can play anywhere, anytime, wherever whenever they want,” Mr. Abbas told BusinessWorld in an interview at the ASEAN Gaming Summit in Pasay City on March 20.

“One of the aspects that would probably create an explosion in terms of that usage is bandwidth. When there is a high amount of bandwidth available at very low costs, there will be a huge growth opportunity in the Philippines,” Mr. Abbas said.

The business cost of lowering internet prices, he noted, will pay for itself in the form of over-the-top (OTT) media services, or the distribution of streaming media over the internet. Instead of relying on conventional internet and mobile data plans to generate revenues, ISPs should transition to business models that benefit from offering good internet connectivity, such as live streaming or online gaming.

The presence of third-party cloud-based services also provides ISPs the option to offload the infrastructure development needed to support improved speeds.

“One of the major reasons why consumers are not willing to pay more for a data plan is that the perceived quality is not visibly there. If I have a larger data plan, there is no way for me to ensure that I am getting better services than those subscribing to lower data plans. Maybe the amount of data is there, but the quality of data, the speed that I will get is not there,” he said.

But if ISPs offered better speeds at lower costs while supporting an ecosystem of OTT services at the same time, consumers are more likely to pay money for their services, he said.

“ISPs should look at providing an ecosystem which improves the user experience and increases the users’ ability to do a lot of things. If I can watch live gaming, watch live videos without buffering, if I can do live streaming of myself, if I have multiple things that I can do by being on this ecosystem, I can pay more for this data plan,” Mr. Abbas added.

This is especially relevant at a time when internet usage among Filipinos is skyrocketing, while industries like online gaming are growing alongside it. According to this year’s Global Digital report by digital media companies We are Social and Hootsuite, which collects internet usage data from countries all over the world, Filipinos are spending an average of 10 hours and 2 minutes on the internet daily, the highest in the world.

In 2018, Filipinos clocked an average of nine hours and 29 minutes on the internet a day.

Meanwhile, Esports and online gaming are predicted to become a billion-dollar industry worldwide by 2020, with an audience estimated to reach over 380 million.

The Philippines has also seen an influx of foreign-run gaming firms, particularly Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGOs), driving up real estate prices and drawing the eyes of the country’s taxation officials.

Limelight Network’s own The State of Online Gaming 2019 report found that on average, people all over the world who play video games spend an average of seven hours seven minutes each week playing, 19.3% longer than last year. Most of them play video games on their mobile phones.

“Filipinos basically spend higher levels of time with their phones playing games. So adoption of technology is there, and it will continue to grow,” Mr. Abbas said.

In terms of available bandwidth, he said the Philippines, with an average of 300 kbps, falls behind countries like Singapore, which offers 800 kbps to 1 Mbps.