A person familiar with the matter revealed that ONE initially approached Singtel asking for a US$50 million year-long cash sponsorship of its esports events, which Singtel declined. “They don’t even have a game. So Singtel said, ‘no thank you,’” the person tells us.
ONE too many fancies
For ONE’s maiden esports event in Singapore—the Dota 2 World Pro Invitational—it tied up with Romania-based PGL. The organisation is best known for organising esports events in Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
The event featured 12 of the world’s top Dota 2 teams and delivered 85 million views across platforms for ONE, the company claimed. With PGL’s track record, ONE didn’t break a sweat hosting the event, according to a senior games industry executive.
Participating teams are among the most viewed across the esports industry in 2019
124.4M hours watched
48.8M hours watched
45.7M hours watched
What did PGL get out of it?
“Based on industry norms, ONE likely paid PGL quite a big fee to help them organise. Then they shelled out another huge amount to fly the international teams to Singapore and for marketing and promotions. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the total cost of production crossed US$2 million, which is rather costly and hard to recoup for a small market like Singapore,” says the industry exec quoted earlier.
Blood, sweat, and tears
A person who’s had stints in both UFC and ONE thinks adding esports on top of MMA makes sense. For example, if the company runs both events in the same month, they can use one to promote the other. “It’s a strategic play,” says the person. What appears to make less sense is spending significant funds to outsource the events to another party. It remains to be seen if ONE can effectively run an esports event on its own.
“If ONE decides to go it alone, it could attract large audiences by forking out hefty prize pools,” another industry insider suggests, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution. “But it’s not something you can replicate all the time, it’s not sustainable.” The insider adds that gaming publishers lose a lot of money running esports events “but that’s offset by the money they make from the games they sell.”
Except ONE doesn’t have a game of its own. Yet. Something Sityodtong has said he wants to fix. Industry players, though, are sceptical about Sityodtong’s ambitions. The games industry is capital-intensive and “very hits-driven”, says Nic Khoo, co-founder of Southeast Asia-focused esports and gaming marketplace Yup.gg. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward venture” because only a handful of games go mainstream.
An Asian gaming company tells us that ONE approached them to make a game that would feature its fighters as characters. “They didn’t seem eager to foot the bill,” an executive says on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak on the matter.
There are companies like US-based Riot Games that hit the jackpot on their first try. But that didn’t happen overnight.