Meet the woman behind one of south-east Asia’s leading e-sports companies

26 Jul 2019

Elicia Lee, co-founder, Eliphant. Image: Eliphant Pte Ltd

Elicia Lee has been gaming since a young age, and now she’s bringing e-sports and competitive gaming to Singapore and beyond.

When we think of the phenomenon that is e-sports and the thousands of professional gamers who compete for millions of dollars, we often look towards Asia and particularly China, Japan and South Korea. In China alone, e-sports is expected to generate more than $210m this year, making it the second biggest market in the world.

However, often overlooked is the role of south-east Asia in this global cultural shift. Now, market research has shown that the region – in particular Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia – is undergoing its own gaming boom.

One person who has seen this first-hand is Singapore native Elicia Lee, managing director of one of the region’s largest game events and e-sports companies, Eliphant. She and her employees organise massive gaming events such as GameStart and SEA Major, and Lee also runs digital marketing agency Zombits, specialising in marketing campaigns for gaming and tech companies.

I caught up with Lee after her appearance at the major Singapore tech conference Innovfest Unbound, where she was on a panel to discuss the future of gaming. Having been interested in gaming since the age of six, it’s no surprise that she said it is such a huge part of her life.

Seeing an opportunity

The jumping-off point for Lee’s voyage into entrepreneurship really started during her time working for Electronic Arts (EA) as its marketing manager and APAC e-commerce manager for south-east Asia.

In these roles, she helped the publishing giant host a number of small gaming events, but they never amounted to what she thought they could be, both in size and ability to succeed.

This is what she attempted to do with her post-EA venture Eliphant. Having started off organising general events, Lee said it soon moved into e-sports and livestream production to become a “one-stop shop for any publisher that’s interested in marketing or running an event in south-east Asia”.

To date, the company has worked with some big names in the publishing world such as Capcom and Namco, including running the livestream feed for some of the latter’s major tournaments in Asia, which draw large audiences.

Big Tech’s big entrance

While Eliphant is now an established player in this growing niche in south-east Asia, Big Tech is finally starting to catch on to how lucrative e-sports is and will be in the future. Amazon’s purchase of Twitch in 2014 was an early sign, and now the streaming platform is acquiring smaller players such as Bebo to get itself in on the action of arranging tournaments.

So is Big Tech about to spoil the party for Lee and other companies like hers?

“Actually, we don’t really see it as competition. We see it more as the ecosystem is growing,” she said.

“Right now, e-sports is [doing so well] and we have brands on a regular basis coming to us. The challenge is a lot of them see the potential in e-sports, but they don’t really know how to get in.”

In fact, she sees the growing interest in e-sports from these companies – including Google and local telecoms player Singtel – as helping the region overcome its biggest hurdle: infrastructure.

“One of the challenges we have in this part of the world is there isn’t a lot of infrastructure right now that can support a sustainable e-sports ecosystem,” Lee said.

‘I think, culturally, while a lot of women would play games, they don’t think it’s OK for them to come out and say they’re a gamer’

While south-east Asia is experiencing an e-sports boom, it has differed from the rest of Asia with much of its success being on mobile. This is largely down to lower access to high-speed fibre broadband in many parts of south-east Asia, with Singapore being the main exception.

“The [e-sports] scene here is still very young, especially compared with China,” according to Lee, who described the Chinese market as being “in a whole other league”.

“Mobile is really where things have taken off because a lot of south-east Asia does not have a PC or console so they use mobile devices,” she added. Games such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – started by Irishman Brendan Greene – and the mobile version of League of Legends are among some of the games to really take off in the region.

Sexism in e-sports

If you take a look at the typical e-sports tournament and those taking part, the most obvious thing to note is that it’s overwhelmingly male. While the number of women playing games regularly is getting closer and closer to parity with men, in e-sports there is still a long way to go.

Not only that, but women who do take part have spoken about how many others have decided not to become involved because it would just be a “headache”.

For Lee, as one of the region’s biggest players in e-sports – at least on the business side – she admitted that “there are way too many guys” and the culture that surrounds it doesn’t help.

“I think, culturally, while a lot of women would play games, they don’t think it’s OK for them to come out and say they’re a gamer, or they never want to proactively get involved in gaming,” she said.

“It’s not so much that we don’t have women who want to do these things [in south-east Asia], it’s more whether they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone and push back.”

Looking to the future, Lee said that for Eliphant these are “quite exciting times”, having recently secured a partnership with the gaming industry conference Gamescom, which announced that it is coming to Asia in 2020.

“We started out in south-east Asia, but now we’re doing work in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. There’s just so much demand for service providers like us.”

Disclosure: The journalist’s trip to Singapore was provided by the Infocomm Media Development Authority

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic