With investments in esports and gaming surging, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia, the sector as a whole is undergoing a shift in how things work. Not only are we seeing the ‘creator economy’ shaping a new narrative for the world, but we are also witnessing women assuming leadership roles, AI being used for game development, and groundwork being laid to make esports the ‘next sports.’
One such player catering to esports creators and organizing esports tournaments is VSPO. The Saudi Arabian government has reportedly purchased a $265 million stake in the Tencent-backed company.
During the Saudi Esports Federation’s Next World Forum, we had the opportunity to speak with Danny Tang, CFO and co-founder of VSPO. We discussed the new ‘creator economy,’ where she sees esports in a decade, the significant investments Asian countries are making in mobile gaming, and the potential role of STEM degrees in the overarching narrative.
Q: Esports as a new sector has attracted a fair share of investments, and with big-name events, including Gamers8, betting big on it, where do you see the industry a decade down the line?
Danny: I think that even though we have seen a lot of growth in the industry, I do feel like the industry is still at an early stage to realize its potential. Now we’re seeing esports being played out in different continents and different regions of the world, and it is done with local characteristics. In some regions, PCs and consoles are more popular. Some regions are more mobile-focused, and we have seen the composition of esports fans differ across different regions.
What we have seen in China, for example, is that mobile esports are prominent, and we have seen a large participation of female fans and female viewers as well. What we’re hoping to see in the next 10 years is something that would happen on a global scale—something like several esports tournaments that would happen at a global level, igniting and uniting viewers and fans across the world.
Q: You brought up mobile gaming and regions with a strong presence in it. Talking about India, where games like BGMI (formerly known as PUBG) and Free Fire are incredibly popular—how do you envision these games and mobile gaming as a whole integrating into the broader cultural landscape?
Danny: We see mobile gaming as the future direction of travel for esports because mobile gaming has made competitive gaming itself a lot more accessible. We have seen that in China, we are seeing it in India and South East Asia. And we really see that as a way to break esports from just the niche sport that it was a couple of decades ago into a mainstream sport that everybody can enjoy.
Because now, with the accessibility of playing mobile games, you can have a much wider population of people that can play the games, understand the games, and enjoy the esports of it. We made a big bet on mobile esports when we founded VSPO back in 2016, and that bet has definitely paid off.
We have seen over the past eight years that Honor of Kings—our mobile title—has become the largest mobile esports title worldwide, and I’m very hopeful for markets like India—where you have a large player base and there is a large mobile culture. We are very much interested in what will happen to esports in India.
Q: As gaming and esports leave a lasting mark on the world, do you see STEM degrees becoming more popular?
Danny: There are a lot of different characters in this. There are the creators of games, meaning the developers and the publishers, and there will be participants in esports. STEM is going to be very important because knowing how to create content, especially utilizing the different technology and different tools that we have on hand, is crucial. Especially now with generative AI. That’s a big push into how to lower the hurdle of entry when it comes to game creation.
But I want to add to that: There are other things. Other majors are also important—things like storytelling and things more on the humanities side because at the heart of it, esports is a connecting experience. So, at the heart of it, we want to see the human story, we want to see the story of athletes, how they compete with each other, how they showcase their talent and skills.
And then we want to see how we want to feel related to that content. So yes, STEM is important. But on top of that, there are a lot of other humanities majors that should be important as well.
Q: In esports, what do you think the major chunk of investment is coming for? Are the creators responsible for that, or is the segment or industry in general at the tipping point?
I think there’s been a lot of investment in this industry from different people, right? And then, I think they all actually work towards a common direction of esports.
Eventually, it is going to become the next generation of sports and of esports, and then it will be able to provide the experiences on a global scale. And creator economies—what the creators are providing—are actually very important parts of the ecosystem because part of our business in China, in addition to tournament operations and commercialization, is the creator economy. So the way that we see it—people should enjoy esports as a way of life. They should have the luxury of enjoying esports and gaming-related content. Not just on game day, not just the super competitive fierce competitions on stage, but the related content as well.
For example, they’ll be part of short videos, streaming, reality shows, and other content created around the same thing as well. So I see creators being a very crucial part of this.