When you think esports, the first thing that comes to mind would probably be an awkward generation Z kid or millennial decked out in a team jersey, constantly glued to their phone, and unable to form coherent sentences in front of bright lights and cameras. Shine the spotlight on Allan Phang and he'll show you otherwise, demonstrating that people in the esports industry come from all walks of life and there's no such thing as being "too old"!
"During my college break, I saw a paintball field near my place, Sunway Extreme Park, played a few rounds there and got to know some of the regulars. Since I learned how to make websites in college, I helped build a website for one of the teams there and got invited to join them. I also started a forum that became the Lowyat forum of the paintball community in Malaysia," recalls Allan, about his younger days. Fun fact: he dropped out of college because he felt that the academic life wasn't for him.
The stint with the paintball team eventually sent him down a career path where he took the pastime to new heights in the country. From importing paintball gear to organizing and running international tournaments, his efforts helped to legitimize the sport's competitiveness in Malaysia. For almost a decade, he was heavily involved in the paintball business, and which also opened a lot of doors for him, thanks to the connections he made.
One of these acquaintances was with Tony Fernandes, the founder of AirAsia, who offered him a job after he left the paintball trade. "After I left paintball, I emailed Tony asking him if there were any opportunities at AirAsia. Within seven minutes he replied! I went to their headquarters for an interview and got into the company," said Phang, who worked at the airline for many years before he was introduced to the world of esports - which was somewhat an accident according to him.
"It wasn't in my job description, I created it per se. I didn't know what esports was. It was like an alien word. In 2017 a pilot came up to me and said, 'Tony Fernandes knows about esports and Twitch.' What is esports? I replied, sounds dodgy.. What is Twitch? I know how to twitch my eye lah and I thought of The Rock a.k.a Dwayne Johnson from WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), because he always twitches his eyebrows. I felt like I was living under a rock” That sent him down the rabbit hole when he started googling the term and discovered that it was a streaming platform that Amazon bought for $970 million in 2014 - a huge deal he was painfully unaware of.
The thing that caught his attention was the number of eyeballs the platform had. "Esports was perfect for spectating, and it was going to be very valuable in the eyes of the brands. It was a gold mine. Since no airline or big non-endemic brand in the region was getting into it back in 2017, I thought, why not AirAsia?"
"It wasn't easy to get buy-in from management, so I had to create awareness and generate hype around it to show how big the industry was." He spent his own money to create a hundred customized AirAsia jerseys which he gave around to the decision-makers in the office - people with pull and influence. His plan was education and awareness - he encouraged them to wear the jersey in the office every Thursday to create a buzz. By doing so, he had an army of influencers in the building!
Eventually, this led to a meeting with Datuk Kamarudin Bin Meranun, AirAsia's Chairman, because he asked for a jersey, and Allan spent from night until morning talking to him about esports and the possibilities. That was the beginning of the airline's esports endeavours.AirAsia started by sponsoring Mineski's Dota 2 team (Mushi, iceiceice, Jabz, Moon (NaNa back then), and ninjaboogie), sponsoring the Alisports (Alibaba) WESG Asean tournament, and buying over the star-studded Mobile Legends: Bang Bang squad, Team Saiyan. The company had fully immersed itself in the next generation of sports and entertainment.
Fast forward a couple of years, Allan decided to seek greener pastures elsewhere and landed the opportunity to work with Southeast Asia’s powerhouse organization, EVOS Esports as the Regional Head of Marketing & PR last year. He was supposed to fly around the different countries that EVOS operated from (Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore) to handle his duties but due to the pandemic, he was stuck in Malaysia (like the rest of us). His role was to help grow EVOS Esports' presence beyond Southeast Asia to a global scale.
A far cry from the large, organized structure of the airline company, working at EVOS Esports required a change of mindset as it was a startup. "When I joined EVOS, I could see things from a different perspective (compared to AirAsia) and at a more-esports level. If you want to do esports, you can't be 'too corporate'. You have to be authentic in marketing etc. You have to give the fans and the audience what they want. I also had to approach brands on a different level. Companies here are still new to esports - we're currently in an educational and awareness stage. It's not like you mention 'esports' and people will throw money to your face. It still takes time to develop. It's all about network, trust, and awareness."
Working at EVOS was very flexible compared to AirAsia, he mentioned. He could speak to the media and connect to brands whenever he wanted, he didn't have to go through the corporate communications team. "AirAsia is a lot more structured and you're not so free to move around to do your own thing. There are a lot of SOPs and the industry itself is heavily regulated. The only reason I could move around freely to work on esports within AirAsia was because it wasn't a core business, it was more like a marketing initiative and I was tasked to spearhead it." In the year he spent at EVOS, Allan executed the public relations strategy for brand collaborations with PUMA, Yamaha, Visa, and more.
When Allan announced that he was leaving EVOS, his inbox started blowing up with job offers. He decided to join Galaxy Racer because they had a vision he believed in and he saw himself as being part of their journey. Fun fact: Galaxy Racer is a portmanteau of Galaxy Express 999 and Speed Racer - two anime/manga properties about an exciting future - an apt description for the forward-looking company. The group company (Riva Technology and Entertainment) has been diversifying its portfolio over the past year by investing in many different projects such as a camera for influencers, mobile games based on The Umbrella Academy, and even hiring an ex-Disney veteran, Guenther Hake.
Allan will be handling marketing duties for Galaxy Racer on a global scale while helping to expand their Malaysian and Southeast Asian reach, and his work will go beyond esports. Safe to say, we'll be seeing a lot more of Galaxy Racer in the coming years, both in and out of the esports world as it establishes itself as a lifestyle-centric brand. "I don't want to sound cliché, like a Faze Clan per se, but we're moving towards that direction. Esports and gaming will be the hero, or the carry, while the rest of it will eventually be as big," said Allan.
Phang, a 40-year-old avid gamer and a fan of PUBG Mobile, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Valorant, had some opinions about the newer games in the esports scene. He sees Free Fire as being a legitimate contender based on how much work Garena is putting in right now, while Wild Rift is catching up as they structure their esports programme globally with the influx of top teams from US, Europe, Asia and South America.
"Those with hyperlocal content and structure will be able to thrive and scale faster because most Thais are more comfortable with Thai language, Indonesians with Bahasa Indonesia and so on. You won't hear about Vietnamese gamers getting into English content. That will be the challenge for Wild Rift but I believe Riot Games with their community-driven approach, should be able to penetrate those markets with their hyperlocal strategies." He foresees all the staple esports organizations (i.e. Team Liquid) boarding the Wild Rift train soon even though a lot of them aren't in MLBB at the moment.
He also shared about the state of the esports scene in Malaysia - we're growing, but we're nowhere close to being matured when compared to our neighbours like Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. "Those markets are already matured because they are sustainable in the sense that money is coming in - from investors, brands, revenue share and broadcasting rights in franchised leagues and so on. In some of those franchised leagues, it costs from over US$500k to US$1million for a team slot. As for Malaysia, we are currently 'fighting' with Singapore in 2020/2021 - you can see that their government has been very active, hosting events like the Singapore Major and M2 while Malaysia has to step up! But with the current blueprint implemented by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and ESI, we're starting to see things finally move along since they have an allocated budget and a mandate to execute esports initiatives across Malaysia."
He shared some advice for people looking for a career in esports. "People have the misconception that you need to know esports in order to join the industry, but that's not true. A lot of skills are transferable - a lot of teams and publishers are looking for people in development, finance, legal roles and so on. You're not required to have an esports background, I wasn't from esports previously before I joined. It's all about how you put yourself out there so people know who you are and what you do. You also have to do your market research and go onground to connect with the esports community. I went to a lot of esports tournaments and events (pre-pandemic) to understand the market nuances and connect with industry and community leaders."
Phang mentioned that he started branding himself in his early 20s - a skill he learned out of necessity when he had to promote his small paintball business during a time when the sport hadn't caught on yet, and since then it's become a lifestyle. As a result, Allan has been invited to numerous talks and conferences to share and educate the public about esports, and his inbox is constantly flooded with messages from brands wanting to get into esports and parents asking him how their children can get into the scene.
"It's good to have personal branding, especially use LinkedIn as a form of networking with other organizations in and out of esports - people need to know that you exist. Nowadays if you go through the hiring system of LinkedIn, you have to submit your application to the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and the AI will scan through your resume and if you don't qualify, it usually ends up in a black hole. As a workaround for these filters, you need to have some presence on social media to build your digital footprint so that potential employers will know that you are out there."
"One day in esports is a hundred days in real life," he said when sharing about how fast-paced the world of esports can be. "And to all those out there interested in joining the esports industry, go for it. It's a sunrise industry and has a bright future!"
Galaxy Racer has some exciting news in the coming months, including their recent esports marketing activation with Arsenal superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (beyond that, he wouldn't spill the beans to us yet), so stay tuned to eGG Network and we'll keep you posted. To find out more about Allan Phang or get in touch with him, check out his official website.