Vision 2021: What do industry insiders have to say about Malta’s eSports goals

Timothy Vella - 26th October 2019 

‘Mainstream successes in the gaming world keep getting bigger and bigger, and the next big thing is happening sooner rather than later,’ says Eden Sports CEO Simon Theuma.

The Maltese Government has, over the past few months, set the ball rolling to turn Malta into a central European hub for the video game industry. With the implementation of its Vision for Video Game Development and esports (Vision 2021), launched last May, Government aims to provide support to a budding industry with an enormous base of young and loyal participants and fans.

Parliamentary Secretary for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation, Silvio Schembri, has been at the forefront of this movement and spearheaded Malta’s status as one of the world’s leading, emerging technology jurisdictions. “Our vision for the video gaming development sector is to see it grow from 0.1 per cent to 1 per cent of our GDP in the next 10 years,” he stated in a recent press release.

Currently, Malta is home to 15 game development studios which employ more than 200 people. And numbers are set to grow as, according to Mr Schembri, “it is Government’s commitment to push this industry and Malta’s name further to the forefront. As a Government, we are fully committed to see this industry thrive, presented as a pathway for future generations to pursue a career in this sector and see it fully incorporated into our already strong ecosystem.”

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The generation of people who grew up with video games has now evolved into a workforce, whose perception of video games has simultaneously evolved from that of simple amusement to a sport, solidified by recognition from the International Olympic Committee in 2017. The monetisation of this sport has led to its potential transforming into a significant share of the worldwide sports market, expected to be worth close to €1 billion in 2019, according to global games and esports analytics firm, Newzoo.

Simon Theuma, the CEO at Eden Sports, has witnessed the changes to the video gaming scene firsthand, and has had a hand in helping to shift the perception. “Gaming is no longer that thing you do in the basement,” he jokes. “Mainstream successes in the gaming world keep getting bigger and bigger, and the next big thing is happening sooner rather than later.”

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The shift in attitude has led to a structured gaming scene, meaning that now more than ever, people who compete in esports are aware that there is a chance of prospering from a lucrative career. “It’s no longer just about proving you’re the best among friends,” he asserts.

“There’s more on the line, and as our customers’ expectations increase, we’re only too happy to deliver.” Speaking about shifts in attitudes, he notes that the most significant change he has witnessed has been parents’ attitudes. “They’re waking up to the reality that games are no longer a waste of time. It’s not just about the playing aspect; there’s a much bigger industry out there – broadcasting and media, event production, betting, and that’s only scratching the surface.”

Since hosting their €135k ($150k) pro CounterStrike tournament last December, Eden Sports have hosted some of the best Counter-Strike teams in the world for bootcamps at the InterContinental Malta, establishing themselves on the international stage. In fact, Team Liquid, the world’s number one squad, came over to participate twice.

“Knowing how much effort and thought GamingMalta, and by extension the Government, is putting into Vision 2021, I foresee great things in the future,” he says. “The world has seen Malta’s esports potential, and now everyone wants to get in on the action, and stick around once they’re in.” Given its recent emergence as an industry, there are endless ways of creating value. “As a country, we’re trying to develop as much of that as we can and cement ourselves as the esports island.”

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Mr Theuma adds that while major strides have been made, there can never be too much awareness. “An esports audience is an engaged, intelligent and affluent one. For a long time, the esports industry was driven by passion, with little regard for profit.

"Although that passion is still alive and well, the profitability aspect has rightly become an important part of any esports business, especially with the involvement of external investors and governments to help things grow. The scales of demand are definitely going to tip at some point, and with the way esports is evolving, it’s more a question of when rather than if.”

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