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GameStart Asia gets bigger, embraces e-sports in its third year

20,000 fans and cosplayers flocked to the annual convention, proving that Singapore is hungry for games.

Aloysius Low/CNET
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GameStart's Elicia Lee says response this year for her event has been phenomenal.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Not content with topping education rankings globally for math and science, Singapore's well on its way to becoming a gaming powerhouse -- as GameStart Asia showed when it returned for a third year.

With numbers surpassing last year's 17,000 attendees, last weekend's event attracted over 20,000 attendees. It's become one of the two big cons for Singaporean geeks, alongside the Singapore Toy Game and Comics Convention which took place about a month ago.

No major gaming announcements were made this year, but instead GameStart Asia played host to two gaming tournaments: The Street Fighter V South East Asia Major 2016 and Overwatch Champions. Gamers could also try out the newest games, such as Gears of War 4 at the Xbox booth and a demo build of Final Fantasy XV over at Sony's.

"The response this year was phenomenal, and we not only saw many familiar faces -- the first guy in queue this year was first last year too -- who have supported the event since the beginning, but also many new ones," said Elicia Lee, the founder of GameStart Asia.

"We had an increase in the number of visitors this year, including more from overseas, and the fact that visitors spent more time in the hall compared to last year, I take as a sign that we're getting our content offerings right," added Lee.

Featuring international gaming brands such as MSI, Bandai Namco, Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation, GameStart Asia also showcased local indie studios as such Witching Hour Studios and XII Braves. Local gaming accessory maker Armageddon and gaming chair startup Secretlab were also on hand to show off their wares.

"Being a huge fan of the Mafia Game franchise I was very excited to see sneaks of the game," said attendee Herbert Liu. "It would be great if GameStart could have more special celebrity guests next year such as (YouTuber) PewdiePie."

Microsoft joins the party

Blizzard didn't have a booth this year. Instead its spot was filled by Microsoft Xbox, which showcased its up and coming games.

"We see gaming conferences such as GameStart as a great platform to connect with our fans. Our participation this year allowed us to engage the gaming community in Singapore and Southeast Asia with tailored activities on our latest and greatest games on Xbox and Windows 10, including the recently released Gears of Wars 4, Forza Horizon 3 and more," said Chris Goh, senior category manager, Xbox and Windows Gaming.

On the other hand, rival Sony played host to Street Fighter V South East Asia Major 2016. This was part of the Capcom Pro Tour, a series of global fighting game tournaments. The event drew big-name pros from the fighting game scene such as Infiltration (currently the best player in the world), Momochi and local players Xian and Gackt to fight it out. The trophy was eventually won by Japan's Tokido, who played Ryu.

Bringing e-sports to Singapore

"There is huge potential in our local e-sports scene, and it's evident that the larger companies are taking notice. We have good talents in Singapore, but e-sports has lacked support from sponsors and publishers in the past," said GameStart's Lee.

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Street Fighter V pros battled it out at the South East Asia Major 2016 at Sony's PlayStation booth.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Singapore is no stranger to e-sports. It previously hosted a $220,000 DoTA 2 tournament last year, but costs have apparently deterred the Nanyang Cup from actually being held in the region it's named after.

But signs do point to the country hosting more such events in future. And with growing interest from gamers, it makes sense to start tapping into the market, which boasts high-speed fiber lines to every household and superfast 4G networks despite its relatively small size compared to the rest of the region.

The infrastructure is in place and demand is definitely there -- the success of GameStart Asia is a great example of this -- and it would be a shame for Singapore's burgeoning e-sports scene if tournament organizers don't capitalize on that.