eSports is growing quickly in Vietnam, partly due to the fact that Vietnam has risen to become a global leader in Web 3 gaming.
During the pandemic, more Vietnamese than ever began to compete in online tournaments and started watching eSports for the first time. Currently, Vietnam has around 20 million casual eSports viewers and 10 million avid viewers, according to Viettonkin Consulting. In addition to factors such as the growing middle class and the increasing ubiquity of handheld devices, the Vietnamese gaming industry recently received a surge of interest due to Web 3 gaming. These NFT-based games, in which players can freely trade their assets, represent a new phenomenon that originated in Vietnam and went on to change the world.
It all started back in 2017 with the Saigon-based company Sky Mavis, which created the first successful NFT game, Axie Infinity. In this game, players can trade, breed and battle digital cartoon monsters, similar to the Pokemon series of games.
The crucial detail about NFT games, as compared to standard games?
Monsters or even entire accounts full of monsters can be safely loaned from owners to players, affording the players access to monsters they would not otherwise have been able to use. Players then use these monsters in the game to battle against other players or the computer, and in the process, game tokens such as AXS or SLP can be earned. Income is split among the owners and the players. This dynamic between NFT holders and average gamers resulted in the massive success of Axie Infinity in the year 2020, and the rise of the “scholarship system” of structured NFT lending between owners and players.
The “scholarship” nomenclature arose from the dynamic by which players would receive borrowed Axies, competitive training in the game’s strategy and rules, and eventually earn enough income to buy their own Axies. In this way, the player would “graduate” from the program and would thus no longer be paying out a percentage of their income to the asset owner. In actuality, many players enjoyed simply using borrowed Axies and were quite comfortable paying out a percentage of their earnings!
The scholarship system quickly gained traction, and the number of Axie users exploded as speculators bought or bred the NFT monsters in order to loan them out and earn tokens at scale. This triggered a digital gold rush in the gaming industry, as every game attempted to imitate this new model. Some succeeded, but the bonanza was short-lived, as excessive asset creation and a lack of new capital inflow soon proved the unsustainability of “play to earn” gaming.
This was a harsh realization, made far more severe when combined with the historic hack of Axie’s home-brewed “Ronin” blockchain, in which assets valued at more than $500,000,000 USD were drained from wallets controlled by Sky Mavis. This exploit also caused the closure of the bridge between Ronin and the Ethereum main chain, forcing asset-holders to utilize a centralized exchange to recover their funds.
Despite all of the above, Axie had already established itself as the leading Web3 game and became “too big to fail”, having attracted funding from Animoca Brands, and support from Google Cloud Services as a validator for the Ronin network in the wake of the exploit.
As if to prove a point, Sky Mavis hosted the Axie World Finals tournament in Barcelona last September, furnishing the event with a gigantic $1,000,000 USD prize pool. For their second act, Sky Mavis followed up with another splash of $1,000,000, this time in the form of a grant to support competitive eSports events, and thereby enabling the creation of Axie competitions worldwide.
One of the leading funding recipients was Vietnam-based events and media company eSports 4 Everyone (“E4E”), which received a grant valued at more than $100,000 USD, to host a live tournament in Ho Chi Minh City. The event is occurring this week in Thao Dien; it’s titled the E4E Minors, and will be the largest web3 eSports event that Vietnam has ever seen.
“E4E was set up with the goal of giving all players a chance to compete in eSports—and now we have players flying to Saigon to play, live in-person, from all around the world.”
That’s Nick Melhuish, the Director of E4E, who has been working on the project since its inception in 2021 when they launched daily Axie tournaments with free entry and crypto prize pools, provided by sponsors such as E1337 Metawear (the eSports clothing label founded by WhaleShark, the top NFT collector in the world) and Community Gaming (the platform that hosts their online tournaments). They now offer over 50 online Axie tournaments per month, as well as tournaments in popular Web 2 games such as Valorant and Teamfight Tactics (thereby inducting Web 2 gamers into the Web 3 ecosystem by awarding them crypto prizes).
True to their ethos of making eSports accessible to all, E4E organized a worldwide series of open online qualifiers for the upcoming live tournament in Vietnam. Thousands of players have been competing since last November, and now 12 finalists have been selected. Players are traveling to Saigon from Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, Japan, Philippines, & Malaysia, as well as entertainers, speakers, moderators, and event producers joining from South Korea, the UK, and Germany.
Billed as Axie Week, there will be a public event program taking place at Soma Saigon from March 9-12, including talks, watch parties, game demos, and more. You can check the public event program here.
This is only the beginning for Web3 eSports in Vietnam since there are plenty of new Web 3 games being built here (such as the casual MOBA Thetan Arena, and the forthcoming tactical MOBA Sipher). And what’s more, there are eSports organizations stepping up to bridge the gap between Web2 and Web3 gaming, by partnering with Web3 institutions to further solidify Vietnam as the Web3 gaming capital of the world.
Enter GEMS ESPORTS 3.0, the Vietnam-based eSports organization founded by Singaporean businessman Andy Koh. They have been building up the competitive gaming scene in Vietnam by organizing tournaments with university eSports clubs across the country, and partnering with organizations such as E4E to educate the Vietnamese public about Web 3 gaming. Speaking with Vietcetera, Mr. Koh revealed that he is in conversation with some major American university partners, discussing some sort of Web 3 gaming institute in Vietnam. While it’s too early to disclose much, he hints that “there are big things coming: we are exploring a blockchain and eSports center.”
Mr. Koh will be speaking as part of the Axie Week public talks program at Soma Saigon on Thursday, March 9th, from 7-9 pm. Some other speakers flying to Saigon for the event include Tiyo Triyanto from Indonesia (co-founder of the new Web 3 game Axie DoLL) and David de-Vilder from the UK (co-founder of Tribally Games). And if that is not enough Web 3 action for you, the Solana Blockchain is hosting a public event series titled the HCMC Hackers House from March 15-19 (RSVP here), making this a packed month for Web 3 events in Saigon.
If there was any doubt that Vietnam is the capital of Web 3 gaming, those doubts are about to get squashed, as all signs indicate that the industry is set to keep growing here — and eSports along with it.