From fish fights to esports, the colourful spectrum of Thailand’s gaming

Lea Hogg 2 weeks ago
From fish fights to esports, the colourful spectrum of Thailand’s gaming

iGaming, encompassing online casinos, bingo, poker, and sports betting, is currently deemed illegal in Thailand. The country enforces stringent laws that ban most forms of gambling, with the only exceptions being horse races and the national lottery.

In the year 2020, Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society launched a campaign against online casinos. In an effort to curb these activities, they collaborated with other state agencies to block websites offering such services. Despite these countermeasures, online gambling continues to be prevalent in the country, with an estimated annual turnover exceeding 1 billion baht (equivalent to $32 million).

Interestingly, there is a growing argument for the legalization of gambling in the country. The black market for online gambling is speculated to be worth up to $12 billion. This staggering figure is exerting pressure on the government to reconsider the existing laws and potentially legalize the enterprises already operating within the country. However, as it stands, iGaming remains illegal in Thailand.

A country with 70 million inhabitants and 54 million internet users, and 52 million smartphone users, the country would be a lucrative target for online gaming businesses. However, the stringent Gambling Act of 1935, which prohibits most forms of betting except for the national lottery and horse racing, poses significant challenges. The law even includes unusual restrictions, such as the ban on private ownership of more than 120 playing cards.

Despite the strict laws, underground gambling thrives in Thailand. In January 2023, the Thai House of Representatives approved a bill to establish resorts featuring five-star hotels, casinos, amusement parks, sports stadiums, and zoos. These facilities aim to attract both foreign players and local citizens over 21, who must prove they have at least US $15,000 in their bank account for six months. However, this vote does not immediately legalize gambling; detailed economic studies are required first. Nevertheless, with an estimated 70 percent of adults gambling regularly, generating approximately US $5.5 billion annually, the government has strong incentives to consider legalization and benefit from taxation.

Traditional forms of betting 

Thailand’s gambling culture extends beyond conventional forms of betting, encompassing activities such as fish fighting, bullfighting, and cockfighting. Despite stringent laws against gambling, these traditional forms of betting thrive and attract numerous participants and spectators. Notably, fish fighting, also known as “Bettas,” is uniquely popular, with male fish battling in specially licensed events. Bull and cockfighting also draw large crowds, with stadiums hosting up to 1,000 spectators. These events are deeply ingrained in local traditions and serve as significant community activities.

Surge of online and mobile gaming 

Thailand mirrors global gaming trends with a significant demand for various gaming segments, particularly online gaming in battle royale and match genres. The surge in online gaming can be attributed to higher internet penetration, widespread smartphone ownership, and the rollout of 5G coverage. These technological advancements have improved streaming quality, allowing Thai consumers to enjoy online gaming streams on popular platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Live, and Facebook Gaming.

The country ranks second only to Indonesia in Southeast Asia’s gaming market. Initiatives like the DEPA Game Accelerator Program aim to boost the local gaming industry by supporting game publishers and developers. In 2020, two cloud gaming services were launched: Blacknut by Gameloft and Antstream Arcade. Local game titles such as Kingdoms Reborn, Home Sweet Home, Project Nimbus, Fallen Knight, and Timelie have gained popularity, showcasing Thailand’s growing influence in the gaming sector.

The increase in smartphone ownership and faster internet speeds have led to the adaptation of console and PC games for mobile platforms. Popular games like Garena RoV, Garena Free Fire, Roblox, and PUBG Mobile have found a significant audience in Thailand. Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, such as League of Legends, have further popularized the battle royale genre among Thai gamers. Despite legal and cultural challenges, online gaming has become a staple entertainment form for many Thais. The majority of the population lists online gaming as one of their top five hobbies. Thai video gamers generate over US $1.24 billion in annual revenue, with up to US $700 million coming from gaming. Popular game titles include RoV: Arena of Valor and various online casino games, which are increasingly gaining traction.  Locally produced games, such as Earth Atlantis, Timelie, and Home Sweet Home, highlight the potential of Thailand’s gaming industry. The government’s consideration of legalizing gambling could open new economic avenues, providing additional tax revenue and boosting tourism.

Emergence of esports 

Esports has emerged as a significant sector in Thailand, experiencing exponential growth and attracting substantial investment. Recognized officially as a professional sport, esports is supported by the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) and the Thailand E-Sports Federation (TESF). These organizations run regular competitions, seminars, and workshops to promote the industry. Founded in 2007, “Made in Thailand” (MiTH) is one of the country’s oldest esports organizations, fielding teams in games like Dota 2, CSGO, Point Blank, Heroes of Newerth, and Starcraft II.

Tencent predicts that esports revenue will surpass US $72.5 million next year, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20 percent, nearly double the global rate of 11 percent. This growth is driven by increasing viewership on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which in turn spurs more investment in the region’s gaming industry.

Thailand holds the 16th position globally in esports, with 1,898 players winning a total of US $22.2 million across 1,254 tournaments. Arena of Valor is the highest awarding game, generating US $5.3 million in winnings.

The highest-earning Thai player, Anucha, has earned just under US $1 million from Dota 2 tournaments. Esports revenue in Thailand is projected to reach US $6.7 million in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9 percent from 2023 to 2027, resulting in a projected market volume of US $10.6 million by 2027. Sponsorship and advertising constitute the largest market segment, with an estimated volume of US $2 million in 2023.

The number of esports users in Thailand is expected to grow to 8.25 million by 2027, with the average revenue per user (ARPU) increasing to US $1.04. Thai gamers, typically aged 18 to 25, have more disposable income to spend on esports. A significant portion of these gamers bet on esports, preferring interactive events and multiple esports titles, including Call of Duty, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Valorant, Warcraft III, League of Legends, PUBG, and Rocket League.

Attraction of fantasy leagues and cyber sports

Fantasy league football and cyber sports such as hockey, cricket, and golf also attract bettors. Uplatform offers a comprehensive sportsbook in the region, featuring over 200 sports, including major Asian championships and leagues. Popular sports for betting include basketball, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and Muay Thai. Surprisingly, badminton is one of the most popular sports for online bettors in Thailand, with offshore sites accepting Thai customers and processing transactions in local currency.

Thailand’s gaming sector is diverse and rapidly evolving. From traditional animal fighting bets to the rapidly expanding esports industry, the country offers a wide array of gaming and betting opportunities. The government’s involvement in promoting and regulating these activities, combined with technological advancements and increasing internet penetration, positions Thailand as a significant player in the global gaming market. As the sector continues to grow, further investments and regulatory developments are expected to shape the future of gaming in Thailand.

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