Myanmar’s eSports scene is mushrooming, but frequent power cuts are holding players back in the emerging democracy.
ESports star Myint Myat Zaw was on the cusp of victory when the screens went dark in the Yangon cafe where he competes, costing him thousands of dollars in missed prize-money and denting his reputation.
More than 60% of people in Myanmar still live without reliable electricity after a political transition in 2010 that sought to pull in foreign investment after decades of junta rule.
That includes getting in on the global explosion in eSports, a billion-dollar industry that will be a medal event in the Southeast Asian Games in November for the first time.
But Myanmar is at risk of missing out with power cuts, few personal computers and a dearth of resources to support travel and competition abroad holding homegrown champions back.
Zaw, a 21-year-old also known as “Insane”, said he has lost about 40 matches due to blackouts, making it difficult to earn a slot abroad where cash prizes are now in the tens of millions of dollars.
For gamers, a dingy internet cafe has long been the typical venue to battle it out with players from other countries. But that has started to change as cheap SIM cards hit the markets and smartphone use soars.
Players competing on mobiles can stay logged on when local grids go dark.
Staring into smartphones, players took down their opponents with sniper rifles, the action projected onto a large screen as spectators cheered.
Myanmar, like other developing countries, is at “a serious disadvantage” compared to its neighbors, said Jeremy Jackson, market analyst for eSports research firm NewZoo.