How did you get into the gaming scene, Rayyan?
I actually started playing quite a while ago. It has been about 16 years. I first started gaming as a hobby. I’d usually go to all these cybercafes with a group of friends after school and we were playing mostly PC-based games. Back in around 1999-2000, there were actually already a lot of people on the scene so if you wanted to play you’d have to book the PC’s early – sometimes, a day or two in advance. I’ve actually always been in the top two, top three in the country so I’m actually quite exposed to international tournaments and world-class players. So I think I’ve got a little bit of a competitive edge there. I remember speaking to one of my friends from Indonesia – his advice was: “do something crazy *laughs* just think outside the box, think of something.” It’s been one and a half years for Exidium and so far, so good. I’m in the middle of opening another branch right now, which a lot of my regular customers asked me to do because the current one is usually full.
I’d imagine that in 2000 you had slow Internet connection! Were you playing peer-to-peer games within the cafes or was it online against other people?
Yeah, that’s right. In 2000 it was only LAN connection so you’d usually play with your friends. For Brunei, we didn’t have the level of data connection yet to take part in all these online tournaments and games, so we just ended up playing within our community. So what we did, the furthest we got, was sponsorship. There used to be a lot of tournaments in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for example, so the best gamers or the top three teams in the country would go there to represent Brunei and you know – fight for a spot there. I was playing Counterstrike at the time, it’s a pretty big game (and still is), and later on I moved on to Dota but that wasn’t for long, after that, League of Legends.
Okay, was that a generational thing or because people could afford to have four PC’s at home along with an Internet connection?
Uhm…I wouldn’t say that. I think it would be the pricing actually in some cafes, cause at the time it was actually quite pricey to play as well. There was this period where customers would have to pay $2 an hour, which is quite expensive. So that sort of died down. And there were no tournaments locally or anywhere in Borneo – that’s also one of the factors which contributed to the decline of the ‘scene’ then. There’s definitely been a bit of a resurgence due to the HSBB, and ever since that was up and running for the country, local gamers are joining tournaments, like the European qualifiers or they would have a tournament set by region like South-east Asia or America. All these players will compete in their region and then qualify to meet in the finals that would typically be held in countries like China or Europe.
How did you progress from being a player and a gamer yourself, to opening and running a cybercafé?
Right, that one was kind of accidental I guess? It was funny. I graduated in 2010, my major was in accounting and finance and I thought why do I have to study so hard just to work for other people right? Luckily, I got support from my mum, I spoke to her about this idea and she actually supported me surprisingly. She said that I’d been gaming for over a decade so why not use that passion to make something that I could earn money from. Initially when I started off, I didn’t know what to do so I had to ask around, do my own research and ask my friends from Singapore and Malaysia what was the first thing I had to do to set up a cybercafé. It’s not as simple as it sounds *laughs*. It’s not just buying computers and plugging them in. One thing for me was looking at my competitors – what I could improve on – for me it was space. Most places would only give you enough for the keyboard and half of a mouse pad. So I came up with Exidium and a lot of gamers were happy! I accommodate to what the players want.
Being progressive means moving forward and adapting to changes; markets nowadays are always changing.
Where do you see the gaming industry heading now? Is competitive gaming or professional gaming still struggling to be recognized as a legitimate career or source of income?
I think the gaming industry in Brunei has the potential to grow and improve further, given the chance and support from the relevant authorities. There are also game development courses being offered by the government for students who are interested in the field and want to make a living out of it. The country has started to open up, acknowledge and accept competitive gaming or professional gaming. We definitely hope to see more tournaments and events in the future. I actually had a meeting with the gaming body – there were eight cybercafés, and they were suggesting that we all hold one big tournament. So I think that’s a great start – a lot of players are looking forward to that and we hope to have Malaysian or Singaporean teams fly into Brunei. Southeast Asia actually has the most active players and I think it would be a good opportunity for business and the community; there are more new faces who are actually some of the best players in the country right now. There are also quite a number of girl gamers and when they come here they’re in a big group. It’s fun seeing them play games. I hope to see more gamers and more people using their own passion to start something they would enjoy doing.
Wanna check out Exidium?
They’re located at No: 11, 1st Floor, Block B, Gadong
or you can look up their Facebook at Exidium Cybercafe
or IG @exidiumcybercafe