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Art and eSports: Pansy Ho’s Macau masterplan

Monday, 04 December 2017 15:50
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Speaking to selected media at the MGS Entertainment Show 2017, MGM China co-Chairperson and Executive Director Pansy Ho revealed her desire to help Macau become a global center of eSports and how her experience in the art world can provide the blueprint.

By Ben Blaschke

SHE has spent more than a decade pushing Macau’s art industry, now MGM China co-Chairperson and Executive Director Pansy Ho has singled out eSports as the next great opportunity for Macau to enhance its global tourism appeal by becoming “the preferred base for eSports in Asia.”

Revealing a surprisingly detailed plan tied closely to her own experiences in the art world, Ms Ho told a small selected media gathering at November’s MGS Entertainment Show that long-term investment into key infrastructure and education projects focused specifically on eSports development can give Macau a significant edge over rival Asian cities as the sport continues to evolve in the coming years.

“How do we make sure we become attractive enough that we are selected as the place where eSports events or activities take place? This is what we need to look into but it’s not as straightforward as simply organizing events because the level of the events will suffer if it only caters to the local population,” she said.

“The idea here is quite the contrary. It’s not to enable Macau to become a place to cater to local events, it is to instill an idea to use Macau as a base to eventually attract more international and more interactive events … rather than simply to [rely on] local participation.

“We need to make it attractive compared to, first and foremost, places that have a larger population base and therefore inherently a wider player concentration.”

Ho’s interest in eSports comes both as a surprise and as no surprise at all. On the one hand, professional video gaming seems as disparate from fine art as raw vegan from rump steak. Yet when it comes to truly fulfilling the Macau government’s diversification brief, Ho recognizes that the two industries have much more in common than meets the eye.

And key to it all is preparation.

“We need to get ourselves ready,” Ho explained, pointing to government policy, the building of relevant infrastructure and focused education of the public as vital to Macau becoming an industry leader – be it in eSports or art.

“For instance, can Macau be the home of art trading in Asia? No, not today. Why? Because you cannot even organize the importation of these art works without having to go through a lot of hurdles. I know it because we have done it before.

“So, together with the government, this has to be a serious endeavor. It starts with policies because certain regulations might need to be revised, then we have the facilities but we still need the know-how.

“If we have an art fair in Macau with 100 stalls, how many people can we provide to supervise? We need to groom these people and we need to fast track it because normally it takes two to three generations.

“When you go to Europe and you talk to the people who are supervising a high-quality art event or work in the art galleries, they are not just memorizing information – they take a keen interest. They are often art students pursuing their passion for the arts. Do we have that? No, we don’t. In fact the current system does not quite encourage this kind of mindset, [but] we need people to be diversified. When we talk about Macau being diversified, if the people themselves are not diversified, how does the city become diversified?” 

Ho is well positioned to make such observations. Aside from her business acumen – she is Group Executive Chairman and Managing Director of Shun Tak, Chairman of Macau Tower & Entertainment Center, Vice-Chairman of the board of Macau International Airport Co and Non-Executive Director at Sing Tao News Corp Ltd among many other roles – the 54-year-old has long been recognized as a central figure in Macau’s burgeoning arts scene.

It is, for example, under her direction that MGM Macau has walls and halls filled with fine art yet refrains from boasting of their presence, allowing guests to discover and appreciate of their own accord. For those specifically searching for visual stimulation, there is also the 5,000 square foot MGM Art Space – the only dedicated gallery space found in any of Macau’s integrated resorts.

But gaining traction on a global scale has been far from simple, which is why Ho wants Macau to learn from its mistakes and stay one step ahead when it comes to eSports.

“When we started to mention art a few years back, people were really looking bewildered and saying, ‘What for?’ The what for was whether a sustainable industry could be derived from this initiative,” she recounted.

“Now at this juncture people believe that in fact art is heading in the right direction and now is the time we need to capture that opportunity.

“If you look at Hong Kong, in the space of just five years they have developed the world’s largest art fair. How did this happen? It happened because they only needed one shot at it because they have always been well prepared. It’s what we call the back-end – readiness. Hong Kong has been ready in terms of its tax regime, logistics, even having the hospitality and MICE capabilities so that when the right moment comes, you bring all of these capabilities together. This is what we need to do for Macau.”

Likewise, Ho says similar long-term planning – particularly in regards to the latest technology and facilities – must be implemented within the eSports realm to ensure Macau is ready to capitalize when future opportunities arise. 

“Just like how we have built out our hospitality infrastructure in the past 18 to 20 years, we are now in a position to consider taking it to the next level so we can be competitive and ensure our own unique appeal,” she said. “Of course, we know that everyone now is very excited about eSports. It is the new game on the block. But even eSports is going through an evolution and I anticipate there will be many new generational developments in a very short space of time with new technologies and more specialized architecture. 

“At the moment, the best thing to do is, rather than jumping into making one or two events, I would rather spend more effort on enhancing our infrastructure to enhance our capabilities so that when the time is right we will be positioned to step forward as the preferred base for eSports in Asia.”

It is with this in mind that MGM China developed some of the standout features of its new MGM Cotai integrated resort, which will open its doors on 29 January 2018.

In August, MGM released preview imagery of the property’s MGM Theater at Cotai, described as Asia’s “first dynamic theater.”

Designed by Scéno Plus, a world leading performance arts and entertainment design firm, MGM Theater at COTAI will offer 28 million pixels of viewing to audiences via a giant 900 square meter 4K (ultra HD) LED screen equivalent to the size of three tennis courts.

The theater will be able to seat up to 2,000 people in more than 10 different configurations including custom arrangements for traditional concerts, fashion shows and movie premieres as well as a 360-degree configuration for talk shows, product launches and international DJs.

“We are definitely capable,” Ms Ho said when asked about the potential for MGM Cotai to host international eSports events in the future.

“When we built the property, we built it to have that capability. While everyone is building larger, bigger stadiums or exhibition venues, we are the smallest still in terms of our capacity and space but just as we talk about our smart economy, we have been trying to play smart in our design. 

“We have utilized our space in a way that we think leads the rest in terms of how we will be able to bring all sorts of new ideas. The spaces aren’t the largest but they are enabled to be able to provide the capability to organize any sort of event. That is what our contribution will be in the future. It will almost automatically become the venue of choice when it comes to eSports.”

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