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Singapore’s first PVP eSports Championship, a multi-title regional gaming league, is happening right now at Suntec City. The event taps on a massive eSports trend happening around the world.

However, the appeal of eSports wasn’t always clear.

In fact, when Arthur Lang first heard about it, he was sceptical. He couldn’t help but wonder: why would anyone want to pay money to watch someone else play an online game? 

It may be normal for the man in the street to be puzzled by the idea of eSports, but Lang is not a common man. Lang is the CEO of the International Business of Singapore Telecommunications (SGX: Z74), Asia’s leading communications group with a subscriber base reaching almost 700 million people.

His words carry some weight.       

Ultimately, Lang’s question was answered with another question. He was asked, “Would you pay to watch Roger Federer play in Wimbledon?” In that instant, the idea clicked in Lang’s mind. He saw eSports as the young millennial’s choice of entertainment and sports content. Better yet, Asia Pacific could be sitting on a gold mine, offering the fastest-growing eSports audience in the world.

To underscore his change of heart, Lang recently declared that “the day for Asia has arrived”. And eSports would be at the centre of it.

From Sceptic To Cheerleader

In mid-July, during a Singtel media event, a reporter playfully referred to Lang as the headmaster. It wasn’t too far off the mark.

Lang was leading the launch of Singtel’s PVP eSports Championship — which is happening right now at Suntec City. The event is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board, and it is open to gamers from Singapore, Australia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.  

From being a sceptic a year ago, Lang is now in the thick of the action, championing the importance of eSports. At the launch event, he mused on the possibility of Singapore’s next Olympic Gold medal coming from eSports and posed for photos with Daryl “IceIceIce” Koh, a Singaporean professional gamer.

Trivia: according to, Koh has won almost US$1.4 million from 80 gaming tournaments so far.

Photo caption: Arthur Lang (left), CEO of Singtel’s International Group and Singapore professional gamer Daryl “IceIceIce” Koh (right) posing for a picture. Photo credit: Singtel.

To host the wide-ranging event, Singtel has partnered with gaming hardware provider Razer (SEHK:1337), online game developer Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI), gaming platform Garena, and MET, an event organisation arm of the eSport team Mineski. To bolster the event’s reach, Singtel is pulling in its Australian subsidiary Optus, and regional associates – India’s Airtel, Thailand’s AIS, the Philippines’ Globe, and Indonesia’s Telkomsel – into the gaming field.

The involvement of Singtel’s associates makes sense. After all, eSports is growing all over the South East Asian region.

Photo caption: (From left to right) Soon Sze Meng, Vice President Business, of Singtel’s International Group; Jake San Diego, Director-Head of Games of Globe Telecom; Crispin Tristam, Vice President Digital Services of Telkomsel; Pratthana Leelapanang, Chief Consumer Business Officer of AIS; Arthur Lang, CEO of Singtel’s International Group; Hilmar Hahn, Associate Director, Product Marketing-Peripherals (Global) of Razer; Ronald Robbins, CEO & Founder of Mineski Group and Paul Chen, Managing Director, Taiwan, Hong Kong, & Southeast Asia, Blizzard Entertainment, posing with cosplayers of characters from the game DOTA2. Photo Credit: Singtel.

When the idea of an eSports tournament was presented to AIS, the Thailand-based associate immediately said yes.

Pratthana Leelapanang, AIS’s Chief Consumer Business Officer, mentioned during the launch event that half of AIS’s 40 million mobile users are gamers, and the gaming segment represents one of the most important digital services that it serves on its networks. Over in Indonesia, there are around 90 million active gamers, said Crispin Tristam, Telkomsel’s Vice President Digital Services. Within 2018 alone, Telkomsel has built up an eSports audience of five million people watching an astonishing 750 million hours of content.

With numbers like these, you can see why Lang has been cheerleading the eSport trend. And he wasn’t joking when he said that eSports could be an Olympic medal sport in the future.

From Niche To Mainstream

Online gaming is rapidly gaining credibility as a legitimate sport.

In October last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) acknowledged that eSports could be considered a sporting activity. Closer to home, eSports has debuted in Jakarta’s 2018 Asian Games as a demonstration sport — in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, it will be an official medal sport. eSports is also being considered as an Olympic medal event in 2024. Imagine that.

Sceptics may question why is the IOC even considering gaming as a sport?  

The reason goes beyond the rising popularity and economic opportunity in eSports. The IOC believes that eSports can serve as a platform for the Olympic movement to engage youths.

Others see the same opportunity.

Telkomsel’s Tristam said that it is not just about the size of the eSports market. He sees it as an opportunity for the telco to be part of the culture that is developing around the eSports community. Jake San Diego, Director-Head of Games for Globe, said that the Philippines-based telco is helping the grassroots eSports players in the country to level-up their game. He added that someday, there could be the eSport version of local Filipino heroes like Manny Pacquiao, who would win games using their thumbs, not their fists.

Evidently, those thumbs can pack quite a punch, culturally and economically.  

From Asia To Global

As eSports gain prominence, business opportunities could follow.

Singtel, citing figures from Nike Partners, said the number of gamers in South East Asia is expected to grow from 300 million in 2017 to more than 400 million by 2021. At the same time, the audience for these gamers is expected to climb from 167 million last year to 290 million in 2021. Put it all together and the eSport market in South East Asia is expected to be worth between US$4.5 billion and US$5 billion in 2021.  

Lang suggested that conditions in South-East Asia are ripe for eSports to bloom. The 16-30 year age-demographic makes up 57% of the region’s population, while 60% have enrolled in college. With the opportunity at hand, Lang said: “We feel that we have the right to play, and the right to win, across the group, across the country, across the region.”

Singtel’s near 700 million user-base plays to Lang’s favour. The world is a much bigger place, though.  

Opportunity: Take It, It’s Yours!    

“The numbers don’t lie”, said Tan Min-Liang, Razer’s Co-Founder and CEO during the launch event. “eSports is a rising force in entertainment eclipsing even movies and music,” he added.

Lang is not the only one eyeing up the eSports prize. If we widen the lens, the global market for eSports is even bigger. At the end of 2017, research firm Newzoo estimated that there were 2.4 billion gamers in the world. The global games market is forecast to grow at around 10% per year from US$121.7 billion in 2017 to US$180.1 billion in 2021. At the moment, Singtel is in the early stages of planting its flag in eSports. The telco will be looking to provide payment services and connectivity.

There are still many unexplored areas such as the unique content that eSports generate for team sponsorships and advertising. In other words, it’s still early days for eSports. We’ll be watching how Singtel can benefit from it.  

Global trends such as eSports catch our eye as we believe that the industry’s growth could unfold over many years, and provide the tailwinds to lift the companies in it. Stock markets may be volatile, but growth trends such as eSports may yet prove to be sustainable across multiple economic cycles.

At the Motley Fool, we invest for the long-term, and that means finding companies that can sustain themselves for the long haul. The investment case for a company becomes stronger if there are underlying trends that can sustain its business for years, if not decades. If you are interested to learn more, join us at Stock Advisor Singapore by clicking here  

A version of this article first appeared in the 24 August 2018 edition of Take Stock Singapore.

The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalized investment or financial advice. Motley Fool Singapore writer Chin Hui Leong owns shares of Activision.