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E-sports to drive millennial engagement for Singtel

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"We want to engage and be authentic to our customers and one way we're doing that is definitely through gaming," says Mr Lang (second from left).

Singapore

E-SPORTS, once viewed as a quirky niche pastime, has grown into a multi-billion dollar business, and Singtel is serious about carving out a slice of that growing pie.

Millennials who watch e-sports tournaments and play games, in particular, are seen as one of the biggest growth drivers for the telco in future, and Singtel is keen to capitalise on that burgeoning market.

"Millennials focus a lot on experiences, a lot on loyalty," said Arthur Lang, Singtel's chief executive officer (international), in an interview with The Business Times.

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"It's really what their peers are saying, what they themselves see, and what personal experiences they have. We want to engage and be authentic to our customers and one way we're doing that is definitely through gaming," he said.

A large part of Singtel's customers are the millennial population (widely defined as those born in the early 1980s to late 1990s). One of the telco's biggest challenges is to meaningfully engage a segment of the population whose appetite for traditional sports on television is waning.

"People will still watch the (English) Premier League, the World Cup and basketball. But those numbers - particularly in the West, with more and more in Asia - are peaking," Mr Lang said.

With Singtel, "gaming is definitely something" it wants to explore as a business. It's neither mainstream nor niche, but it's rapidly catching on among the younger crowd.

"We have 700 million subscribers in our family of six companies. In fact, within our group, some 200 million plus are gamers and game enthusiasts," he said.

Singtel estimates that the compound annual growth rate for the gaming industry in South and South-east Asia alone will be 19.2 per cent from 2017 to 2021, with China, Japan and South Korea generating revenue of US$27.5 billion, US$12.5 billion and US$4.2 billion respectively.

For the same period, it estimates the monthly average revenue per user (ARPU) is set to grow 11.1 per cent in South and South-east Asia.

To demonstrate its commitment to e-sports, where gamers pit their skills against each other in Superbowl-style competitions, Singtel has poured US$300,000 into the prize pool for its previously-announced PVP eSports Championship, a multi-title and regional league held in Singapore from Oct 5 to Oct 7.

It's part of Singtel's aim to foster a "vibrant e-sports ecosystem and community", together with subsidiary Optus and regional associates Airtel, AIS, Globe and Telkomsel.

For the competition, Singtel has partnered heavyweights such as Razer, Blizzard and Garena, and other homegrown players such as computer chair maker Secretlab and custom computer builder Aftershock.

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), which publishes The Business Times, is the tournament's official media partner.

The league will feature the popular mobile game Arena of Valor, PC game Dota 2 and developer Blizzard's Hearthstone, played as part of the Singapore stop of the game's global tour.

Across the world, the global games market is on track for a decade of double-digit growth, according to gaming intelligence outfit Newzoo, which tracks the e-sports market.

In its latest Global Games Market Report, Newzoo said some 2.3 billion gamers worldwide will spend US$137.9 billion on games in 2018, a 13.3 per cent, or US$16.2 billion, increase from the year before.

The Asia-Pacific region is estimated to generate US$71.4 billion, or 52 per cent of total global game revenues. It's estimated that it will see a 17 per cent year-on-year increase, nearly all of which is attributable to mobile gaming.

Mobile gaming will continue to be the largest segment following a decade of double-digit growth, with mobile revenues forecasted to grow 25.5 per cent year on year to US$70.3 billion in 2018.

Newzoo estimates that the Asia-Pacific mobile segment will grow by US$9.7 billion year on year to US$44.7 billion in 2018.

Mr Lang, meanwhile, raised the possibility of Singtel identifying itself with e-sports teams, supporting them either through sponsorship or branding, but declined to give more details.

He also hinted at developing an e-sports league which would pit corporates against each other.

"I'll be the first to admit that we are new to this whole business," Mr Lang said. "We feel we really have the assets to win at this game in Asean."