While doing a road show in the Philippines, Carlos Alimurung, chief executive of One Esports, the online gaming arm of mixed martial arts organisation One Championship, was introduced to an unfamiliar mobile phone manufacturer. He soon found out it was one of the biggest smartphone brands in the country.
After discovering that the company owned 80 per cent of the market share of phones under US$150 (S$204), Alimurung realised that many e-sports fans in the region were relying on their phones to tune into and play games.
The ubiquity of smartphones is why he believes that mobile games are the future of e-sports and that the region will have a big role to play in leading the way.
Speaking at a virtual session at the All That Matters business festival yesterday, he said: "That was this realisation that I had coming to South-east Asia - the next generation of fans are these people who want to access these sports and who are interacting with it through a mobile phone.
"This century is a very different century in terms of who is validating entertainment media.
"Ten to 20 years ago, frankly, it was the West who was validating what's cool but that game is over; Asia is determining what is cool and what is hot."
According to e-sports analytics and market research firm Newzoo, South-east Asia is the world's fastest growing games market with the region's mobile games market accounting for US$3.1 billion (S$4.2 billion) of the 2019 games revenue of US$4.4 billion - over 70 per cent of the market.
South-east Asia's Internet penetration rate was 63 per cent early last year, up from 25 per cent in 2014. And global research firm Statista reported that the number of mobile gamers in the region, which has a population of over 669 million, is expected to hit 250.6 million next year.
E-sports has become increasingly accepted in the region, with the sport making its bow at last year's SEA Games in the Philippines, where Singapore won a bronze and silver in Hearthstone and Starcraft II respectively.
The growth of e-sports has also been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused traditional sport to come to a standstill earlier this year.
This has seen more e-sports leagues and publishers in Asia pushing for TV revenue rights, something that fellow panellist Sean Zhang, chief executive of Hong Kong-based Talon Esports, feels is a positive step forward.
"It is good thing because it sustains businesses and teams. Pushing more into a traditional sports space and you've seen that in the United States with TV rights, sponsorship, being part owners of the league and working with publishers to develop and grow that pie and shared benefits, there are some interesting things happening there," he said.
"A lot of interesting publishers are focusing down that direction, which has helped a lot with monetisation so you're not solely reliant on sponsorship dollars."