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Gameplay on-the-move

What's next for mobile esports?

August 2019

The esports industry is experiencing exponential growth across the globe, with a rapid rise in popularity and significant investments from major financiers increasing year-on-year, with no end in sight. Until now, the early dominance of console and PC gaming has constrained the esports markets to these platforms. But in recent years mobile gaming has taken the games market by storm, mainly because younger gamers prefer the convenience of smartphones. Are mobile esports set to surge?

According to Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report 2018, mobile gaming contributed over half of the games market in 2018 with a total revenue of USD 70.3bn and a predicted 25.5.% year-on-year increase. By comparison, the console games market accounted for 25% of the market at USD 34.6bn and 24% of the PC games market (USD 32.9bn), both with much lower predicted year-on-year increases of 4.1% and 1.6%, respectively.

What is mobile esports?

Mobile esports covers two types of games:

  1. Dedicated mobile esports – competitive games used exclusively for mobile only.
  2. Integrated mobile esports – competitive games that share cross-platform capabilities. For example, popular PC and console games PUBG and Fortnite both launched mobile versions in mid-March 2018 and were immediately the most downloaded games worldwide. PUBG even hosted a USD 600,000 mobile-only tournament across six regions in 2018, although the prize pool for 2019’s tournament has been reduced to USD 250,000.

Despite the recent market shift and the success of the mobile games market, it is telling that the mobile esports industry is still in its infancy. 

Mobile esports: Battle of the regions

Mobile esports has progressed at a faster rate in Eastern countries than in the West. The “mobile-first” culture in the East has meant that mobile esports has followed the initial boom in esports. The current focus of mobile gaming is mainly geared towards the casual mobile games market, however, while the competitive mobile games market continues to develop.

In 2017, there were a reported 33 large events in the Western mobile esports industry. These included the player versus player (PvP) tournaments for Clash Royale. The 2017 Crown Championship attracted 27.4m global participants, while the 2017 Clash Royale Crown Championship World Finale in London registered a live audience of 5,000 and over 122,000 total Twitch viewership hours. In Quarter 4 of 2017 alone, live streaming of Clash Royale games accumulated 15.8 million viewership hours on YouTube Gaming and 6.3 million on Twitch.

By comparison, 18,000 people attended the Honor of Kings, King Pro League 2018 Split Finals in Shanghai. In China alone, 200 million users competed for a chance to take a slice of the USD 1m prize pool.

The East’s push for global recognition of esports as a competitive sport took a major step forward with a demonstration at the 2018 Asian Games of six esports games, including the two mobile titles Clash Royale and Arena of Valor. With esports now confirmed as a medal event for the 2022 Asian Games, audiences are beginning to accept esports on all platforms as a competitive sport.

Obstacles to mobile esports growth

Despite the growth in mobile gaming, there is still a huge gulf between mobile esports and esports. The global high of a USD 1m prize pool for a mobile esports tournament is hardly on the same scale as the USD 30m prize pool for this year’s Fornite World Cup for PC, which attracted around 40 million participants in the qualifiers. The International 2019, Dota 2’s latest edition of its world-renowned PC tournament, will be held on Chinese soil and has already surpassed USD 30m in prize money.

The lifecycle of mobile game products compared to the longevity of classic esports PC titles, such as real-time strategy title Starcraft and MOBA title League of Legends, works against successful competition. Significant factors affecting a mobile game’s lifecycle include mobile gameplay, payment mechanisms, homogenous competitive products, and hardware.

Classic PC titles already have established competitive structures and are supported by publishers, allowing easier access and lower barriers to entry into the esports market. In contrast, the original design of mobile games – casual gameplay on-the-move – runs contrary to the central theme of esports. The resulting product is therefore typically a title lacking comprehensive depth, with lacklustre gameplay and reduced team-focused mechanics.

Gameplay is the key factor for mobile esports, and we can expect greater investment into mobile hardware and accessories in order to move the mobile esports industry forward. Brands such as Razer, Asus and Xiaomi have already released gaming phones with high-refresh displays, dedicated game pads and strong pixel response times.

Ultimately, mobile esports will still need to solve the basic problem of traditional esports. Not only do competitive esports need to possess a sense of longevity, but each title needs to build a foundation of strong support through an engaged audience, exceptional professionals and a mature competitive system.

Authors

Elijha Wong
London