Gaming Monthly: The Role of Mobile Gaming in Esports



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For many years, football was the only sport considered to be truly ‘global’. But now, there’s a new kid on the block, one which captivates millions of fans worldwide without having to pay a bunch of primadonnas millions of pounds to kick a ball of air around...

We’re talking about Esports, of course.

Esports has made remarkable leaps in recent years, so much so that it is now considered the world's fastest-growing sport. Back in 2017, reports predicted the Esports economy would grow to $1.5 billion by 2020. The latest stats show that they weren't far off, with the global Esports economy valued at just shy of $1 billion in October of last year

And yet, despite its recent growth, the affordability and accessibility of mobile phone gaming means the Esports industry could once again change forever.

Throughout its short history, computers and consoles have been at the heart of the Esports scene, with the development of multi-million dollar competitions around games such as Dota, League of Legends and Counter-Strike consistently taking the limelight.

However, within just a few years, mobile gaming has evolved from a gaming platform to be sneered at to a fully-fledged giant that is standing toe-to-toe with consoles and PCs.according to various independent reports, mobile gaming yielded $68.5 billion in 2019 and by 2020 and is expected to reach $77.2 billion soon. The same reports indicated that PC gaming will have a revenue share of 23% by the end of 2020. Comparatively, mobile gaming will have a 46% share. By 2022, mobile games will account for over half of all gaming revenue. What’s clear is that mobile gaming is taking over, and although mobile Esports is yet to catch up to PC or console, it’s only a matter of time before it does.

Democratizing gaming?

The success of mobile gaming Esports has grown in parallel with the rise of mobile gaming in general, and much of this success boils down to accessibility.

One of the primary reasons behind the popularity of mobile Esports is the popularity of mobile devices themselves. Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to find someone without a smartphone. In fact, reports suggest that young gamers have been playing on their phones more than any other device for a number of years now. Developers have taken note, and are consequently creating games that go beyond the typically simplistic nature of mobile titles.

Considering the broader takeover of mobile in general, the rise of mobile gaming in Esports seems more like an inevitability rather than a coincidence. The unrivalled user base offered by mobile has always put the platform in prime position to become the mammoth it now is; all it was waiting for was a competitive game good enough to capitalize on the massive potential held by mobile.

And capitalize they did. Moonton – the guys behind Mobile Legends: Bang Bang – is one such company. Thanks to their game, players around the world can experience a fully-featured competitive online MOBA (Mobile Online Battle Arena), without having to spend an arm and a leg on a PC gaming rig.

Looking back at 2020, 6 out of the 10 most viewed Esports events involved the mobile games Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Garena Free Fire and PUBG MOBILE.

The fact of the matter is that mobile gaming has had a huge democratizing effect on the gaming and Esports industry. The proliferation of high-spec, relatively cheap mobiles around the world has opened up the door to gaming for millions of people who otherwise would have been priced out by highly powerful and expensive consoles or PCs.

Unparalleled speed

The breakneck speed of mobile penetration has been a powerful catalyst for the growth of mobile Esports. In 2018, 3.6 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) used their mobile phones to go online. That figure is projected to rise to 5 billion by 2025, and emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia are already beginning to make a dramatic impact on mobile gaming.

Looking at the country-split feature on the Airnow Data platform, we can confirm that these emerging markets have been the main source of growth for those mobile games which have become the primary titles involved in Esport.

In 2020 alone, Garena Free Fire racked up 178 million downloads on Android, and all of the top 10 countries with the highest share of downloads are considered to be emerging markets.

PUBG mobile reached 68.7 million downloads, with 8 out of the top 10 shares of downloads coming from emerging markets.

Mobile Legends: Bang Bang scooped up another 71.4 million downloads, with 9 out of the top 10 shares of downloads coming from emerging markets.

Over the past month, Garena Free Fire has seen an average of 7.9 million DAUs on Android alone. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang has had an average of 3.7 million DAUs, while PUBG Mobile has hit 3.2 million DAUs. As mobile games continue to surge in popularity, top titles such as these have demonstrated that free-to-play games have the potential to outperform the traditional giants by reaching a larger audience. With the shackles from traditional gaming’s expensive hardware removed, mobile has increased accessibility and exposure to a multitude of multiplayer games involved in the Esport sphere.

The perfect storm

Besides the impressive games and the ubiquitousness of mobile devices, mobile Esports have also benefited from the intuitive nature of playing games on a mobile device. We are now living in an age where touchscreens are second nature to millions, and so, for the majority of people, it is a much more natural leap to become a gamer than it used to be, rather than learning how to use a controller or mouse and keyboard.

This is also linked to the problem of the steep learning curve associated with traditional Esports. For example, to play a game of League of Legends on PC competitively, players are required not only to be proficient in using the keyboard and mouse, they will also have to have a wealth of knowledge and skills, which can take years to develop. By contrast, the mobile-equivalent, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, takes a fraction of the time to get the hang of due to its simplified gameplay.

The combination of those two factors makes it a far more attractive game for the vast majority of people who are not hardcore gamers.

Mobile Esports in the wake of COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily limited the number of local tournaments hosted in public places, in general, gaming and streaming have only grown more popular during global lockdowns.

In an article published recently on the outlook for online events in the gaming industry in 2021, Dean Takahashi highlights some of the very real positives that VentureBeat is experiencing from its online gaming events. For example, Takahashi highlights the vastly greater number of attendees at the events and the increased diversity where people from different, less privileged parts of the world could attend when previously the event would have been out of their sights.

Wrapping up

No matter which way you look at it, the future of sport is gaming, and the future of gaming is mobile. The easy to access nature of mobile games, as well as their huge audience, makes them no competition for PC and consoles.

For any developer or publisher, adapting games to mobile is critical to connecting with the widest gamer community there is.