Cover and thumbnail via The Pantheon
Mobile esports and mobile gaming is on the rise and 2019 was a just a glimpse into how big the mobile gaming player base and audience can be. From Call of Duty: Mobile, which had over 100 million downloads in its first week to Garena Free Fire, which saw over 2 Million concurrent viewership for the World Series, many mobile titles are slowly beginning to make a place for themselves in the mainstream. However, key issues continue to plague to various ecosystems and must be addressed if mobile titles are to have a sustainable future.
The standardization of devices has been a long debated topic in esports. While PC titles have now managed to reach a point where players have access to the best technology, both at home and on LANs, the same cannot be said for mobile titles. The mobile versus tablet discussion is one thing, but even in mobiles, there is a lot of variance in makes and models. This is why PC titles allow players to use their own keyboards, mouses and in some cases, headsets. Mobile titles, especially FPS and MOBAs require quick reaction time that players build with muscle memory on their own devices. At LANs they have to use sponsor provided mobile devices which are often of different sizes, depending on the tournament. Not only do players have to figure out their entire settings for the new device, but they also have to work on sensitivity, gyroscope parameters and other settings, all within a span of one-two days. There have been many cases where players have complained about being unable to adjust to devices and it makes sense to address their concerns.
The best solution is to have one standard model for professional competitions at the tier 1 level and enforce it for a period of 6 months. That way, all the players have time to be prepared to the best of their ability and it also gives organizations and team owners room to help players with the right resources. To elevate the level of competition in the upper tiers, allowing players to have an even playing field is paramount for a game’s success as an esport.
Third Party tournaments
Most major LANs for esport titles are conducted via the publisher/developer themselves. This makes sense in the initial phases as it allows for more control over rules and growth, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run. Enabling and incentivizing established third party TOs like ESL, DreamHack, PGL etc. to hold events for mobile titles is key for a game’s long term growth. In games like Dota 2 and CS:GO, third party events have been essential to the game’s success in more ways than one. From elevating production value, to discovering new talent and regions, third party TOs often have more resources to plan and execute esport events better than the publishers. In the current scenario, almost all the major tournaments in PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, AOV, MLBB, Clash Royale etc are run via the publisher themselves. This has stifled growth to a certain extent.
Third party tournaments are to building a solid ecosystem | Image via ESL
One particularly unique problem with mobile titles is their regional nature. As the ecosystem has developed over the last year or so, the regional nature of different titles is increasingly coming to light. Each game has managed to find popularity only in one specific region or regions and while being ignored in others. Some good examples of this are PUBG Mobile in India, MLBB in Indonesia, AOV in Vietnam and Free Fire in Brazil. Unfortunately this does mean that the titles aren’t as popular in other regions. This leads to a one-region monopoly and stagnates the growth of esports as only a few teams tend to dominate tournaments. Without a similar level of support, it’s hard for any region to grow and publishers as well as TOs have to be able to focus on untapped regions to help popularize the sport and increase their viewership.
Unlike Asia and South America, regions such as NA and Europe which are years ahead in an esports context, are lagging behind when it comes to mobile titles. Since a lot of mainstream discussion and awareness about esports comes from the western countries, it will be very hard to make esports far reaching without developing these regions. With an already existing ecosystem and pre-established marketing channels, publishers and TOs should be able to penetrate these regions much faster than most.
Lack of Efforts by Orgs/Players
A key exercise that is going to ensure the longevity and growth of mobile titles are the players at the top level. Players and their orgs need to do better to market themselves and their esport to reach a wider audience. Organizations which have been traditionally catering to a core PC audience are hesitant to do mobile content so as not to irk their core fans. With the average player age for mobile titles being much lower, players too are unable to fully leverage their skills and talent into dedicated followings. While some players have managed to tap into the local fanbase, very few can say that they are a global name when it comes to mobile titles. There have also been reports of organizations exploiting players in mobile titles because the industry is nascent. On one hand, orgs want to get in on the mobile gaming boom by picking up rosters, but on the other, they do little to promote the players.
The esport ecosystem has multiple stakeholders from publishers, to professional and casual players, to organizations, tournament organizers, audiences, content creators and more, all of whom have to do their part to make sure that their favorite titles are true tier 1 esports. While TOs and publishers have to work on increasing both the player base, revenue and sustainability, it is up to the community to lead the charge on content, discussions and tuning into events whenever possible. Without one, the other will never be possible.
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