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South Asia, Mobile Esports and Combating Stigma - Interview With ESI's Sam Cooke

Shounak Sengupta
23/Jun/2020 08:11 am

AFK Gaming recently had the opportunity to chat with Esports Insider's Managing Director and Co-founder, Sam Cooke to get his thoughts on the constantly evolving esports landscape. We talk about the growth of the South Asian region, mobile gaming and why he thinks that mobile esports doesn't need to fight for acceptance from mainstream titles. 

 (Disclosure: Esports Insider is a client of AFK Gaming.)


What do you think has changed about the South Asian region that has made it a conversation topic in the esports world?

From an outsider looking in, as it’s not a region in which ESI is a market leader, but all the same we have covered it in the past six months far more than we used to. The development over the past 12 months or so of the industry in Japan, and India, respectively are probably the most notable changes in terms of esports. These are now countries that sizable Western teams are either pursuing or looking into more than ever before, such as Team Vitality and Fnatic in regards to India as two prime examples. This is notable and a key indicator of the region as a whole becoming more of a topic in global esports industry discussions.  

Fnatic and TSM Entity PUBG MOBILE

The entry of Fnatic and TSM into the Indian market has caused quite a stir | Image via @fnatic_pubgm and @tsm_india


What are your thoughts on the pace at which mobile gaming and mobile esports has grown around the world and in South Asia?

 PUBG Mobile, Honour of Kings/AoV, Free Fire, Call of Duty Mobile, Critical Ops, Gods of Boom, Clash...the list goes on, and on and on. Huge games, more and more releases, and with incredible numbers in terms of users, and indeed impressive viewership stats to boot. At the ESI Digital Summit in late May we had a great session with speakers such as Akshat Rathee of NODWIN Gaming, Patrick ‘Chief Pat’ Carney of Tribe Gaming, Jeff Chau of GameGether and with Kirsty Endfield of Swipe Right moderating, it was a very strong set of speakers discussing reasons why mobile esports CAN work and succeed in the West too. 

[Also read: 5 Things We Learned From The Mobile Gaming Panel at The ESI Digital Summit]

Partnerships such as OnePlus and Fnatic, and Motorola and Evil Geniuses are far from random, and the likes of these, and Razer creating gaming focused phones, and the ongoing development of mobile phone technology in regards to gaming capacity, not to mention the onset of 5G, the world is becoming smaller, and the world of mobile esports is becoming ever larger. For sure I expect the vast majority of tier one teams to have picked up a team or teams in a top mobile esports title within the next year or so. 


While esports was always thought of as the discipline meant for the core gamer, mobile gaming continues to blur the line between casual gaming and esports. Where do you think the distinction lies and how does one broadly look at mobile esports from a bird's eye view?

 I’m of the opinion that any competitive video game that can be played directly between two persons or more can be deemed an esport. We don’t need to be quite so protective of what falls under that word. Of course if the dev or publisher backs its competitive scene all the better, and if it’s a game with a high skill cap all the better too, but I think it’s okay for us to broaden the horizons of it, casual gaming is a route into esports after all, that will never change. 

Companies such as Skillz and Gamerpro are proof of that too; and a focus on the more casual gamer, and offering them a competitive gaming experience, opportunity or offering in various ways, shapes and forms is an area of the industry I expect to see more and more innovation in the coming months and years. 


Certain sections of the mainstream esports industry are still reluctant to accept mobile esports as legitimate and there is a stigma around mobile as a platform. Do you think it’s important to combat this stigma? Why or why not? 

I know what you mean but I’m not sure there is a need for it to ‘be accepted’ as such by all in esports more widely. Mobile esports is growing rapidly and increasingly globally too as we know; in terms of the player & fan numbers & user base, prize-pools, dedicated attention from game developers & publishers, and in turn tournament operators, teams and hardware suppliers and peripherals. What more legitimacy does it need?

The Free Fire World Series in 2019 was one of the most watched esport tournaments of 2019 with a peak viewership of 2M. Not bad for a title many haven't even head of | Image via Garena

I don’t think anyone really cares or it really matters that maybe some from League of Legends or CS or whatever more renowned and established esports scenes that are PC maybe look down on it, and moreover I think it’s more playful than anything else. In the same way that football fans sneer at rugby, or cricket, or darts or multiple competitive pursuits and entertainment sectors. In short it isn’t a requirement, and so does there need to be a plan in place to ‘combat the stigma’, in my opinion no, the success of mobile esports is doing that in and of itself. 


Do you think mobile gaming can be the gateway to PC or console gaming or will they largely continue to operate as mutually exclusive sets? Do you see mobile esports as a threat to traditional PC/console based esports?

In a way I guess so, but one way of looking at it is ultimately everything is becoming more mobile and so mobile forms of content consumption is ‘a threat’ to everything that isn’t as easily accessible right? I would suggest in a similar way to sports eyeing esports as competition it depends more how you embrace it and work together, similarly there is absolutely a place for PC and console gaming getting on nicely alongside mobile, and I don’t see that changing soon.

 PC and console games can release either create releases on Android and iOS, or at the least they can create supplementary services, such as second (or third..) screen experiences for when people are watching League, Dota etc., Weavr for Dota being just one cool example. 


A few tier 1 esports organizations have already entered India while others are eyeing the region as well. While this can be good, due diligence on the players and management, along with building an understanding of a diverse region such as South Asia is not easy for western brands. What sort of advice would you give organizations trying to capitalize on the rise of mobile gaming in India? 

 Spend a lot of time doing market research, speak to as many of the players and stakeholders you can there, and then speak to them again, and then do more market research and then ask around about those stakeholders, and then speak to them again. 

 I think a shorter way of saying that is, take your time and be careful. Just entering India because ‘mobile gaming and esports is large and growing’ is of course a strategy doomed for failure. You need to understand the complexities of the local market, what are the trends, which games and which potential partners. Understand who the main players are, and make sure you’re working with the right people too. Moreover, if you’re going to set up shop there, considerations of where you do so is vital too. 

As noted earlier on we’ve seen Fnatic and Team Vitality both prioritize it as a region and market and that’s great to see, and I’m sure with their links and careful consideration they will succeed, but ultimately it’s a tough one for Western teams to succeed in (as has been proven in the past) and too I think it requires more of a capital investment to do it properly and well than some might consider before exploring it. 


Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Any closing remarks?

 Many thanks for the interview, and we look forward to developing a strong working relationship with AFK Gaming as Esports Insider continues to expand its coverage & brand globally, both in terms of news, but also ESI Connect, and of course our events. 

You can sign up to our mailing list here. (it’s only twice per week don’t worry!)

Lastly too actually, I’d like to give a shout out to ‘MobileMatt’ from Complexity, who is doing excellent things for the mobile esports space, and very much becoming an advocate and face of it, bringing people together in this regard - he runs a Discord group for this very purpose which is, in short, for the betterment of that sector of industry. And someone like him doing so, at one of the most respected orgs in the world..can’t be bad eh!

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Shounak has been one of AFK Gaming’s longest-serving esports journalists. From Dota, to Counter Strike and now Mobile Titles, you can rely on him to bring you the latest scoop and news from the world of esports.