Why Clash Royale’s esports BAFTA win matters

It’d be wrong to call Clash Royale’s BAFTA win “unprecedented”. Rather, it’s surprising, but not a victory without reason.

Clash Royale was voted by its fans for the AMD Esports Audience Award.

The internet went ballistic when the mobile game won the evening’s only esports award; the AMD Esports Audience Award. Clash Royale is only the latest in the game series, one of many brands that’s known for its app turnover rate and bearing the “cash cow” label-each traits that often spoil mobile games’ reputation.

Still, any anger and confusion directed at the institution in charge went the wrong way. After all, the vote was put online, and Clash players likely flooded the polls. At the very least, this proves that Clash players, even in sheer numbers, are a force to be reckoned with.

What esports endemics should truly take away from this, though, is that they aren’t keeping an eye on mobile gaming well enough-and they’re missing out in major ways.  

While there’s certainly the question of exploitation that comes with high-turnover mobile gaming series, the fact that games like Clash Royale are so continuously successful has drawn the attention of forces greater than self-labeled “hardcore” gamers. Tencent, which owns League of Legends developer Riot, bought out Clash series developer Supercell for $8.6 billion – multiple times what the esports industry, as a whole, is worth right now.

Recent games like the Clash of the Clans line tap into a need for real-time multiplayer competition on an accessible platform, with simple and quick gameplay that can become truly addictive. As a moneymaker, it’s not far off from mobile and PC rival Hearthstone, urging players to buy new cards to keep up with rivals. It’s not mandatory for either, but not doing so puts one at a disadvantage.

For these reasons, it’s easy for even the most casual players to build up a thirst for competition, and that’s where Clash has recently done some heavy lifting. They felt the rumblings underneath the surface and started tweaking updates towards competitive play, and they’ve been extremely active in their own community in ways that many non-mobile games aren’t.

Even if their first major competitive event was beyond cheesy, it doesn’t invalidate the time, effort and perhaps money that players and developers have put in. Beyond that, mobile esports organisations are choosing to play their hands in the game, meaning there’s a thought put towards the long-term potential of the game.

Speaking of long-term potential, it’s become a recent focus of this and other prominent mobile games, such as Vainglory and Critical Ops. This specific shift in strategy means that there’s more esports opportunity than ever, since players are likely to stick around. It’s especially critical since mobile games are present in a wider variety of demographics, regarding both identity and location. PC games and consoles can do their best to adjust their affordability and accessibility, but there’s no way they can match the explosive virality of mobile games, especially not ones with such renown as Clash. The esports community and industry will now be introduced to these demographics on these games’ shoulders.

Even if series such as Clash may never gain the full respect of non-mobile gamers, if their BAFTA win proves anything, it’s that they have the smashing financial success and player respect that other developers may only dream of achieving.

This has abruptly put Clash in the spotlight, and instead of booing at the stage, perhaps it’s time to watch and learn how to create that same level of potential.