This is a guest post by Simon Sunden, Vice President & Head of Esports, Gumbler
Talk to gamers about esports, and the conversation tends to focus on the top teams worldwide battling it out in arenas, to large crowds for increasingly sizable prize pools.
Certainly, the past year has seen esports hitting the headlines with competitive gaming becoming more mainstream, and non-gaming companies such as Audi, Bud Light, Axe and more getting in on the action to varying degrees of success. Another fascinating and much discussed move has been in PC esports with Riot announcing that the NA LCS will have a $10M flat-fee buy-in.
But what about mobile esports? The popularity of mobile esports titles particularly Vainglory, Hearthstone (granted not a ‘mobile only title’), Clash of Clans and others has grown at an impressive rate with teams signing players and more high end tournaments to match. But as a different medium from PC, it’s interesting to consider how this will develop and the possible opportunities there are for the industry, and players.
By its very nature, mobile has more of a casual element to it. Players can still commit to playing hours of the same game, but they can do so from anywhere they choose. You need only look at some mobile titles with leaderboards to see just how much time some players will commit to games to become pros, while others may just be content with the odd game here and there.
“It’s my belief that mobile has a strong opportunity to lead the way in fostering a dual tier of esports gaming”
At the pro end of the spectrum, players on PC, and increasingly mobile, have the potential to turn their passion into a money-making career. But why shouldn’t the non-pros or occasional gamer also have the chance to compete for cash and prizes? It’s my belief that mobile has a strong opportunity to lead the way in fostering a dual tier of esports gaming, where anyone has the chance to show off their skills.
There’s real evidence to show mobile is already having this effect. Looking at the pro scene, high profile, Super Evil Megacorp’s made-for-mobile MOBA Vainglory has built a significant following. Well-known PC esports teams such as Cloud9, Fnatic, TSM, and SK-Gaming have all entered teams into Vainglory tournaments. The game has also proven mobile’s ability to to drive increasing prize figures, as the Vainglory World Championship demonstrated in 2016, with a $120,000 (£94,000) prize pot.
“I believe that by 2020, amateur esports will be driving a huge part of engagement and revenue in esports, with the bulk of that via mobile”
We can also look at what’s happening in Asia. Research firm Newzoo reported that “of the top 100 grossing games across all Android stores in China, an amazing 24 are considered esports titles”. Last year, Chinese publisher Hero Games held its Hero World Championship 2, with 28 teams from 15 different countries competing in homespun games like Crisis Action, Bomb Man and King Warship. The event generated an audience of 2,000 people, with a further five million watching the live stream.
There are even challengers to Vainglory’s mobile esports crown. Chinese MOBA megahit Honor of Kings (which boasts a staggering 50 million DAU’s) is planning an assault on Western gamers. It recently soft-launched Strike of Kings, the Western version of Honor of Kings. It is likely we will see some kind of competitive esports element thanks to the deep pockets of Tencent, its publisher.
Just as with PC, MOBA and FPS titles dominate the early mobile esports scene. However, these mobile FPS games primarily rely on on-screen ‘virtual joysticks’. Compared to the PC scene, these on-screen controls are no match for the hyper-customised mouse/keyboard combos of the PC scene. That’s one of the reasons for the emergence of strategy and card-battlers such as Clash of Clans, Clash Royale and of course Hearthstone.
But does the early mirroring of the mobile esports scene with the PC-led scene mean that the trajectories will continue to be the same? Not necessarily. Mobile seems to be a much more accessible way to play competitively. We’re also seeing new genres of game catering to esports gamers outside of the typical ‘hardcore’ demographic.
Take the mobile-only game Mad Skills Motocross 2 by Turborilla. Originally the motocross-themed racing game had a few competitive elements. Yet, in 2016, they decided to integrate skills-based prizes, meaning that players could wager money on their race times versus other real players. After just 10 months, over $900,000 (£708,000) was awarded in prize money with some of the top players earning as much as $6,000 (£4,725) a month. It’s interesting to note that these players are not pro-level gamers. Compared to a PC-gamer, who may play for 8-10 hours every day, the top players on Mad Skills Motocross may only play for 2-3. In a nice example of life imitating art, many of the top players are real life motocross and BMX champions.
The other fundamental difference on mobile is that esports elements can be added into existing games, providing developers with a new source of income. The mobile esports approach can be successful at a much smaller scale as it adds ongoing income and retention on top of in-app purchases. Compared to major PC-esports titles and many have to rely on in-game items or skins to make money, rather than cash-based competitive play with swanky, high-stakes events as a marketing tool.
I believe that by 2020, amateur esports will be driving a huge part of engagement and revenue in esports, with the bulk of that via mobile. The pro-gaming tournaments will of course still be there, providing the media-friendly glitz and glamour – but the real engine driving the industry will be millions of mobile gamers that would never dream of calling themselves a professional gamer.
This was a guest post by Simon Sunden, Vice President & Head of Esports, Gumbler