Shanghai-based publisher Moonton is set to kick off the third iteration of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB)’s World Championship, otherwise known as the M3 World Championship, in December. The event will take place offline, at the Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, with teams from across the globe taking part.
The marquee tournament features a prize pool of $800,000 (~£597,160), which is almost three times more than the previous year. With the mobile MOBA space heating up since the arrival of League of Legends: Wild Rift, the M3 World Championship is an important juncture for the scene and is expected to set both the pace and tone for the future of the title.
MLBB viewership continues to rise
According to Esports Charts, MLBB saw a peak of 3 million viewers at the M2 World Championship. At the time, it put MLBB in second place of the world’s most-watched esports event, right after the League of Legends World Championship 2019, which garnered 3.9 million peak viewers. However, that title is now held by Garena’s Free Fire, which recorded 5.4 million peak viewers in the Free Fire World Series 2021 in May.
That said, the upcoming M3 World Championship of MLBB is expected to be a grander event considering how its esports scene has grown in recent months with the official launch of domestic MLBB Professional Leagues (MPL) in Brazil and Cambodia. The expansion of MPL followed the acquisition of Moonton Games by Chinese technology company Byte Dance, which was valued at $4m. By giving non-SEA regions like Brazil its own League, Montoon plans to grow MLBB esports to other parts of the globe and create highly competitive regions that will match the hype MLBB has in SEA regions.
The recently concluded MLBB Southeast Asia Cup 2021 (MSC 2021) peaked at 2.2 million viewers. Won by Philippines’ Execration, the tournament boasted a prize pool of $150,000 (£109,000). The event being exclusive to the SEA region is proof enough that this is where the title’s stronghold lies. The highly anticipated match between EVOS Legends and Execration in the lower bracket finals accumulated a total of 2,284,012 views, according to Esports Charts, surpassing the view count of the Grand Finals. Furthermore, the recent seasons of the MPL Indonesia and Philippines also recorded peak viewerships of 1.8 million and 1.4 million, respectively.
Earlier this month, the ONE Esports Mobile Legends Professional League Invitational (MPLI) saw the top teams in SEA battle it out for a $100,000 prize pool. It saw 1.7 million peak viewership and a cumulative 87 million views across all platforms, per Esports Charts.
In 2019, Moonton held its first press conference — Moonton Epicon 2019 — where it introduced M1, the first ever MLBB World Championship. The company shared its plans to add 8 more countries to the MLBB scene, as the game was dominant only in the SEA region. This was followed by qualifier rounds for Brazil, Cambodia, Japan, Thailand and Laos, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, and the USA. Moonton had partnered with Youtube gaming for M1, which has serious competition with Facebook Gaming in the region.
Roping in local partners
As for the M2 World Championship, there were a number of big brands who shook hands with Moonton for the event. Samsung was named the official sponsor of the Bahasa Indonesia stream, and Nimo TV as the official broadcaster. Along with SMART, partner for the Tagalog stream, and Telenor, partner for the Burmese stream, Moonton partnered with Cathay Cineplexes, Mediacorp, Secretlab, Singtel, SUTL, and Tumi for the English stream. The task of online broadcasting in Singapore was handled by meWATCH. Later, it was Razor who joined the list of sponsors as the official gaming gear partner for the event.
Thus, with each new edition, Moonton has come back bigger and better. While the M1 World Championship had a prize pool of $250,000 (~£183,000,616), it put $300,000 (~£219,000) on the line for M2. M3 will be a huge leap upward for Moonton — the winner alone claims $300,000 out of the $800,000 (~£601,000) prize pool.
However, given the current landscape of the mobile gaming ecosystem, MLBB’s true challenge is the emergence of Wild Rift. Over these past few years, MLBB has formed a well-established esports scene throughout Southeast Asia. The game has more than 75 million players, of which a large section is from the SEA region. But the rest of the world still lacks the level of enthusiasm Southeast Asia has for most of the mobile esports titles, let alone just MOBAs. On the other hand, Riot Games is well known for its strong esports structure and has successfully expanded to multiple regions with its popular esports titles such as League of Legends and Valorant.
Competition on the horizon
Riot has introduced esports events as a launchpad for its mobile game and promised the playerbase a sustainable competitive structure ahead. More recently, Riot announced its League of Legends: Wild Rift SEA Championships and has partnered with ESL Mobile to host the event. The three-stage event is scheduled to begin on September 14th and will have 21 teams from across South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand competing for a prize pool of $200,000 (~£144,000).
Western organisations have also begun to realise the potential of MLBB, with Natus Vincere being one of the big names set to make an appearance at M3. However, the actual magnitude of the competition remains to be seen as the Group Stage goes live on December 6th.
This story is written in collaboration with AFK Gaming. AFK Gaming is an India-based esports media and content company that aims to provide quality and consistent coverage about teams, players, tournaments, and competitive video games with a primary focus on the Asian region.