Game developer Moonton Games has announced a multi-year partnership with Saudi Arabian government-backed multi-title esports series the Esports World Cup Foundation.
As a result of the deal, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang’s newly rebranded Mid Season Cup (MSC) will take place at this year’s Esports World Cup in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The competition features Mobile Legends’ largest-ever prize pool with $3m (~£2.36m) up for grabs.
In addition, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will also feature its MLBB Women’s Invitational (MWI) at EWC. The event will have a $500,000 (~£393,500) prize pool and sees both MWI and MSC take place outside of Southeast Asia for the first time.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang is one of the biggest mobile titles outside of China, with the title in particular gaining popularity in Southeast Asia. Last year’s MLBB World Championship (M5) was the fourth most popular esports tournament of all time (excluding Chinese viewership). According to Esports Charts, three of the top 10 most viewed esports events ever are Mobile Legends events.
The introduction of the Esports World Cup has sparked community criticisms among esports fans, given the event’s ties to the Saudi Arabian government. This has led to concerns over ‘esportswashing’, a term used to describe the country’s alleged attempt to distract from its human rights records surrounding LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and its crackdown on dissent.
The mobile MOBA will be one of many esports titles that are set to take part in the Esports World Cup, an international multi-title series that forms part of Saudi Arabia’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy. Earlier this year journalist Jacob Wolf reported that Riot Games may potentially host a League of Legends tournament at the event.
Regarding potential the backlash Mobile Legends’ decision to enter the Esports World Cup could cause, Ray NG, MOONTON Games’ Head of Esports Ecosystems, told Esports Insider: “Generally since we have been operating MPL MENA now for five years already, we don’t really see a backlash from our community.
“Also, having main MENA teams representing the region in our international event, we don’t really see negative comments or sentiments. One interesting thing is Saudi Arabia and the MENA as a whole region, a lot of them are Muslim cultures. And when you look at Southeast Asia, Indonesia and also Malaysia, they are also commonly from that Muslim culture, which naturally is a pretty good fit.”
Asked about the criticisms regarding the Esports World Cup being a government-funded initiative, a MOONTON Games representative said: “The whole purpose is to bring everyone together, in alignment with our vision, which is, esports for everyone. We want to bring everyone together, regardless of race, diversity, or background. We have so many players from around the world.”
Ng highlighted that conversations between Esports World Cup and Mobile Legends commenced early last year. This included going to the country to introduce MLBB as a product to the Saudi Esports Federation, alongside highlighting the title’s globalisation ambitions and initiatives in the MENA region. In recent years, Moonton has focused in the MENA region with MPL MENA — now in its fifth season — among other initiatives, launched to develop the region’s ecosystem as a whole.
MSC 2024 will be held between July 1st-14th July with a Main Stage and Wildcard stage announced. Teams will qualify for MSC through the title’s respective regional leagues with 16 teams competing in the Main Stage. This includes competitors from Indonesia, Malaysia, China, MENA and the Philippines, among others.
Further details surrounding the format of MLBB Women’s Invitational have yet to be revealed. When asked about MWI’s inclusion at Esports World Cup, Ng highlighted MLBB’s development of the women’s scene and the platform it has created. “With the platform itself and having EWC to host it sends an important note to the community that everyone can participate in the highest level of the competition to rise to the pinnacle of the pyramid.
“This platform I think it’s just the middle step that we are taking to create something for women to have a chance to compete.”