While the mobile gaming market is dominated by casual gamers, competitive mobile gaming is becoming an important aspect of the space. To reach these players, major game developers such as Riot Games are dipping their toes into mobile esports with adaptations such as Wild Rift, and esports organizations are beginning to follow suit by adding mobile players to their rosters.
Modern technology is helping the esports industry unlock its magic. According to Arxiv.org, the number of esports participants worldwide will reach 557 million by 2021. Now, many players around the world can participate in games with the help of mobile technology.
Mobile esports market is expanding
The action is playing out in two channels: traditional PC and console; and mobile. While both channels are growing nicely, data from Business Insider Intelligence predicts that total esports viewership will nearly double from 335 million in 2017 to 646 million in 2023, with mobile certainly being the up-and-comer in both.
According to a report by Niko Partners, global mobile esports games generated $15.3 billion in revenue in 2018, slightly less than the $16.1 billion generated by PC esports games. This $15.3 billion figure means that global mobile esports revenue represents 25.2% of total mobile gaming revenue. And in the first half of 2019, that percentage rose to 26.2%. The same report puts the number of mobile gamers worldwide at 2.53 billion in 2019, compared to the 1.5 billion people who play games on PCs and consoles.
Even if consoles and gaming PCs eventually reach market saturation in Asia, they are unlikely to cannibalize the popularity of mobile gaming and mobile esports in the region. "Mobile esports are here to stay," said Bolin Wang, Managing Director of Content+ at Transnational China. "Mobile, PC and console esports will not replace each other, as their ecosystems, audiences and brand marketing values can be very different."
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Why is it the perfect timing for mobile esport game?
There are a variety of factors behind the growth in mobile esports revenue. In mature markets, most adults and teens own smartphones, while in emerging markets, smartphone penetration is rising rapidly. According to Statista, there are now 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide, meaning 44.85% of the world's population (of all ages) owns a smartphone. This number is significantly higher than the 2.5 billion in 2016, which represented 33.58% of the global population that year.
When people have smartphones, playing games is one of the purposes for which they tend to use them. In Africa, for example, 70% of smartphone owners play mobile games, compared to 60% in Latin America. These aren't just stereotypical gamers, but people of all ages and demographics. In fact, mobile gamers tend to have better education and higher incomes. The variety of game genres available, from puzzle games to action games, means that mobile games appeal to a very broad audience.
Technology is also playing a role. As more countries roll out faster, higher bandwidth 5G networks, the ability to play and watch other people play games on your mobile device, even if you don't have access to a Wi-Fi network, is a more attractive proposition, providing HD images and creating problems with lag and latency redundancy.
Mobile esports audience
According to Gaming Street research, the median age of mobile esports gamers is approximately 29 years old, with 40 percent of the audience between the ages of 25 and 34. What unites the mobile esports audience is their enthusiasm, passion and engagement with the games and the ads that accompany them in a way that is different from traditional advertising.
In addition, the mobile gaming scene has a younger audience than the gaming or general esports audience. "It has been recognized that the age at which Americans have their first cell phone is only getting younger," Alimurung said. "That trend is only going to intensify in Asia." The recent growth of mobile gaming among this younger demographic was enough to alarm the Chinese government, which instituted a three-hour weekly gaming limit for players under the age of 18 on Aug. 30.
Mobile esports fans are passionate about the games and the ads that accompany them. This makes them an attractive target for your video game marketing, as they will take the time to browse your marketing content and engage your brand when needed.
Esports are largely community-driven. Top players make themselves accessible to their audience, and as esports increasingly enter the mainstream, they become celebrities in their own right, and brands turn to them for sponsorship opportunities because they have large fan bases that are willing to listen to them.
Advertising in mobile esports games
Despite its future potential, mobile esports is at least a fast-growing avenue for large game developers and esports teams to reach fans among overlapping and emerging demographics. With Riot Games investing in mobile infrastructure for competitive games like Wild Rift and Valorant, advertisers and media companies in the esports space should pay close attention to this emerging sub-sector of the mobile gaming space.
Mobile esport game live events
Advertising in mobile esports games comes in many forms. Broadcast games are intercut with sponsorship ads, just like you would see during a live soccer or baseball game. E-sports are also important in live events. While these are obviously impossible now, when they run, they attract large audiences. For example, with over 15,000 esports fans attending the 2019 Free Fire World Cup in Bangkok, there are obvious branding opportunities for venues at these major events.
But for advertisers looking to engage with esports fans at a time that suits them, non-interruptive ads inserted natively into the game may offer the best opportunity. For example, in the Asphalt 9 racing game, there are branded in-game screens; branded skins for cars; sponsored energy boosts and vouchers for players; and branding opportunities on virtual billboards around the track. Compared to some other games, the genre makes it an extremely safe branding environment for advertisers.
In a study conducted by Reach3, more than two in five players said they had looked up advertisers after being approached for esports sponsorship, and 41% of respondents said they had a better impression of the brand or company as a result of esports activation.
Everyone knows that advertisers follow eyeballs. That's how Internet giants like Facebook and Google build their businesses, by patiently building audiences first and then monetizing them later. In the world of mobile esports, the audience is ready to wait.
Mobile games with big esport market share
Fortnite is one of the most popular mobile esports. The 2020 World Cup was not held due to pandemic popularity, but after 16-year-old Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf won $3 million in prize money, the 2019 event garnered a lot of media attention.
More than 40 million players participated in the event as the top players gathered in New York to compete in the finals. More than 19,000 people attended the three-day tournament, and 2 million more watched online via YouTube and Twitch.
Garena Free Fire
Free Fire is a battle royale game in which 50 competitors land on an island in search of guns and equipment to destroy other players.
The game has an active esports scene, and Free Fire World Cup 2019 drew a larger audience than other popular esports games of the time. The finals averaged 630,931 viewers during the live stream, peaking at 1 million viewers.
Call of Duty: Mobile
The first Call of Duty Mobile Championship took place last year, but the event was cancelled during the finals stage due to the New Crown Pneumonia outbreak. The tournament had passed the regional stage and the organizers decided to distribute the remaining prize pool to the regional champions.
During the initial phase, millions of fans competed in the app to qualify for the regional finals. Players battled it out in the single player qualifying rounds and the world's most visible top teams were invited to the regional finals.
The tower defense, real-time/turn-based strategy game is one of the world's most widely played esports games. It was open to all 2017 Crown Championships and attracted more than 27 million players, bringing it to a range that other esports tournaments can only dream of.
Clash Royale is a video game for mobile devices only. It does not have PC or console equivalents like other players in the industry. Games are broadcast in portrait mode to encourage mobile device viewing and streamed on YouTube to attract a younger audience for the tournament.
With a $1 million prize pool, War of the Royals esports has the ability to stand alongside the biggest names in esports.
League of Legends: Wild Rift
League of Legends: Wild Rift is Riot Games' first fully mobile game. The company has taken the initial steps to build the Wild Rift esports ecosystem by announcing its first tournament, which will take place on February 26, 2021.
Plans are already underway for regional tournaments in Southeast Asia, where there is a burgeoning mobile esports scene, and ESL Games has been selected as a partner for the region. There are plans to launch tournaments in North America and other parts of the world.