Since the beginning, computers and consoles have solely dominated the Esports scene. Now, however, the situation seems to be changing, as competitive titles are increasingly seeping into mobile phones as well. While we still have PC games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ruling the esports airways, new mobile titles like Vainglory and Clash Royale are significantly shaking things up for players and fans alike.
The advances in mobile eSports reached a new high last December when the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood played host to the first Vainglory World Championships. Vainglory, which was previously used to showcase the graphical capabilities of the then-new Apple A8 processor in 2014, gave the world the first real glimpse into the role mobile games can play in shaping the future of eSports.
Esports has made remarkable leaps in recent times. Following steady year-on-year growth, Newzoo now predicts that the eSports economy will grow to $700 million by the end of the year, a 41.3 percent increase from 2016. The Market Intelligence specialist goes on to suggest that the total market will have reached $1.5 billion by 2020.
In the mobile scene, game revenues from smartphones and tablets now stand ahead of both PC and console, having grown 32 percent to reach $38 billion last year. Although mobile eSports, in particular, is yet to catch up to PC or console, it’s only a matter of time.
It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that phones are now more than just handheld communication devices. With the rapid rise of technology and a new demographic of gamers, handheld gadgets have become the go-to gaming devices for both casual and core players.
One of the primary reasons behind the popularity of mobile eSports is the popularity of the mobile devices themselves. Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to find someone without a smartphone. In fact, reports suggest that young gamers play more on their phones than any other device. Developers have taken note, and are consequently creating games that go beyond the typical simplistic nature of mobile titles.
Super Evil Megacorp – the guys behind Vainglory – is one such company, and thanks to their efforts, now you don’t need to fork out a ton of cash for an expensive gaming laptop just to experience a full-featured competitive online MOBA (Mobile Online Battle Arena).
But Vainglory isn’t the only title that’s spearheading the mobile eSports campaign. Supercell’s Clash Royale, a follow-up to the hugely popular Clash of Clans, has also garnered praise in the gaming community since its release last year.
Besides the impressive games, mobile eSports has also benefited from the intuitive nature of playing games on a mobile device. In an age where many people are already used to touchscreens, some new gamers are finding it easier to play on smartphones and tablets, than with gamepads or keyboards. As Alex “PwntByUkrainian” Novosad – co-founder of the Vainglory guild organization, Gankstars – says, “playing games with a touch screen just feels natural.”
It’s also worth noting that most PC eSport titles demand a high-skill level for a player to succeed, which often discourages beginners. While both Vainglory and League of Legends are MOBA games, it takes much less effort to get the hang of the mobile-based game than the PC title. There are less in-game items to handle, fewer abilities to juggle and a much simpler map, which features only one lane of play as opposed to the three seen in League of Legends.
While you’ll still need some time to master Vainglory, the learning curve is much friendlier.
Despite the overwhelming hype, eSports is still largely unknown among general PC and mobile users. Nevertheless, the situation is poised to change soon. According to Kristian Segerstrale, CEO of Super Evil Megacorp, the ubiquity of smartphones is bound to create “borderless eSports.”
“Mobile is a democratizing device, and so many people have one. It, therefore, presents an opportunity for us to bring a form of entertainment that has been niche, to potentially billions,” adds Segerstrale. He goes on to relate PC and mobile eSports to “something like ice hockey, where you need all the right equipment, and football, where all you need is the ball.”
The latest handsets are capable of console- and PC-level graphics in a smaller, more convenient package. Segerstrale, therefore, believes mobile is the platform that will usher in the next phase of eSports innovation. To get there, however, he shines a light on the need for mobile designers to focus on the traditional PC audience while remaining appealing to the more general smartphone user. “The companies that will create the stand out product and experience for the long run will be those that remain respectful for the casual player as much as the core player,” he remarks.
The mobile eSports market is still fairly young, and this offers great possibilities for game developers to exploit while the competition is still low. Huge developers like Valve and Blizzard are expected to cease the opportunity soon. Blizzard is of course already in the mobile eSports business, having achieved success with Hearthstone, their popular multi-platform eSport game.
Much of the success of mobile eSports stems from the support of other players besides game developers, who have come up to profit from the lucrative industry.
This year, for instance, has seen television networks like ESPN and Turner begin to invest heavily in broadcasting competitive events. With Vainglory and Clash Royale tournaments already attracting thousands of live viewers online, it won’t be long before mobile games cross over to national television.
Bookmakers are also chipping in by offering sponsorship deals to professional eSports teams like The Alliance and Evil Geniuses. GGBet, for example, recently made a deal with Team NP, where the team gets 1% of every winning bet placed on them. While the trend is new, it won’t take much time for bettors to start speaking about video games as they do about football betting.
Esports has exploded over the last few years, and smartphones and tablets have had crucial roles to play in its success. The future, therefore, looks promising for all parties involved.
A good year of breakthroughs could bring drastic changes to how eSport professionals pay their favorite games, and how fans view the action. The steady growth in mobile eSports is set to open up the concept to a wider audience. Television networks will likely also bring live tournaments to living rooms worldwide, and more sponsorships could make professional eSports a viable avenue for players to live their dream job and realize their potential.
The future may be hard to discern, but what seems to be certain is that mobile eSports will make a big splash.