Opinion: Mobile Esports Is Coming

by Kevin Knocke

The thought of mobile esports is frightening for some PC and console diehards, and whether they like it or not it is going to be a major force.

Just not quite yet.

Mobile is already actively dominating most forms of media consumption. People already choose to use their social media, check the web, and get most daily content on their smartphones and tablets over traditional desktops and laptops.

Slowly but surely, mobile game revenue is even overtaking PC and console game revenue.

On top of that, 2016 hosted some successful mobile esports events: Clash Royale, Supercell's popular 1v1 competitive mobile game, hosted a tournament this year that brought in over 115,000 concurrent viewers across Twitch and YouTube. When it initially launched the tournament mode, it  increased game revenues over $1.5 million for that week while streaming a tournament on Twitch.

Now, of course, not all of this is attributable to the stream, but obviously Clash Royale users are starting to tune in to events and revenue in the game can be influenced by competitive users. This should push Supercell into exploring more events like this in general.

On the other hand, you have a dedicated esports developer on mobile as well in Super Evil Megacorp. Its game, Vainglory, very much approximates the same business models as other popular desktop MOBA titles and has been running a large worldwide esports circuit for the game with wide participation from big teams like TSM and G2.

But unfortunately, the game hasn't quite caught on with widespread viewership.

So mobile esports exists in a place where there are real, dedicated desktop game-style developers for mobile, and viewers are slowly becoming acclimated to the idea of viewing mobile games.

But the industry isn't in a place where there's that unique combination of millions of players and a truly balanced competitive game that's viewable. Both Clash Royale and Vainglory have two of three of these factors.

Clash Royale has millions of players and is viewable, but still employs Supercell's aggressive monetization model which makes it difficult for true competitive balance that's accessible to all the players.

Vainglory, on the other hand, has a truly balanced competitive game that's viewable, but needs the widespread millions of players.

Now the latter, being a MOBA, has been criticized by PC and console gamers for obviously having to rely on a touchscreen interface. But here's the dirty secret: Everyone born within the last 15 years has grown up and learned on touchscreens their entire lives. It's almost as native a control surface to the youngest generation as a mouse is to everyone else.

So sure, maybe the hardcore PC FPS and MOBA folks won't play on a touchscreen, but every young person is about to show the world that they are hardcore gamers on touchscreen as well. A developer will uniquely figure out that puzzle, but it's probably not happening in this next year.

Maybe in 2018, but 2017 won't quite yet be the year of mobile esports.

More esports influencing from Knocke: Remember to Enjoy Playing Games, Too | The Best Moment in Esports in 2016 Was the One With the Most Heart | I Watch Way More Hearthstone Than I Admit