Why Mobile Esports will Displace PC/Console Esports: the Rise of Multiplayer Action Mobile Gaming

TL;DR Summary

  1. Number of more midcore/hardcore mobile games and gamers are growing fast and the mobile platform leads the way in % of growing internet users being introduced to gaming
  2. Smartphone penetration % in fast growing markets shows gigantic upside for mobile gaming and esports
  3. PC and Mobile esports has under-developed giant growth potential in the USA — even 1% uptick is tremendous
  4. Mobile’s competitive gaming higher participant numbers, monetization %, and revenues vs PC competitive gaming means a very promising future for mobile esports — and in certain countries it has already displaced PC esports

Mobile is growing in number of gamers across the gaming spectrum — especially multiplayer action games

Mobile gaming is growing rapidly in the midcore and hardcore segments.

In the past 3 years, more multiplayer action games such as Honor of Kings are breaking into the top 10 revenue charts

A smartphone is a PC in your pocket and similar to PC gaming’s history, the biggest games were once puzzle games then more core action games took over — this same trend is happening with mobile. Honor of Kings, for example, is basically League of Legends — a multiplayer action PC game — on your smartphone.

The KPL is the largest mobile esports in the world and Tier 1 in China along with the League of Legends Pro League (LPL)

Honor of Kings amassed 200M players peaking at 80M daily active players and when any multiplayer action game reaches this scale, the esports scene for it is able to thrive. The 2018 Honor of Kings Champion Cup where my team competed in and I attended peaked at 7.35 million live concurrent viewers.

The content of KPL (including videos, photos and news) was viewed 17 billion times for the whole of 2018, with the final alone garnering 300 million views online.

Hero Jiujing team members celebrate defeating QGhappy 4–2 in the final of the 2019 Honor of Kings Champion Cup on January 13, 2019 at the Oriental Sports Centre in Shanghai. Source: Telegraph UK

The multiplayer action gaming segment in mobile is growing fast thanks to the Battle Royale port from PC to mobile

Top 6 mobile battle royale action games: Garena Free Fire, PUBG Mobile, Rules of Survival, Knives Out, Fortnite Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile.

If you look at the top 6 most popular battle royale mobile games they are:

  • Garena Free Fire (450M players) — enormous in LATAM, runs well on less powerful smartphones
  • PUBG Mobile (600M players) — huge in India
  • Knives Out (200M players) — big in Japan
  • Rules of Survival (230M players) — no longer dominate in any region
  • Fortnite Mobile (133M mobile players) — very popular in the West
  • Call of Duty Mobile (148M players) — grew very fast in US and India
Call of Duty Mobile was the 2nd most successful mobile game launch of all time for its 1st month — 148M downloads with USA leading the way with 24M installs.

The total from the numbers above is ~1.76 billion. Each game tends to be concentrated and dominate in specific countries and some players overlap between games with Rules of Survival no longer as popular as it once was.

Peacekeeper Elite — a PUBG Mobile clone — hit 50M daily active players in less than two months.

In China, 50M users play Peacekeeper Elite daily and the game has hundreds of millions of players as well.

PUBG Mobile, Garena Free Fire, and Peacekeeper Elite each have an impressive 50M DAUs — that’s a total of 150M players or ~3x the population of South Korea playing every single day.

Mobile battle royale seems to have reached one billion players globally — and it will continue to grow.

The esports scenes for these mobile games are thriving

The Free Fire World Cup 2019, took place on April 7th, 2019 at the Bitec Bangna Exhibition Center in Bangkok, Thailand attended by over 15,000 and peaked at 1.2 million live concurrent viewers across all channels.

Update: the Free Fire World Series November 2019 already smashed their previous record and peaked at 2M+ live concurrent viewers on the 1st day — and it was the most popular esports tournament of 2019 by average viewers, bigger than Fortnite and League of Legends (excluding China).

At Thailand’s Garena World events, mobile esports has displaced PC esports

PUBG Mobile has helped the hardcore mobile gaming market in India to grow exponentially in all 3 metrics — users, usage and monetization.

The market has grown 2–3X after PUBG Mobile, with over an hour of daily usage.

This has lead to mobile esports displacing PC/Console esports for India’s Dew Arena gaming events.

The Dew Arena is India’s largest game championship event

The Dew Arena had 22k participants in 2016, grew to 70k in 2018, and surged to 1.5 MILLION in 2019.

What happened in 2019?

PUBG Mobile was added1.3M participants (~85%) came from mobile vs rest of the PC/Console games such as CS:GO, DOTA 2, Rocket League, and Street Fighter V.

In India alone, PUBG Mobile has 15M+ daily active players.

Mobile gaming/esports dominated live stream viewership November 4–17, 2019— displacing many traditional esports titles

Appealing to ‘gamers’ who don’t initially list gaming as an interest

The reason why mobile gaming has swelled the ranks of the gaming community to such a great extent lies in its ability to appeal to those who don’t otherwise think of themselves as ‘gamers’ — mobile is introducing many smartphone internet users to multiplayer action gaming.

The gap is significant: 8 in 10 of those who do not list gaming as an interest are still playing games on their smartphone. (per Global Web Index 2019)

What’s impressive is how much more mobile gaming will grow because internet users in the fast-growth markets are the most avid mobile gamers. More than 7 in 10 internet users in APAC, Middle East, and Africa are gaming on their smartphone. In LATAM, 6 in 10 internet users game on their smartphone.

Smartphone penetration rates in fast growing markets reveal astronomical upside

When it comes to % internet users, smartphone gaming is the only platform that saw increases in audience uptake

Surprisingly, fast growing mobile-first markets, not Western markets, are the top markets for PC gaming’s continued popularity

Source: Global Web Index Q3 2018 survey of 113,932 Internet Users Aged 16–64.

This is indeed a surprising stat, so I searched for other data points. For example, Acer has been doing business in SEA since 1983 and they have seen revenues double to triple in certain areas. Acer said that in 2018 they expected revenue to TRIPLE in the Philippines.

NIKO Media Research estimated that there are about 28 million PC gamers in the Philippines. As for mobile gamers, roughly 20% of the 106 million people in the Philippines, or 21 million people, are mobile gamers. Looking at the PC gaming market in 2019, Lenovo is very bullish on Philippines PC gaming with gaming notebooks growing 70% in YoY sales volume there.

Although mobile gaming is popular in the Philippines, so is PC gaming!

The rate of mobile gamers in Philippines is lower than many countries most likely due to the lower disposable income, archipelago geography, and slower adoption of 4G-LTE vs rest of Asia which makes it difficult to obtain smartphones and good data packages in the Philippines.

And access to PCs have never been easier the past decade with falling prices and combined with growing internet populations and upward social mobility in fast growing markets have led to PC gaming’s continued popularity there.

PC gaming in Vietnam tells a similar story

Vietnam has a smaller population than USA but has more League of Legends PC players than NA (USA/Canada) when:

  • NA has ~320M internet users with an internet penetration of 90% with USA at 285M internet users and Canada at 35M internet users
  • Vietnam has just 59M internet users with an internet penetration of 61%
  • So, how are there more League of Legends PC gamers in Vietnam? Because League of Legends PC is just more popular in Vietnam than USA.

Let’s look at desktop vs mobile web market share in Vietnam

People use PC more than mobile to access the internet in Vietnam.

Vietnam internet users daily use time is higher on PC than mobile

  • Average daily use on the Internet via PC: 4 hours 39 Minutes
  • Average daily use on the Internet via mobile phone: 2 hours 25 minutes

PC vs mobile web page views in Vietnam reflects the same

  • Share of web page views via PC: 71%
  • Share of web page views via mobile phone: 24%

PC gaming and access to PC gaming was and still is big in Greater Asia (League of Legends, DOTA 2) to LATAM (CS:GO) — PC gaming experienced rapid growth there during the 2000s before smartphone gaming even existed.

Mixi Gaming — with 2M+ YouTube subscribers — is the largest game streamer in Vietnam and he plays on PC, not mobile.

It costs about~$0.30/hour to play at PC cafes in Vietnam. Accessing PCs isn’t an issue unless you don’t live near a PC cafe or you’re under the poverty line — then you probably can’t afford a smartphone with a good data plan. The top game streamer in Vietnam is not a mobile game streamer, but PC gamer Mixi Gaming who pulls ~50k–70k+ concurrent live viewers.

Due to the popularity of PC gaming in Vietnam with League of Legends to PUBG PC, it’s given rise to multiple big name Vietnamese PC game creators — where Vietnamese mobile game creators have yet to reach the same level of popularity.

In Southeast Asia, internet users used to outnumber smartphone users — especially 2017 and earlier

Mainstream popularity of gaming is the biggest factor to mobile esports adoption

Gaming mainstream appeal and smartphone advancements are the biggest reasons why mobile esports took off:

  1. Proliferation of 5"+ smartphones with high resolutions — the iPhone 4 introduced a smartphone retina display in 2010 and 2016 was when 5"+ screen size rapidly grew to 68% global smartphone shipments.
  2. Quality of multiplayer action mobile games and how easy it is to download a free-to-play app
  3. Strong mainstream demand for multiplayer action games where those games are ported to smartphones — ironically due to the popularity of PC multiplayer action games there

Together, the Philippines and Vietnam has less population than USA, much lower smartphone penetration rates, less access to quality, reliable smartphone data plans (both countries are lagging behind in 4G-LTE adoption vs rest of Asia), and a lot less smartphone internet users.

But Philippines and Vietnam has a thriving mobile esports scene and America doesn’t. If gaming in America was as popular as it is in these countries, then I would proudly be writing about the popularity of mobile esports in America.

Access to PCs have been increasing in China so if lack of access to PCs were the reason why mobile esports is taking off then Tencent would not be stating in multiple quarterly reports the past years that the lack of PC growth is due to a continued shift from PC to mobile devices.

Tencent also shared this insight from their recent 3Q2019 earnings:

“We believe we have a tail wind on our back, because

A: gamers globally are increasingly active on smartphones and

B: gamers globally are increasingly excited about multiplayer action games both of which are areas of strength for Tencent.”

These quality multiplayer action games are converting many smartphone internet users into gamers — significantly growing gaming mainstream appeal.

For many smartphone internet users in fast growing markets, it’s their initial experience to multiplayer action games.

Dr. Disrespect’s tweet is ironic because multiplayer action games are converting some smartphone gamers who don’t consider themselves ‘gamers’ into “real gamers”.

The growth of mobile esports is great for esports consumption

Esports consumption in terms of % internet users is a good indicator of the mainstream popularity of esports in that country — which the chart below shows.

Note that China, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and India all surpassed South Korea.

What do they have in common?

Mobile esports has or is going mainstream there.

What I love about this chart is that it shows esports in the USA has so much potential growth. And US gamers are the most valuable in the world on a purchasing power per user — that’s why the US is a top market in esports and the 2nd largest market for mobile games.

Which means even just a 1% uptick is undeniably massive。

The Emerging Hardcore Mobile Gamer

In October 2019, the top 3 games by downloads worldwide, ranked by average time per user are the multiplayer action mobile games I mentioned earlier. Source: App Annie

There is a difference between hardcore games and hardcore gamers. And the idea of a ‘hardcore mobile gamer’ is something that didn’t exist back in the 2000s and what we are seeing with China is that hardcore mobile gamers play ~40 hours/week which is 10 hours/week more than hardcore PC gamers who play ~30 hours/week.

Source: Niko Partners — What Western Game Publishers Need To Know About Gamers In Asia

And higher engagement/consumption usually leads to great monetization. If monetization is stronger at the gaming funnel, it should translate to better monetization at the esports funnel.

In China, 40% of mobile gamers spend money in games compared to only 26% of PC gamers. This is very high, so if percentage users paying is indeed that high that’s a big monetization opportunity for mobile esports. Mobile esports title Honor of Kings monetizes very well — making $1 billion USD in just one month — and sells a massive number of digital skins:

Not only in gaming but for live streaming platforms mobile engagement and monetization is key for growth. In both Douyu’s and Huya’s (Twitch and YouTube of China) recent earnings calls, both specifically mention their mobile strategy is primarily driving paying users and user growth. Douyu stated that “we are seeing more spending behavior to take place on mobile [than PC] and also higher-paying ratio for mobile.”

Source: Huya And Douyu Battle For Esports In China: Here’s The Winner — Seeking Alpha

Simply put, in almost every way from esports to streaming platforms, the West is very behind on mobile.

America’s esports industry will not grow as fast as East if we don’t invest in mobile at all levels.

When mobile esports viewership matures and monetization is figured out and done really well — as mobile gaming already does better vs PC and Console — then we will be entering a golden era for mobile esports.

Mobile has a more diverse, higher female playerbase as well as passionate esports fans

Team Illuminate placed 3rd at the Free Fire World Series November 2019 with a talented female pro player on the team.

Such high % female audience in esports and sports is just unheard of — that’s the diversity and power of mobile esports.

Smartphones are democratizing access to multiplayer action games to more variety of gamers — a big deal that is pushing multiplayer action gaming significantly more mainstream.

Mobile esports is an awakening, growing phenomenon that will displace and forever change the landscape of the global esports industry over the next decade.

And for those who think the audience for mobile esports “does not really show”, watch these videos:

Fans cheer loudly for the introduction of popular team QG Happy
Fans erupt in excitement at Mobile Legends Bang Bang Finals. Source: Allan Phang
These passionate female fans cheering is just impressive for Honor of Kings KPL mobile esports — a sight we hopefully will also start seeing more of in the West.
This the opening first day energy for the M1, the first ever Mobile Legends World Championships.

I’ll end with this bold prediction from Epic Games CEO, Tim Sweeney, and hopefully this article has convinced you too. Thank you for reading — if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Jeff "SuiJeneris" Chau

Written by

Founder/CEO GameGether | Mobile Gaming/Esports | Ex: GM Apple, Esports Org Co-Founder, Pro Player, GM Immortals, Team Liquid. Esports conf speaker & commentator

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