Mobile gaming has truly come a long way. From being ostracized by elitist PC and console gamers, the revenue and active player base from the industry continues to rise against all odds. No controller, gaming keyboard or mouse— just pure skills and in-game reflexes.
2020 marked the rise of mobile eSports, enough for some analysts to consider it as a part of the mainstream. Though some mobile titles are still a long way from becoming a major force in eSports, other mobile titles have already made similar forays into the field, including PUBG Mobile, Clash Royale, and Brawl Stars.
This just proves there is so much potential in mobile gaming that remains to be unexplored.
Just like other eSport titles on PC and hosted on LAN parties, mobile games also filled international and regional stadium events, with viewership crossing the million mark in tournaments like the Free Fire World Series.
This also comes with rising prize pools, with mobile games solidifying itself in the broad eSports ecosystem.
For instance, the PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO) 2019 Global Finals took place in Berlin last year and saw 16 teams from 11 regions compete against each other on four PUBG Mobile maps for a prize pool of $400,000.
More mobile titles are now trying to compete in terms of prize pools to attract new audiences and players. Who would have thought the mobile gaming industry would rise rapidly, becoming so popular with millions of fans all over the world?
Even mobile eSports lure in professional gamers from PC and Console to compete and win prizes in games.
The Era of Mobile eSports
Of course, there’s still a long way to go for Mobile esports to reach its full potential. Many games like PUBG Mobile, Rules of Survival and Free Fire only laid the early foundation in 2019.
These games went on to encourage their already huge player base to be passionate about mobile eSports. Take note that mobile gaming encompasses those who play on mobile devices and tablets like the iPad.
Mobile titles like Free Fire made great numbers in Brazil, while Mobile Legends set records in Asia. Other titles such as Arena of Valor and Free Fire are also well-established in the mobile eSports scene.
If you’re missing out on the mobile gaming trend, worry not! We’re listing some of the top rising mobile eSports of this year for you to check out.
Arena of Valor
Considerably the most-viewed title in mobile eSports, Arena of Valor (AoV) collected a total of 72 million hours watched in 2019. The wide player interest even reached 764 thousand concurrent during the game’s World Cup 2019.
There’s a massive hype for AoV in Vietnam, which is known for its large fanbase for this mobile MOBA game. With Vietnamese teams making it into the finals, Vietnamese viewers just had to support their team as they took on the world stage.
AoV also has a rich and established esports history that traces back to 2017. Through the years, Tencent— AoV’s publisher, utilized various resources in hopes of promoting the game further.
Though Arena of Valor remains to be unheard of in the Western market, the MOBA title has long been dominating the Asian market.
For this year, however, the Arena of Valor World Cup (AWC) 2020 joined the list of esports events canceled by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. It was supposed to be the third installment under the AWC franchise, organized by Garena and Tencent.
Arena of Valor (AoV) was formerly known as Realm of Valor then Strike of Kings. The title is an international adaptation of Honor of Kings, a multiplayer online battle arena developed by TiMi Studios and published by Tencent Games for Android, iOS and Nintendo Switch for markets outside mainland China. The game was first released in 2016.
The overall gameplay of Arena of Valor highly resembles League of Legends, a titular MOBA game developed and published by Riot Games— a subsidiary of Tencent.
The Battle Royale genre took the gaming world by storm, not only on PC but also on handheld devices. The success of PUBG Mobile eSports is a testimony to how players love multiplayer game modes of survival, exploration, and scavenging loot.
In 2019, the PUBG Mobile Club Open Spring Split Global Finals gathered 596 thousand peak viewers. This makes the event the most popular PUBG tournament on mobile.
The title is also very popular among fans from eastern countries. Its Esports system is different to other mobile titles, as qualifiers are not only within the regions but for individual countries as well.
The different broadcasts of PUBG Mobile’s esports events are also made available in various languages. This encourages a more inclusive gaming community.
As of 2020, 16 PUBG Mobile Club Open events are being held around the world. The top teams will then qualify for the PUBG Mobile Pro Leagues (PMPLs) or the PMCO finals, with a shot at the $2 million PUBG Mobile Global Championship (PMGC) season zero in late November.
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is an online multiplayer battle royale game developed and published by PUBG Corporation. The game’s free-to-play mobile version was published by Tencent Mobile— which was released for Android and iOS in 2018 in addition to a port for the PlayStation 4.
As of 2020, PUBG Mobile accumulated 734 million downloads and grossed over $3.5 billion on mobile devices.
Supercell is known to be strongly committed in developing the mobile eSports industry, particularly through another mobile title— the Clash Royale League. However, Brawl Stars already drew a number of eSports organizations to form their respective rosters and be active in the game’s competitive scene such as INTZ, SK Gaming, Nova China, PSG Esports, Omen, and Qlash EU.
The first international event for the game was the 2019 Brawl Stars World Championship, which had participating teams from North America, Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea. The tournament had a $250,000 prize pool.
Though the game is still relatively new in the eSports scene, Brawl Stars is on the path to become a successful mobile eSports title with an improved structure, greater prize pool, and new organizations entering the competitive scene.
Brawl Stars is the latest game from Supercell, the famous developers of titular mobile games Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. The title was first released in 2017, offering a fast-paced 3v3 multiplayer and battle royale game for mobile.
Players can choose to play with friends or solo across a variety of game modes in just under three minutes.
This strategy game garnered a total of 5 million hours watched in 2019, and only a year prior, it even became the most popular mobile eSports title. Though Clash Royale lost the title to Arena of Valor in 2019, the game still provides a great avenue to foster the competitive eSports scene on mobile.
What caused Clash Royale to lose its appeal? One factor is the appearance of new rivals on the esports market with new, unique content to appease the player base. Meanwhile, Clash Royale brought no significant changes to improve the game’s esports season.
Regardless, the Clash Royale eSports scene continues to thrive with the CCGS World Finals back in 2017, to Nova Esports’ epic win in 2018, to Team Liquid’s landslide victory in 2019.
Now, the 2020 Clash Royale League World Finals is scheduled to take place on Dec. 5th and 6th in Shanghai, China where 8 teams from CRL East and CRL West will compete for their share of the generous prize pool and the coveted title of 2020 CRL World Champions.
A real-time strategy video game developed by Supercell, Clash Royale combines elements from collectible card games, tower defense, and multiplayer online battle arena. This game is considerably a melting pot of genres, first released in 2016.
There is nothing quite like it available on other platforms upon its launch. The title was a fun and unique idea (mix card games with tower defense) and was perfectly suited to the mobile hardware. Moreover, CR had depth and featured competitive aspects that made it fun to watch.
Thanks to its publisher-led league with multiple participating regions and a world championship event, it’s effective in bringing in huge viewership.
The popularity of Free Fire just proves mobile battle royale titles are a global hit. Free Fire is Garena’s entry into the genre, awarding nearly $400k USD in prize pool money back in 2019 during the Free Fire World Series— the major competitive tournament for the title.
Last year, the game was hailed as the fourth most-watched video game on YouTube.
For 2020, Garena introduced the Free Fire Continental Series 2020, which will substitute the previous World Series.
There will be three online international competitions to happen simultaneously in the Americas (Brazil and LATAM region), Asia (Chinese Taipei, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam), and EMEA (Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa).
The said tournament will take the place of the Free Fire World Series 2020, which was supposed to be held in Brazil this year but was canceled instead.
Garena Free Fire is a hit BR title, developed by 111 Dots Studio and published by Garena for Android and iOS. In 2019, it became the most downloaded mobile game globally. The game even received the award for the “Best Popular Vote Game” by the Google Play Store in 2019 due to its global popularity.
Free Fire’s appeal stems in it being the ultimate survival shooter game available on mobile. Players are pit against 49 others on a remote island, where all seek survival.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) have proven that mobile MOBAs can also sustain an eSports ecosystem like PC games do.
Though the genre is dominated by League of Legends and Dota 2 on PC, there is a growing player interest to drive PC-focused markets to spend 20-30 minutes playing a similar game on a handheld device.
Not only is the game close to similar to the original PC titles, it is also fast-paced, easier, and far more convenient to play.
The mobile title became notably popular in Southeast Asia (notably in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines) and was even among the games chosen for the first medal event eSports competition at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
Official Mobile Legends tournaments are held in the Southeast Asian region, including the annual Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Southeast Asian Competition (MSC) and having their own local leagues such as the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League (MPL).
The first Mobile Legends: Bang Bang World Championship (M1) was held in Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last November 2019. 16 teams from around the world battled it out for a prize pool of US$250,000.
For 2020, Moonton confirmed that MSC 2020 was officially canceled because of the current COVID-19 situation. Instead, alternative esports events will be held in each participating MSC country.
MLBB is arguably one of the most popular mobile MOBA titles, with the game taking inspiration for its mechanics and aspects from League of Legends. The MOBA genre is found to be the most famous in Asia where mobile esports is notably most developed.
The esports system of MLBB focuses on regional leagues, with the best teams gaining a spot in the World Championship. As of writing, MPL Indonesia is considered as the most popular tournament. It is consistent in reaching a total of one million viewers. MPL Invitational 4 Nation Cup, the last international tournament prior to cancelled events brought by the pandemic, successfully set a record of one million viewers back in July 2020.
Rules of Survival
The mobile BR title, which also has a PC version, had its first eSports tournament in 2018 dubbed as RoS World Championship with a $650,000 prize pool.
The international tournament gathered the top teams across different regions onto a world-class arena to compete for the only survivor’s title. It was divided into three servers based on regions: Europe, Asia and America.
In the same year, NetEase also announced the creation of the world’s first global battle royale pro league dubbed as the Rules of Survival Global Series.
The RoS Global Series started with a series of online and offline competitions with 1000+ of local teams, growing into the top level premier professional divisions at each key region.
The league then culminated in a global scale tournament with the best teams from each region at the end of league year 2018-2019.
As of 2020, the active RoS eSports scene slowly declined due to the game’s decreasing number of active player base, but the most recent one was the Top Clans 2020 Rules of Survival SEA Invitational. The game still has a solid number of following in the South East Asian region.
Being one of NetEase Games’ most popular titles on mobile, Rules of Survival celebrated its second & a half year anniversary in 2020. The game still has a strong following in Asia, particularly in the South East Asian region.
Though the active numbers declined as of late, we’ve included RoS in this list because it’s one of the pioneering mobile games that paved the way for the mobile eSports industry to become what it is today.
With a loyal following and fanbase, there’s still a chance for the game to regain the hype it used to have since the dev team continuously offers players a never-before battle experience in the form of an in-game subway station and drones.
Call of Duty: Mobile
The Call of Duty franchise has one of the most popular eSports leagues with the renowned Call of Duty League or CDL. But what about its mobile counterpart?
Accordingly, Call of Duty: Mobile has quickly grown to become one of the biggest mobile titles in the world, and it is also slated to have a competitive tournament to match.
This 2020, Activision will hold the first ever Call of Duty Mobile World Championship— a lengthy esports tournament featuring more than $1 million in total prizes. This includes both cash and in-game cosmetics. The online qualifiers began in April and the final event will be quite spread out, with matches scheduled for September and October (later part of the year).
The tournament is sponsored by Sony Mobile and will determine the COD Mobile World Champions for the 2020 season. Participants from North and Latin America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and South East Asia will go head-on in a best of 5 series.
The free-to-play Call of Duty mobile version became a breakout hit upon its launch in October 2019, garnering 100 million downloads only within its first week of availability.
Call of Duty Mobile became a global success because the title is now easily accessible by a large majority of gamers. There’s no need to buy a high-end gaming PC to play CoD Warzone or Console to play the latest CoD campaign.
Activision and Tencent’s Timi Studios brought over the classic Call of Duty gameplay and gunplay on handheld devices— thus it became an instant success and helped expand the franchise’s popularity to new regions. It made an estimated revenue of $480 million through microtransactions and player spending in its first year in the mobile gaming market.
Also, the in-game tournament rewards are lucrative enough as many competitive players and eSports organizations want to represent their regions and enjoy the bounty.
Honorable Mention – League of Legends: Wild Rift
This list won’t be complete without mentioning Riot Games’ entry to the 5v5 mobile MOBA scene. League of Legends: Wild Rift aims to provide the same LoL experience but for Android, iOS, and other possible consoles.
On PC, LoL eSports is thriving with the annual League of Legends World Championship, where teams compete for the champion title, Summoner’s Cup, and a multi-million-dollar championship prize.
With Riot’s record of maintaining a strong presence in pro eSports, players can at least expect the same when League of Legends: Wild Rift is released later this year.
Only time can tell if Wild Rift will follow its PC counterpart, League of Legends, as one of the biggest eSport titles in the world… but many fans have high hopes for the title as early as today.
Not “real” gamers?
Mobile gamers are often disparaged as not ‘real’ gamers. Even the distinguished gamers and streamers seem to agree, with DrDisrespect saying “Mobile gamers aren’t real gamers” last year. Most of these gamers play on high-end PCs and the latest consoles, which gives them a sense of superiority to somehow encourage the act of gatekeeping.
Since these gamers play on an implied inferior platform, such as mobile devices and tablets, these gatekeepers discourage mobile gamers from calling themselves gamers mainly because they haven’t reached a certain implied standard.
Regardless, the Doc apologized for his harsh statements back in August while streaming alongside Tanmay Singh, known as Sc0ut, a professional PUBG Mobile player.
The criticism against mobile gamers is a nonsense claim since the recent numbers prove that mobile gaming is currently one of the most profitable areas in the industry.
What makes someone a “real” gamer, then? It doesn’t necessarily boil down on your platform of choice. Whether someone plays on PC, console, or mobile— real gamers are those who are keeping up with various competition and living up to the challenge of ranked games.
This is often seen in competitive multiplayer games, where the primary objective is to climb the leaderboards, score some ranked points, and defeat the opponents.
Though mobile gaming is still rarely streamed on leading live broadcasting platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming, Trovo Live comes into the picture— which aims to provide an avenue for mobile gamers to stream their content. We’ve written everything we know so far about the emerging mobile game-focused platform in a separate article.
Mobile gamers and enthusiasts can then log onto Trovo to check out their favorite mobile titles, such as PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, or Call of Duty Mobile.
With the increased interest for mobile gaming, this might just drive Trovo Live into the top. It may even shake up not only the western live streaming market, but as well as on a global scale.
Trovo’s aim is to break the saturated genre of streaming PC or console games. Moreover, mobile titles provide something new for both the streamer and the audience. Playing on mobile devices remains to be an untapped market for the livestreaming industry, making it a great opportunity for new streamers!
Today, there are lots of mobile titles to prove that even handheld devices can sustain top-level esports— which can be on par to that of PC LAN tournaments.
Mobile games are considerably more accessible than many of the other major eSports that require a high-end PC or console to play. It’s no surprise to see the continued growth of the mobile gaming industry which is only expected to get bigger in the next coming years.
Hence, now is the perfect time for you to venture into the world of mobile gaming. With consistent practice and grit, you may even find yourself becoming one of the top mobile eSports players in the world!