Game Centered Special Report: The Rise of Mobile eSports

 The Rise of Mobile eSports

In case you didn't know, eSports are generating staggering amounts of money these days. They are also becoming a lucrative way to make a living, if like any athlete, you have the skill, time and discipline to devote to your video game of choice. The fact that PC and console-based eSports have been raking in the cash and offering huge payouts to their champions is not groundbreaking news at this point, however what is a much more recent occurrence is the fact that mobile games are starting to do the same. While one mobile game in particular (that being Vainglory, Free), stands out from the crowd as being the premier mobile eSport, I'd have to posit that it's only a matter of time until other mobile games catch up and start filling stadiums and attracting viewers and sponsors on par with any PC or console eSport franchise.

 The Rise of Mobile eSports

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When I first started writing about Vainglory it was because Apple chose to use the game to demonstrate the incredible gaming capabilities of the - at the time - new iPhone 6, live on stage at the iPhone's unveiling event. Not long afterwards, Apple chose to once again highlight Vainglory during their one and thus far, only gaming commercial, titled simply, "Gamers". This was a rather unprecedented occurrence; the world's most profitable company featuring an upstart game not once, but twice in succession, especially for a company without a specific focus on gaming. Obviously Vainglory was off to a great start, something I could also attest to, as someone who has played the game avidly since the day it was released. Since then Vainglory has gone on to find unprecedented success in the world of competitive mobile games, in fact, it is safe to say that Vainglory is the first mobile-only game that has garnered such an enthusiastic reception as a legitimate eSport, with high stakes, large purse tournaments that continually draw large audiences of live spectators throughout the calendar year.

Last year Vainglory was the fastest growing mobile game viewed on Amazon's game streaming platform Twitch, by far, generating well over 20-million views. This is an especially impresive statistic considering that Twitch is primarily driven by PC and console video game streaming. Vainglory is also one of the most popular games on YouTube Gaming as well as new, mobile-only streaming sites such as Mobcrush and Kamcord. Vainglory continues to set records for live, audience attendance at arenas, as well as online viewership of live and replay matches of tournaments and guild battles.

This year Vainglory has been off to a no less impressive start, with two major international eSport teams entering the fray by purchasing two premier competitive Vainglory teams. World-class eSport organization Team SoloMid just acquired one of the most dominant Vainglory teams in the world, Alliance, and Mousesports just acquired Team Rebirth of Empire. This, along with the fact that Vainglory awarded $350,000.00 in prize money last year has firmly solidified this young game as the first of its kind, professional level, mobile eSport, as evidenced by the growing number of high level players who are able to actually make a comfortable living  playing this game.

Like any challenging eSport, becoming proficient requires a huge investiture of time and energy, but with huge eSports organizations beginning to throw their vast resources behind the Vainglory competitive scene I only expect increasingly larger prize pools and more and more people worldwide to start playing. All of the hoopla surrounding Vaunglory got me to thinking about the current state of affairs in the mobile game industry.

At present, there's really no other mobile game that can compare with Vainglory's popularity as a career supporting eSport. Yes, there are mobile games that rank higher than Vainglory in the App Store, and yes, there are mobile games that have a higher player base, but none of them can be considered a legitimate, arena-filling eSport, and none of them have captured the attention of the eSport community quite like Vainglory.

That said, there are some other noteworthy titles that have the potential to, in time, become legitimate eSports in their own rights. Blizzard's Hearthstone (not exclusively mobile), Supercell's Clash Royale and Gameloft's Modern Combat 5: Blackout come first to mind. These are all games that have all of the prerequisites of becomes a successful eSport title; with avid fan bases of players, and both community-hosted and sponsor-hosted events in which gamers can compete for prestige and awards.

 The Rise of Mobile eSports

Of the above mentioned titles I am perhaps most surprised that the first-person-shooter Modern Combat 5 hasn't garnered a bigger share of the mobile eSport market. In fact, considering its similarities to one of the most massively popular eSport franchises out there, that being Counter Strike, I would've thought that Modern Combat 5 would have already surpassed Vainglory in terms of eSport popularity. I suspect Vainglory's tremendous success is in part, a testament to the huge success of other, more established MOBAs, such as DotA (Defense of the Ancients), which routninely fills large sporting and concert stadiums with fans, and which offers some of the largest prize pools (over $18 million) of any sport in the world, eSport or otherwise.

Hearthstone and Clash Royale have their own solid followings, Hearthstone being a card game expansion built off of Blizzard's popular World of Warcraft game, and Clash Royale is Supercell's hybrid MOBA/card game. Though both of these games are extremely popular, have highly skilled competitive gamers playing them, and strong viewership on game streaming platforms like Twitch and Mobcrush, no mobile game has managed to come close to matching Vainglory 's rise and success as the first truely exclusive, mobile eSport.

And speaking of game streaming channels, without them there would be no chance of any mobile game becoming an eSport. Thanks to the likes of popular game streaming platforms Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Mobcrush and Kamcord fans are able to view other gamers playing their favorite games, and watch them they do, with Twitch reporting that over 156 million minutes of Vainglory were streamed in 2015 alone. These channels not only serve to help people improve their own gameplay by watching their favorite games being played and learning from high tier players, they bring with them a level of excitement that heretofore has been reserved strictly for major league sporting events and championships. This trend of gaming becoming as much of a spectator's sport as it is a participatory activity is only on the rise.

 The Rise of Mobile eSports

Granted, if you aren't a gamer, some of this might come as surprising news to you. But according to the most recent data, over half of all Americans regularly play video games, with almost half of those gamers being women. Also worth note is the fact that the average age of gamers these days is in their 30's with ages 35 - 44 being the biggest spenders on mobile games specifically. In fact, as of 2015, mobile gaming revenue has finally overtaken that of console and PC games.

Vainglory may be the first true, mobile only eSport, but it's safe to say that it won't be the last. With the competition continuing to heat up in the eSport market it will be very interesting to see where the game Vainglory evolves. It will also be interesting to observe which new games make a go at challenging Vainglory for its dominant position at the top of the mobile eSport charts. I can tell you this; as someone who has been gaming since the late 70's, I will be keeping a close and enthusiastic eye on the development of competitive mobile eSports and I'll be sure to keep you in the loop!

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Dig Om's picture

As Senior Gear Editor at iPhone Life, Dig reports on the latest and greatest accessories built for the iOS ecosystem. From rugged gear and Bluetooth speakers, to headphones, unique iDevice cases, and iOS remote controlled vehicles, Dig's articles cover a wide range of great gear for the iPhone and iPad. A core gamer for over three decades, Dig also writes iPhone Life's Game Centered column, which focuses on the best iOS games and game related news. Additionally, Dig's company, iDoc Tech Support, offers web design and administration services as well as iPhone and iPad repairs. When not at his work desk, Dig loves spending time with family and enjoying the wonders of nature. You can follow him on Twitter @idoctech