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The esports scene in the Philippines has been steadily growing in the past couple of years. From League of Legends to PUBG and to Dota 2, the country has been engrossed in competitive gaming. However, in the midst of the PC gaming industry, the mobile players are rising. TNC Esports and Mineski Events Team have been around enthralling fans with tournaments for Dota 2, League of Legends, CS:GO, CrossFire, and the like. But recently, companies such as Singtel and Mobile Esports Arena, or MeSA, have appeared to represent the mobile gaming industry in the esports scene.

In just a few years, the mobile gaming esports scene is booming, with cash prizes sometimes eclipsing their PC counterparts. Although it doesn’t really affect the player base of PC and console gaming, the number of mobile players has been on the rise as well. Across the world, the Asia-Pacific region has the biggest mobile gaming player base. In the Philippines, many people have taken up mobile gaming as well, both casually and competitively.

What’s behind this rise in mobile gaming? And what motivates many in the industry to proclaim mobile gaming to be the future of esports?

Accessibility breeds usage

Back in the day, the technology required for video games was expensive. This made it inaccessible for the average person. Personal computers costed a fortune, and only well-to-do families had them. Consoles used to be a sign of affluence. That’s not the case nowadays. The rise of computer cafés have made PCs, and consequently, PC gaming, to a wider audience. Many of today’s esports athletes benefited from this, including the popular Suma1L.

Accessibility is not only a prerequisite to esports. Better accessibility also exponentially increases the value of an esports. As such, the more accessible a game is, the more likely, and the more successful, it could become an esport.

We could look at the history of Dota for this point. Although Warcraft III was a proprietary of Blizzard, bootleg copies of the game was available widespread in computer shops everywhere. The game itself wasn’t played by the patrons of these shops, largely due to its lengthy campaign, complicated mechanics and deep fantasy. Not to say that the game itself was bad, it’s just inaccessible for casual gamers. Instead, the more accessible, more focused custom map Defense of the Ancients was what kept Warcraft III on the shelves of these computer cafés.

The game was released many years later for free by Valve, and it was a massive success. It wasn’t the first esports title made by Valve, as this was preceded by Counter-Strike. Although both games had the same roots, Dota went on to become much more massive and more lucrative. The difference was simply on their accessibility, as Dota was free, while all iterations of CS under Valve had to be bought. It could also be argued that Dota can be learned and mastered, while Counter-Strike requires inhuman characteristics, on top of practice and muscle memory, to master.

Stronger phones, better play

Much in the same way, mobile devices has become cheaper and cheaper in recent years, without sacrificing power. Even the average worker could own a smartphone strong enough to run Arena of Valor or PUBG Mobile. As phones become more powerful and more accessible, it allows more people to enjoy the same games that used to be only playable by professionals. With more people playing, the more likely a competitive scene from it could arise.

The rise of budget phones allowed more people to play their favorite mobile games. – Photo taken from CNET

The nature of the game may not even matter. Games such as Clash Royale and Clash of Clans have seen a semblance of esports play in years past. Vainglory has been a forerunner of mobile esports for a long time. It’s only recently until games such as Arena of Valor and PUBG Mobile developed a competitive scene. All that matters is that there are people willing to play the game. When there are people playing the game, companies will dive in to reap profits through tournaments.

Easy to get into

Unlike most games, the competition in mobile games aren’t as daunting. Most people are fine in playing casually, and that kind of atmosphere allows even the newest of players to enjoy the game while learning. These games also generally have low skill floors. Casual gamers who have never played games before would feel more welcomed thanks to these games with low skill floors.

Add to the fact that most of the competitive mobile games in the current market are available for free, makes the influx of new casual players not surprising. The addictive nature of games make these players stay, and whether or not they become invested enough to follow the esports scene, their growing numbers motivates the market to continue supporting its esports scene.

More players, bigger audience

Another benefit of more accessible play is that the game claims an acquired audience. Granted that all players do not end up playing competitively, nor do players always interested in following the professional scene. But all scenes always start from within itself, within its own community. No esport title could thrive if it had no players in the first place. And those competitive enough to be aware of the esports aspect of the game, but not skillful enough to play at a professional level, will more than likely become part of the esport’s growing audience.

Audience bring in the money

It’s no secret that the gaming industry is pretty lucrative. However, it’s not really the professional players that make the industry the most money. It’s the audience.

Audiences give the esports scene its life force – Photo taken from Scout Mag Ph

Granted, the audience is there because they identify the players. There wouldn’t be an audience when there’s no players to follow. But a large audience is what brings in the sponsors, and along them the hefty money needed to organize tournaments in the first place. Most sponsors would look at a game’s (or organizer’s) audience base to see if they’re worth supporting. A bigger audience would lead to better tournaments, most of the time. As tournaments are the lifeline of esports, it just goes to show how important the audience is to the game. And since accessibility directly correlates to the number of audience, then we could say that accessibility also builds up the esports scene.

Why the boom in the Philippines?

Mobile gaming in the country has been growing rapidly. It’s ironic how our infrastructure for telecommunications has been ranked the worst in the whole of Asia Pacific. Despite this, 4G usage in the country is at an all time high, steadily increasing since October last year. Smartphones are even more accessible than toilets in the country. Mobile usage is so prevalent that Filipino users spend 3.2 hours a day on average surfing the internet on their phones.

How come this is possible in spite of our slow internet? For one, mobile gaming requires minimal amount of data to play. This is in comparison of PC and console games, where the problem of slow internet connection is more prevalent. HD streaming usually takes up more data. Secondly, Filipino telecomm companies provide easy access to these games by providing cheap data bundles for the most popular gaming apps. Back when Clash of Clans was the craze, there would be data plans that explicitly catered to its players. The same strategy is being used right now for Arena of Valor, among other popular mobile games.

The future of Philippine mobile esports

Much attention on mobile esports came after Eunil “Staz” Javiñas won the equivalent of Php17 million in WESG 2016. This was the same tournament that saw TNC Pro Team defeat Cloud 9 for the world championship. His win renewed local interest in Hearthstone, and led to Hearthstone tournaments organized by Bren Pro Inc. through MeSA. The organization would later on include other mobile games under their repertoire, including Clash Royale and Vainglory. Their monthly tournaments for these games keep the mobile esports audience’s attention.

Perhaps the biggest sign that local esports is headed towards the mobile field is its inclusion in The Nationals. The intended professional esports league for the Philippines, modeled after the team franchising system of the PBA, will bring the esports scene to the mainstream. Getting more exposure towards these games will further increase its audience, and fuel its growth.

Its inclusion in the World Electronic Sports Games is also a testament to its viability. One of the biggest companies in the world, Alibaba, organizes the tournament through its sports affiliate, AliSports. Its representation in the esport’s version of the Olympics cannot stress its importance enough to its stakeholders.

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