Mobile dreams big at the Esports World Cup

Mobile dreams big at the Esports World Cup
  • This massive event will take place in Saudi Arabia later this year
  • Two high-profile mobile games recently to feature are Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Honor of Kings
  • Is this a sign that mobile esports are beginning to grow, and perhaps even outpace, classic esports?

The Esports World Cup in Saudi Arabia has been big news ever since it was announced in October last year. It’s a follow-on from the previous Gamers8 event, a massive gaming tournament and festival being hosted in Saudi Arabia.

Tencent has already announced an Honor of Kings invitational with a $2m prize pool to be featured at the Esports World Cup. Moonton’s Mobile Legends: Bang Bang beat them to the punch as the first featured in January as well, and it’s already shaping up to be mobile’s biggest appearance on the esports world stage thus far.

This massive tournament being held in one of the world’s richest countries is now sparking conversation not just about the competition itself but also the place various games have. Including - naturally - mobile games.

Standing alongside royalty

The most significant thing about the Esports World Cup - and mobile gaming’s presence there - is the other games that are on show including Starcraft II, Counter-strike 2 and DOTA 2. These might as well be royalty of the esports world, as they’ve persisted for decades now and form a core part of why competitive gaming is even a thing in the first place.

Esports world cup poster with character from Honour of Kings

So, for mobile gaming to be placed alongside them, albeit with a more limited roster, is a testament to how significant mobile esports is. For games like Honor of Kings to be placed alongside them means they’re widely recognised as having huge, devoted player bases that’ll follow every move made by competitive players.

It’s an overall positive presentation for mobile to stand alongside these titans. However, if we look back at the Gamers8 festival for reference, we can see that PUBG Mobile - one of the few games from mobile presented at the event - only drew in a $100,000 prize pool compared to a whopping $15m for DOTA 2. Well if Tencent’s own invitational is any indication, mobile developers will pick up the slack where prize money is concerned.

Coming from abroad

But, there is another thing to point out, which is the prevalence of Chinese-developed games. In this case, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Honor of Kings both come from originally Chinese developers, and neither game has seen a Western release until very recently, with Honor of Kings launching in Brazil in 2023.

Esports world cup announcement with Mobile Legends character in purple dress

This presents a conundrum for Western developers, even major ones like Riot Games. Are they being outpaced by Chinese developers in the world of esports? After all, with such a huge population and probably the biggest audience of mobile gamers in the world, it’s safe to say that esports has grown rapidly in China even compared to the rest of the world.

At the same time that’s not to say we’re solely going to see teams from China or neighbouring countries be the sole representation. With Honor of Kings’ Brazilian release, it shows that companies like Tencent are pushing to raise the profile of their games outside their land of origin and draw in a new audience. An audience which may just change the makeup of who competes, and wins, at esports tournaments in the future.

Tencent & Moonton go head-to-head

As an aside, it’s interesting to see that Tencent and Moonton are the two companies most prominently featured mobile-wise. The two had previously been at each other’s throats during an ongoing legal dispute last year. Could it be that Tencent pushing their own game so soon after in an attempt to undercut their competition in this massive new event?

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Possibly, it’s almost a given that both have their sights set on presenting their games to the wider world and want to get their foot in the door for what’s sure to be a huge spectacle. However, whether or not they’re seen as different or relegated to just the broader ‘mobile’ category may inform whether or not the two soften their approach and perhaps try to find common ground in enhancing the prestige of mobile gaming in esports.

Summing up

Overall, this is the most blatant signal we've had yet that indicates just how important mobile is or is becoming, to the world of esports. But even so, it's also a sign of how static competitive gaming has been, that the chief competitor against these other games in terms of spotlight are all more than a decade old. But, could it be that this new, highly promoted tournament is what changes that?

Only time will tell, and aside from all of this exciting news, we’ll be watching the Esports World Cup closely to see how exactly it all pans out. Whether or not there are going to be more developers joining the fray and pitching their mobile games in, or whether Moonton and Tencent will be taking centre stage.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

And if you’re interested in reading more of our features, why not check out our takes on the new Sora AI generator? Or the Sony & Microsoft exclusivity crisis?

Iwan Morris
Iwan Morris
Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the Pocketgamer.com editorial team in November of 2023.
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