Mobile Esports – Addressing Usage Issues


by in General | Aug, 27th 2018

Mobile esports has proven itself not to be a fad, and the post-iPhone explosion of mobile gaming has stayed its course. More people are playing phone games than ever, even with mobile gaming having evolved past “fad” games about various birds hurtling through the air.

One of the biggest games on mobile is Fortnite; we are long past the Bejeweled era of lazy swiping. People demand more from their phone games, and the esports audience is a clear target.Developing games for the phone usually poses unique sets of challenges regarding monetization, longevity, and, of course, controls.

Even though there are multiple “generations” of phone games to learn from, the producers of these games still have not solved all of the usage issues that arise from making games on the phone—and there are a lot more steps to take if they ever want to tap into the esports market successfully.

One thing that is still getting figured out is that developers are exploring which genres work best on mobile. Fortnite certainly isn’t one of the first games to try to bring fast-paced shooting with other gameplay elements onto phones, but that may not be the most successful genre to port to phones for a few reasons.

Mobile Esports Issues

For one, aiming needs to be precise, and two, there is some menu/hotkey finagling to be done in the computer and console versions of Fortnite. The gameplay doesn’t translate completely one-to-one, so the game might continually “feel” inferior and remains the non-definitive version.

For fans of Overwatch, you know how this is for console players; the balance is skewed around an alternate mode of control, and some characters (e.g., Torbjorn) have their balance manually altered by Blizzard to compensate.

Controller attachments have existed for controllers since the slide-phone Blackberry and Droid era, but they have a few problems of their own. They are not made by “first-party” developers (e.g., the companies that design and manufacture the phones themselves), causing a lack of parity between players, and they tend to be clunky and cheap given their tiny size.

On the other hand, some ports work nearly perfectly. Hearthstone is the greatest example with this, and other card game developers are following suit with complete crossplay/parity between PC versions of card games and their mobile counterparts.

Mobile Esports Solutions?

So should developers start developing their games just for phones? Well, there’s a couple of problems with that too when it comes to esports marketability. For one, phone streaming works, but it is pretty clunky. There are very few popular streamers that have streams that take advantage of the unique format.

Secondly, there are very few on-stage tournaments. They are usually online because the logistics that come alongside multiple players playing on phones in front of an audience are too much to work through. There are often technical difficulties, version differences between operating systems, desire for non-personal phones exclusively for play, etc.

Fundamentally, until these logistic issues get worked through, mobile esports games are mobile first and esports second. It might be a while before we see someone break through the barrier, but that hasn’t stopped many companies from trying. They keep putting games up there and some work well, while others fall short.

Mobile Esports Specific Game Issues

Strategy games, in general, tend to lend themselves to phone playability because they can easily differentiate themselves from the fast-paced Starcraft style of gameplay. Clash Royale, for example, is one of the “most esports” mobile games out there.

It’s still a real-time strategy game, but you don’t have to do hundreds of actions a minute like in Starcraft. Even if other games are faster than Clash Royale, there are plenty of mechanics that slow down the gameplay, and there is little to no focus on “micro,” or micro-management of individual troops.

EA’s conference at E3 showed us a new sequel to the Command & Conquer RTS franchise, modeled to fit the mobile-strategy model. That is a definite “proof” that the Clash Royale genre is here to stay and developers see it as one of the pinnacles of mobile strategy gaming.

MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games are another genre that lends themselves easily to phones. For those that don’t know, MOBA is an easy way to classify League of Legends and Dota-type games where you control a hero (or multiple) and progress over multiple lanes in a battlefield.

Games like Vainglory and others owned by larger publishers are great examples of this. They emulate the same kind of gameplay, oddly speeding up the overall game pace (MOBA matches tend to take over half an hour). However, they will continually be overshadowed by the “real” MOBAs on consoles.

Mobile Esports Conclusion

For the games that aren’t built from the ground-up for esports, they rely on leaderboards and clan ranking systems to make up the difference. Because most of these games are freemium, there should be an incentive to keep playing once you’ve unlocked everything you want; ranking systems are how these games tend to accomplish this.

Examples can be found in Gems of War and many smaller-time sports games. Although they may not be huge, they give players a sense of accomplishment and help to build up the community. Let’s not forget how important the fan base is to esports.

It is still unknown if mobile esports will trend exponentially upwards or not. If esports as a whole continues to grow, developers will look to mobile for a piece of the pie. Solving these issues with innovation could be a goldmine for any potential developer. We will just have to see which one figures out the solution first.

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