As the Chinese athletes approached their opponents from Taiwan, it was quiet in the hall for a moment. Then thousands of fans cheered on their favourite teams. The stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, was filled with Chinese fans who had travelled from China to see their stars. The special thing about this major sporting event at the Asian Games: the tournament was held purely virtually. Computer games – also known as esports – are developing into professional sports in Asia. Above all, mobile esports via mobile phones are on the rise in Asia.
Arena of Valor was one of six video games selected for demonstration at the Asian Games 2018 in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia. The game was developed by China’s Tencent Games. Competition-oriented multiplayer video games will even be traded as official sports at the next Asian Games in 2022.
Asian Esports become a billion-dollar business
The possible inclusion of Esports in the “Asian Olympics” makes it clear how popular Esports have become. While people in Germany are still discussing whether computer games are actually real sports, esports have developed into a mass phenomenon in Asia. The Dutch research company Newzoo has calculated that the industry’s worldwide turnover in 2017 was USD 655 million. In 2021, sales are expected to reach USD 1.3 billion.
So far, popular sports games such as StarCraft 2 have been played mainly on the PC. But now mobile esports are on the rise in Asia. Two of the six games selected for the Asian Games 2018 – Arena of Valor and Clash Royale – are mobile games. In Asia there is currently a shift towards mobile games.
Esports in Japan and Thailand on the verge of a breakthrough
Mobile Esports are more popular in Asia than in the West because of the widespread “mobile-first culture”. 55% of game revenues in Asia come from mobile games. In North America and the EU it is less than 30%. Mobile Esports should gain in importance in the coming years. Then experts are predicting a boom in mobile esports especially in countries such as Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Asian companies have long dominated this trend. The current high-end smartphones are powerful enough for most mobile games. Several Asian smartphone companies have announced the release of specialized smartphones. Powerful processors and rechargeable batteries as well as higher frame rates will make even the most demanding games possible.
Specialized Hardware for Esports
Razer, a Singapore-based manufacturer of gaming hardware, has triggered this trend. In November last year, the company launched its Razer Phone. The device was specifically designed for mobile esports. The strongest selling point is the high frame rate, which does not compromise any hooks or flowing animations when playing games.
Other companies that develop special smartphones include the Chinese ZTE and Black Shark Technology. The latter is supported by the Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi, which recently went public. Taiwan’s hardware specialist, Asustek Computer, is the latest company to announce the launch of an Esports smartphone.
Esports become mobile
This strategy could pay off for these companies. In the stagnating smartphone business, this sector promises ambitious growth rates. Special game mobile phones are a way of differentiating a company from the competition. In addition, more and more popular Esport titles are being ported to smartphone platforms.
Mobile versions of the popular online multiplayer game “Player Unknown Battlegrounds” were released onto smartphones last year. The game was developed by PUBG Corp., a subsidiary of the South Korean video game company Bluehole. One of the currently most popular games, Fortnite, was released in early August for smartphones with a Google Android operating system.
Samsung also relies on mobile games
Meanwhile, industry leader Samsung also sees salvation in the esports. The smartphone division of Samsung Electronics had recently suffered from strong competitive pressure, especially from the Chinese suppliers Huawei and Xiaomi. In the second quarter, operating profit from the smartphone business slumped by 34% year-on-year.
Samsung recently tried to use Fortnite to sell its Galaxy smartphones. Galaxy users had access to the game even before its official release. Samsung wants to boost sales of the latest Galaxy Note 9 mobile phone in particular. Rumour has it that Samsung is also working on a device optimized for mobile esports.