Esports is here to stay, there’s no denying it. After decades of organic growth, the events of the past couple of years have catapulted competitive gaming into the limelight. Now major sports teams like French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles are testing the waters of platforming their own esports franchises, and increasingly free bet offers provided by bookmarkers such as FanDuel are being redeemed for esports events. 

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Yet while the likes of League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are justifiably getting the recognition they deserve as competitive pursuits, the sector of mobile, or smartphone, esports is still playing catch up. How long that will remain is uncertain, but with smartphone ownership reaching a saturation point across the world, the latent potential in mobile esports is theoretically far greater than in those titles that require players to invest in dedicated gaming laptops and computers. Below we’re looking at the leading mobile esports today to see whether this subculture has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with those leading PC franchises in this 2022 and beyond.

Two Distinct Flavors

In a pattern of development familiar to console and PC esports, two major genres of game have begun to emerge on mobile as the most popular for competitive gaming. The first of these is the MOBA game, which is short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game. These games all trace their ancestry back to a fan made mod for the popular Real Time Strategy game Warcraft III in 2003 known as Defense of the Ancients, of DoTA. These games all pit small teams against one another, typically in a 5v5 bout, on a small map. Players must control territory, capture bases and defeat their opponents. 

What makes MOBAs so good for esports is that there are, in some cases, hundreds of different characters that players can control, each with their own unique abilities and weaknesses. Building a team that is cohesive and synergistic is half the fun of these games. The strategy involved in these titles is surprisingly deep, and can resemble at times a game of chess, or grid-iron play. 

Mobile Multiplayer Online Battle Arena Titles

Among the most successful MOBAs on mobile at present you will find Arena of Valor, which is the international version of the equally popular domestic Chinese hit, Honor of Kings. A 5v5 MOBA, it is widely considered one of the fastest growing games in the mobile ecosystem. Prize-pools for mobile-only esports events have failed to match the $30 million+ hand-outs on offer at the top-flight of PC esports, but the Arena of Valor 2022 World Cup, with its $10 million prize-pool, is not to be sniffed at. At present this is the largest prize-pool to be awarded for a mobile esport ever. 

The other big contender for top MOBA on smartphones is Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. This one takes a novel approach to the MOBA by seeking to speed up game-play. It features matches that last only 10 minutes, and touts its 10-second matchmaking system as the fastest way to dive into a MOBA fight, be it on your lunch break or while riding the bus. This is among the most watched new games on mobile in 2021, with 386 million hours logged.

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Mobile Battle Royale Titles

The other major game genre to gain a foothold in the mobile esports space is the battle royale. The first true battle royale was PUBG, which is a mod based on ARMA 3. Much like the Japanese movie Battle Royale (2000), players are dropped into a large, bounded map, and must fight one another until a single victor emerges. Arguably the most popular competitive game format in the world today, huge titles like Fortnite have captured the public imagination and have brought the thrill of these large-scale arena shooters to new audiences. 

There’s no denying though that PUBG Mobile retains its crown for top battle royale. Across all of its versions, PUBG is the most spectated mobile esport in the world with over 4 million peak viewers recorded at times. In spite of this, a new challenger on the block is hoping to steal the limelight from PUBG – Free Fire. Not only was this new title the most downloaded game globally in 2019, but its 2021 World Series Tournament event pulled in a peak crowd of 5.4 million viewers. To put that in context, that’s higher than even the largest League of Legends events.