With mobile phones becoming more accessible and powerful, gaming on Android and iOS has shot up remarkably. As such, the rise of mobile esports has followed suit with tournaments eclipsing millions in prize pools and gathering astounding viewership numbers. The past couple of years in particular proved that mobile esports is an industry to watch out for.
As 2024 fully gets underway, there is a lot to look forward to this year. Mobile esports has been no stranger to the esports winter, but it has avoided harsher chills due to its popularity in developing regions that have been more immune to the current macroeconomic climate.
2024, however, will bring a major shake-up to the mobile esports industry. All major mobile esports titles — from Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) to PUBG Mobile and Free Fire — have announced big changes to their 2024 roadmaps. Let’s look at the five biggest mobile esports trends to look out for in 2024.
Battle of the mobile MOBA: MLBB and Honor of Kings compete for global dominance
Talking about mobile MOBAs, there’s one title which takes the headline — and that is MLBB. According to Esports Charts, MLBB was the most viewed mobile esports game in 2023 with more than 530m hours of watchtime. MOONTON has already announced a stacked calendar for 2024 with at least four international events.
Amidst all the hype, though, there rises another challenger in the MOBA scene — Honor of Kings. Tencent has already announced a $15m global investment into growing the esports game globally, and its momentum as a major esports title in China puts it as a major contender.
There are some major hurdles towards the rise of Honor of Kings, though. Firstly, in 2021, many esports organisations in SEA reportedly had an ‘exclusivity contract’ with MOONTON for MLBB’s franchised leagues. As a part of this optional clause, esports organisations that sign the clause will receive in-game and financial benefits. It’s unclear if this clause is still active, but if it is, Honor of Kings will likely be a part of it.
Additionally, MLBB has a big head start in the mobile MOBA space as the game has been investing in other regions like the Middle East and North America aggressively. It also recently announced that its mid-year tournament is being rebranded to the MLBB Mid Season Cup (MSC) to make it more exclusive and global. The 2024 MSC will happen in Saudi Arabia with a $3m prize pool, the biggest figure in the history of the game for a single tournament.
Nonetheless, MLBB and Honor of Kings will be two games to watch out for in 2024. The former will be looking to grow its expanding player base in other markets. The latter will be hoping to capture the global market as it releases in a phased manner globally.
Establishment of the Esports World Cup as a major mobile esports event
One of the major news stories of 2024 is that the Esports World Cup is replacing the Gamers8. While the Esports World Cup will feature various esports titles across PC, console, and mobile – it’s still a major event to watch out for in mobile esports.
This is because most major mobile esports titles will likely be taking part in the Esports World Cup. The first title to announce its entry into the tournament series is Mobile Legends: Bang Bang with its Mid Season Cup taking place at the event. PUBG Mobile and Free Fire have also hinted that it could be involved.
PUBG Mobile has already confirmed that its unnamed mid-season tournament will take place in Saudi Arabia. Free Fire, on the other hand, said in its roadmap that the game will be part of a global esports tournament in July, likely pointing to the Esports World Cup.
Thus, 2024 is a crucial year for the establishment of the Esports World Cup as a recurring major mobile esports event in the coming years. While Riyadh already has experience and infrastructure in place from its hosting of the Gamers8 over the past two years, the Esports World Cup will be bigger than ever.
Partnered Leagues – A boon or bane for PUBG Mobile Esports
One of the major trends in mobile esports in 2024 comes from PUBG Mobile, which has committed to replacing its open PUBG Mobile Pro Leagues (PMPL) with the partnered Super Leagues (PMSL). There will be four PMSLs taking place in 2024 across different regions, namely SEA, EMEA, Americas, and Central and South Asia
All of these will be LAN events. Except for the SEA with three seasons, the remaining will have two seasons per year. All of these leagues will feature partnered teams, who will be guaranteed slots in the tournament. However, a few slots will be open to all teams who can make it through the PMSL Qualifiers.
In a press conference, James Yang, the Senior Director for PUBG Mobile Global Esports, confirmed that these partnered teams didn’t have to pay a buy-in or registration fee to be a part of the PMSL. Instead, they are now engaged in a mutually beneficial partnership with Tencent where they will receive support and guaranteed slots.
The PMSL is a good sign for partnered teams, with organisations now having more stability in the PUBG Mobile esports ecosystem. However, 2023 PMSL SEA partnered organisation Team Secret departed the game after Tencent announced this decision, openly stating that the transition to a fully franchised league is why it is doing so.
2024 is an important year for PUBG Mobile esports as the game looks to set and scale the PMSLs while leveraging its partnership with prominent esports organisations.
Free Fire Esports Rebrands to FFWS and Free Fire India Release
Free Fire Esports hasn’t had the best of years as of late. Esports Awards’ Mobile Esports Game of the Year in 2020 and 2021 has seen a sharp fall in esports viewers since its record-setting 5.4m peak viewers at the World Series (FFWS) Singapore in 2021.
The FFWS 2023 achieved a peak of 570,515, per Esports Charts, still an impressive number but nowhere close to its previous peak. Now, Garena has announced some major changes for the 2024 roadmap with all of its regional leagues getting rebranded to include the FFWS brand.
A notable trend for Free Fire is the impending release of Free Fire India. While the game was announced in August 2023, it has still not been released and is expected to come later in 2024. Its release will be a big boost for Free Fire esports globally as India is a big market for the game.
In fact, according to the Economic Times, citing data from media analytics platform Comscore, Free Fire MAX was more popular than Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) in November 2023 with 28m monthly users. Notably, Free Fire MAX has achieved those numbers without any marketing for the game in particular and is still riding on the hype for Free Fire India.
The launch of the game and how it competes with BGMI in the local Indian market will be a trend to watch out for in 2024.
The launch of new mobile esports titles
Image Credit: Activision
Last but not least is the launch of several new potential mobile esports titles. Firstly, Riot Games is set to launch VALORANT Mobile. A release date hasn’t been confirmed, however, the game has been tested in China, bringing rumours that it might finally launch in 2024.
Other games coming this year include Rainbow Six Mobile and Warzone Mobile. All three titles have the potential to disrupt the current mobile shooter market, which is dominated by the likes of PUBG Mobile, Free Fire and CoD Mobile.
Additionally, the games are highly competitive and all three have an esports scene in their respective PC versions. It’s only natural that the developers push for esports when they launch the mobile games as well.