Adam Fitch: Sorry Dr Disrespect, mobile esports are thriving - Dexerto
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Adam Fitch: Sorry Dr Disrespect, mobile esports are thriving

Published: 27/Nov/2020 17:00 Updated: 6/Jan/2021 11:56

by Adam Fitch

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Earlier in November 2020, streamer Dr Disrespect spoke down towards mobile gamers on Twitter by questioning how it could be a “serious thing” — however, he’s just failing to understand how popular competition on mobile already is.

While mobile gamers and industry figures alike came to the defense of mobile gaming when the Two-Time took aim at the platform, there’s still a serious misconception around mobile esports and the success it’s already achieved.

Firstly, it’s worthwhile addressing the “serious” comment from Doc. While mobile devices perhaps don’t allow for precision that PCs do, there’s still a major skill gap between average and professional players and that lends itself perfectly to competition. The most common and widely-accepted definition of esports is a “video game played competitively for spectators,” mobile tournaments meet such a criteria on a daily basis and it’s already serious to hundreds of thousands of viewers on a weekly basis.

This skepticism from one of the faces of gaming is emblematic of a larger problem of platform elitism that plagues gaming on all levels. Ever since the popularization of esports there has been debate between console and PC gaming, centering around not only which type of players are better but whether console esports have unfair advantages due to features such as aim assist.

Ezreal in League of Legends Wild Rift
Riot Games
The most popular esports title, League of Legends, arrived on mobile in October 2020.

Tribalism is also a factor in this spritely, never-ending discussion, with players grouping together based on their platform of choice and nonsensically taking aim at those who have other preferences.

The only time in which such a debate would be productive is if cross-platform play is embraced in serious competition, which seems to be a long way away from ever becoming a reality. Fortnite developers Epic Games received plenty of criticism when implementing this feature in casual play, never mind in their esports activities, so it’s probably safe to assume no companies are rushing to make this a reality for the time being.

Infrastructure matters

Something that all good games need to be viable on a competitive level is infrastructure. Creating an appropriate structure for esports initiatives is important, whether it’s by a game’s developer or a third-party tournament organizer.

A great example of this in the realm of mobile esports is Clash Royale, one of the more popular titles from Finnish developers Supercell. The real-time strategy game has its own official team-based league from the company themselves, with top-tier gameplay spanning nine weeks and culminating in a year-ending world championship. This level of support and structure actually goes beyond what some PC and console games receive.

On the third-party organizer front, especially in the West, you only have to look as far as ESL to see how seriously mobile esports is being taken. As well as hosting regular online events for the likes of Call of Duty: Mobile, Clash of Clans, Brawls Stars, and Clash Royale, they have the ESL Mobile Open for elite players.

Clash Royale League World Finals
Supercell
The Clash Royale League World Finals are always a spectacle, rivaling events in almost any other game.

Recently incorporating the Middle East and North Africa into the European arm of the competition, it’s said that ESL hosted over 500,000 players in the inaugural season alone. The second season involves PUBG Mobile, Auto Chess, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Clash of Clans, and will be expecting even more success with the widening of the player base.

In North America, the Mobile Open from ESL is already in its sixth season and has a headline sponsorship from the world’s largest telecommunications company, AT&T. There are other examples of infrastructure being fleshed out for mobile titles, but you get the gist.

A sight for sore eyes

One major factor of how we define success in esports is viewership. With a healthy amount of eyeballs on a product comes sponsorship opportunities, bragging rights, and further validation that fans are interested in watching the elite face off against each other.

With that in mind, it’s never been clearer that mobile esports isn’t just a major part of the future of the industry — it has already arrived. According to analytics agency Esports Charts, mobile events made up three of the five most popular tournaments in October 2020. This happened alongside the League of Legends World Championship taking place, which is not only one of the most anticipated occasions in the esports calendar but as it turned out to be one of the only LAN events we’d seen in six months.

Garena Free Fire
Garena
Free Fire hit a record of 100 million peak daily users earlier in 2020.

Asia and Latin America are where mobile esports are truly thriving at the moment, rivaling the popularity of any other title you decide to compare them with. This is proven from last month’s peak viewership statistics, where MOBA title Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and battle royale game Garena Free Fire occupied three of the top five placements.

Ryan ‘Fwiz’ Wyatt, the head of gaming at YouTube, posted a thread on Twitter on November 26 backed up the sheer popularity of Free Fire on the platform. In 2019, it was YouTube’s fourth most-viewed game and it’s proving to have some longevity considering its monthly viewership peaked in October 2020.

While this level of success isn’t replicated across all regions just yet, that’s how esports typically work. Call of Duty and Counter-Strike are mainly popular among those in North America and Europe, for example, which is reflected in the demographics of both the top-level players and the viewership alike. The same applies to mobile but it’s not an excuse for ignorance.

The future?

Mobile devices are generally more accessible than a high-end computer or new-generation gaming console so there’s a much higher ceiling on participation in mobile esports by default. Whether adoption from mobile users does indeed propel it into becoming the de facto competitive option is yet to be seen, but such potential can’t be ignored.

With viewership rivaling (and even oftentimes besting) that from console and PC esports alike, it’s sheer ignorance to state that mobile gaming isn’t already a major player in the industry. If you fail to see that from the investment that’s being funneled into mobile titles, or the number of people who already enjoy playing and spectating, then perhaps you’d like to argue that grass isn’t green too.

Esports

Why do esports organizations keep rebranding? Experts weigh in

Published: 21/Jan/2021 17:54 Updated: 21/Jan/2021 18:36

by Adam Fitch

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A trend that’s emerged over the past couple of years in esports is organizations rebranding, but why do they deem it necessary to change a visual identity they’ve had in place for years? It’s considered counter-intuitive to some, but there are some merits to a brand refresh.

When it comes to selling your company and its services or products, branding is a crucial decision. It communicates your company and its offering to the audience you’re looking to tap into, hopefully providing a connection point and keeping it top of mind when prospective consumers are scouring the market.

In an industry that’s predicated on competition, there’s additional nuance. There’s a need in esports and sports alike to create an identity that fans can root for; a brand that’s relatable or aspirational that helps to foster long-term supporters.

In 2020 alone, over a dozen prominent entities in the esports industry opted to ditch their logo (and in some cases, their company’s entire identity) in place of something fresh. There are plenty of reasons these decisions were made.

Why do esports organizations keep rebranding?

Evil Geniuses Rebranded Jerseys
Evil Geniuses
If any organization knows what it’s like to upset a diehard fan base due to a rebrand, it’s Evil Geniuses.

The conception of esports happened at different times, depending on who you ask, but it’s very clear that entities housing competitive players really started to emerge in the early 2000s. At this time, though, these teams were made up of friends who enjoyed playing alongside each other — it was remarkably rare for a tournament to have the life-changing financial incentives that are commonplace today.

These teams weren’t established as multi-million dollar companies or media giants, and thus time and resources weren’t funneled into branding. These organizations, which were actually just gaming clans, were simply a product of the times. As the industry has professionalized and become more economically lucrative, the functions and demands of such brands have changed.

The likes of Evil Geniuses, Fnatic, and Ninjas in Pyjamas have been around for years and, as such, they’ve had to develop in every area as the industry too developed. No wonder companies that were once present-minded inventions have had to change their branding, they needed to adapt to the new environment surrounding them as they blossomed into professional operations.

“With the esports scene moving at lightning pace, it’s not uncommon for brands to rapidly outgrow their original branding,” designer Owen M. Roe told Dexerto. “If you’re founding a team with limited resources at your disposal, you’re not going to be able to afford world-class designers.

“Eventually, there will come a point where a bad logo will begin to hurt your bottom line, whether it’s with brand recognition, merchandising, or because it just plain old looks dated. Fans strongly identify with logos, so it’s important to give them something to be proud of — but that’s also what makes esports rebrands so hit or miss.”

League of Legends champs Damwon Gaming has partnered with KIA Motors.
DWG KIA
Even DAMWON Gaming changed their name and logo just months after establishing themselves as the current League of Legends world champions.

“Tenets of great design are timeless, but the market is so dynamic that sometimes rebrands are necessary — for example, if an organization switched regions and the old branding no longer effectively represents them,” Theorycraft founder and creative strategist Lauren Gaba Flanagan told Dexerto. “Also, if brand architecture wasn’t built correctly at launch, a rebrand is a good opportunity to correct and refresh that.

That said, observing shifts in design trends is the wrong reason to rebrand.

Organizations have to consider what their brand communicates to consumers, and also how well it serves its purpose across the board. These days, branding has to be well-suited to digital channels, on merchandise and branded accessories, in broadcast graphics, and supporting assets across their entire operation.

Creating a timeless brand

Esports is a digital-first industry that’s evolving at a rapid pace, so it’s impossible to ensure that a brand is able to stand the test of time in every application. It’s more sensible to try and represent what your company is right now and where you envisage it being in the short-to-medium-term.

Should we, as an industry, simply expect constant iterations of recognizable brands organizations attempt to communicate their ethos while staying in line with current design trends and norms? Despite not knowing how things will develop in the future, Roe believes that companies should still be aspirational.

“The goal should always be to make timeless logo designs,” he said. “Frequent & unnecessary rebrands are probably indicative of a larger problem within the organization. We see brands like Evil Geniuses and Dignitas throw away their iconic logos in favor of a hollow corporate rebrand, only to return to form with an updated iteration of their original branding.

“There’s a reason they made the decision to go back to their original logos, that’s what the fans identify with, there’s history there. Esports rebrands should aim to build on & improve what has already been established.”

It’s not uncommon to see new owners come in and change the logo (and overall direction) of an organization, as Roe stated. HBSE with Dignitas and PEAK6 with Evil Geniuses are perfect examples, only realizing that changes they felt were necessary would alienate their fan bases when the damage had been done. In these cases, they reverted back to the original designs, but attempted to modernize them.

Dignitas Rebrand
Dignitas
Dignitas moved away from their iconic DIGI logo in 2018 just to bring it back in 2021, much to the delight of their fans and the wider industry.

“I hope we don’t see organizations with beloved branding pushed to rebrand simply because they feel pressure to modernize,” Flanagan added. “From the practical (what do I do with all my old merchandise?) to the emotional (I have fond memories of the old logo), any organization planning to rebrand has to do the work of appropriately retraining and reconditioning people on identification and association. A lot goes into that, so rebranding is a card you can pull maybe once. If the same org is rebranding multiple times, that’s a bigger problem.

“Brands can’t be futureproofed unless they’re composed of solid fundamentals, so organizations need to invest in great brand identities upfront — but that investment also must be ongoing. You need great designers who will continually think of ways to creatively apply the identity — through apparel design, photography, social, motion graphics — because that’s what can really keep decades-old branding feeling fresh and inventive. Org branding should be consistent and distinct while remaining flexible enough to incorporate changing rosters, games, and trends.”

The jury is out on whether the recent rebrands in esports will stand the test of time — though there are some that have been disappointing, to say the least — but it’s clear that this trend has emerged for the right reasons. Organizations want to optimize their potential for growth and success, and saying branding is part of that formula would be an understatement.