The early days of esports were by no means glamorous. Small, dimly lit internet cafes and teams competing only for glory, and if they were lucky, some small prizes — this was the reality of competitive gaming in the early 2000s. But in the last two decades, esports have undergone a major transformation. Game tournaments now fill stadiums, attract viewers in the thousands if not millions, and players are rewarded from increasingly larger prize pools.
The mainstays of esports have proven to be complex and mechanically challenging games like Dota 2, League of Legends and CS:GO. Until recently, every title that has managed to attract esports viewership has been either a PC or console game. But times are changing. Mobile games have grown massively in the past decade both in terms of player numbers, depth, and complexity, further boosted by improvements in smartphone tech.
Yet, for many, mobile games still feel like outsiders in the world of esports. But the truth is that certain titles are on the right track and working to establish themselves. After attending the PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 Global Finals in person, I know for certain that PUBG Mobile is one of the brightest sparks in the current mobile esports scene — and it’s here to stay.
The PMCO 2019 Global Finals
The PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 Global Finals (or PMCO for short) took place in Berlin last weekend and saw 16 teams from 11 regions compete against each other on all four PUBG Mobile maps for a sizeable prize pool of $400,000. From the snowy landscapes of Vikendi to the scorching desert of Miramar, the teams not only entertained the crowd but showcased their skill and amazing teamwork.
But how does a PUBG Mobile esports tournament work? Usually, in MOBA and FPS games, matches are between two teams, which then either advance or drop down to the lower bracket. In the case of PUBG, things are bit more complicated. All teams compete at once in all matches, with both placement and kills taken into consideration. At PMCO 2019, placement and of course the Chicken Dinner itself netted significantly more points than kills (one per kill), but that didn’t hurt the action.
You might think a battle royale like PUBG is hard to follow, but that's not the case.
You would also be mistaken if you think that a battle royale game with so many players would be hard to follow. That wasn’t the case at PMCO 2019 thanks to the excellent casters and spectator mode, which often gave viewers a bird’s eye view of the map.
The spectator experience is what makes or breaks an esport. If the barrier of entry is too high or the learning curve too steep, new players and/or spectators will be hard to draw in. That’s what makes PUBG Mobile so great. As a shooter, it is incredibly accessible and easy to understand. Of course, familiarity with the maps definitely helps you feel more immersed in the action, but it’s not a requirement.
Exhilarating moments and show-stopping performances
There was a lot of action that had the crowd on the edge of their seats at PMCO 2019. The tournament was full of upsets and there was no clear winner until the end. One of the most spectacular moments was when MKKSKR (Hao Yang) from Top Esports managed to get a full team wipe singlehandedly. It’s the type of storyline you would see in other esports and even traditional sports — rushing to get rid of a surrounded opponent and blinded by hubris, a team makes a major mistake and loses an important round.
Pulling off the 1v4 in a normal match is amazing; pulling it off vs RRQ Athena is unbelievable! This is what you’re missing if you aren’t watching the #PMCO Global Finals! https://t.co/N2KmAQp6E0 pic.twitter.com/daIUAMrhmt— PUBG MOBILE (@PUBGMOBILE) July 26, 2019
Viewers and attendees also enjoyed a lot of moments that demonstrated the teams’ excellent communication and teamwork. Fan favorite Team Soul ended up in a final circle that necessitated stealthy tactics and crawling through a grass field. By splitting up and carefully listening for their opponents, they managed to get a blind kill, which was instrumental in winning them the game.
The different maps and their terrains also posed different challenges and required teams to adopt new gameplay tactics in every round. It kept both them and the crowd on their toes. If there is one criticism to make, it’s that early game action wasn’t plentiful, but you could also argue that it’s more exciting to have players facing up against each other in the mid-game, when they are on a more equal playing field weapon and equipment-wise.
The future of mobile esports
Why is this important in the grand scheme of mobile esports? Because esports in general are still struggling for legitimacy and mainstream acceptance. On top of that there is an air of skepticism and even down-right contempt for mobile games, even among esports fans. These titles are often undervalued because input methods are more limited or perceived as easier to use. To some esports fans that translates to a low skill cap.
But the truth is that in PUBG Mobile, just like many PC and console games, mechanical skill is very important, but clever tactics and good decision making are what push players to the top. It’s how you adapt, react, and communicate. We saw the eventual winners Top Esports gaming split into groups of two, masterfully use smoke grenades and successfully flank opponents for the Chicken Dinner in one of the final rounds of day three. Both conservative and aggressive playstyles were rewarded on different maps and in different situations.
But most importantly — PMCO 2019 was incredibly entertaining to watch.
Production values at the tournament were nothing short of excellent. It is not unusual for esports events to have hiccups, connection issues, or delays. None of which occurred during PMCO 2019. It is quite the achievement considering how new PUBG Mobile esports are to the scene and how hard organizing such a large event can be.
Expanding the reach of mobile esports
Another major point in PMCO’s favor was the number of regions and countries represented in the competition. While most other tournaments usually see only a couple of countries from Europe, North America and Asia, PMCO had participating teams from 11 countries, including India and the Middle East, which are rare to see in other esports competitions.
This speaks volumes to the higher accessibility that mobile esports in general offer. When it comes to PC games, you need at least a relatively high-specced computer and additional gear like gaming mice for FPS games and others. Smartphones, on the other hand, are something that almost everyone carries around in their pocket. And since PUBG Mobile is free, all you really need is a stable connection. This makes it easy for aspiring players to get into the game and it will likely help the PUBG Mobile esports scene grow immensely in the future.
At the PMCO 2019, it became clear that this is something Tencent and PUBG Corp. understand and want to expand upon. At the event, Vincent Wang, general manager of global publishing at Tencent Games, announced that separate African servers will be launched later this year, followed by the announcement of PUBG Mobile Lite‘s Indian launch.
As the name suggests, it is a lighter version of the game. It is designed to be played on lower-end smartphones. Only the original Erangel map is included and matches last around ten minutes, instead of the typical thirty. For now, it is unclear whether this version of the game will have its own dedicated tournaments, but that could end up fragmenting the competitive scene. What PUBG Mobile Lite will achieve, however, is attract even more attention to PUBG Mobile as a whole.
PMCO 2019 demonstrated the potential of mobile esports.
So, while this year’s tournament didn’t take place in a massive stadium full of thousands, it could happen in the future. And deservedly so! PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 was quite the experience, and with livestream peak viewers almost hitting 600,000 there’s clearly a huge global fan base out there.
Entertaining and exhilarating, PMCO 2019 not only demonstrated the potential of PUBG Mobile esports, but that of mobile esports in general.