Comment & Opinion

Why Clash Royale won't ignite the mobile eSports market

Why Clash Royale won't ignite the mobile eSports market

If there's one area of mobile gaming that everyone's enjoying banging on about in 2016, it's the predicted meteoric rise of mobile eSports.

Sure, there's plenty to talk about elsewhere, from VR, to user acquisition, to big console names entering the mobile space.

But mobile eSports, with its tantalising prospects of a potentially billion dollar market for marketers, advertisers, and developers to get their hands on, is the area that has the most people rubbing their hands with glee.

Show me the money

The trouble is, mobile eSports is still a fledging concept, and is potentially years from being considered an equal among its PC equivalent.

That's not to say it won't reach such lofty heights, and who knows, perhaps mobile eSports will eclipse its PC brethren as developers start to turn to the wider mobile market and attempt to engage the much larger audience available within.

Mobile eSports is still a fledging concept.

However, what it does mean is that we are currently in a state where any time a game has some kind of synchronous competitive multiplayer element, it's almost immediately touted as the next big thing in eSports.

The next big thing?

Such is the case with the recently released Clash Royale, which, probably because of its MOBA-esque design, has many claiming it will bring mobile eSports to the forefront of everyone's mind.

But, based on my own experiences, I am somewhat hesitant to allow such statements go uncontested.

Clash Royale takes its influences quite clearly from two genres - the CCG, especially Hearthstone, which it almost completely rips-off, and the MOBA, as previously mentioned.

Hearthstone - the lodestone of card-based mobile eSports

Hearthstone has found its way into the eSport community thanks to its reliance on careful strategy, built entirely around the deck that a player uses, and how effectively they play their cards.

Clash Royale has a somewhat similar system, albeit with a real-time twist as opposed to Hearthstone's turn-based approach.

A new approach

But what Clash Royale does that completely severs it from the cloth which Hearthstone was cut from is the ability to upgrade your units.

And, to a similar degree, the fact that your towers upgrade their health and attack power each time the player levels up.

eSports, to my mind, should be about two players or teams with an equal stake battling to show who has the most skill.

It's fairly obvious why Supercell decided to do this. Upgrading cards is a lengthy process, one that can be shortened greatly by using gems, the game's hard currency.

And it would be idiotic to claim that Supercell doesn't know what it's doing when it comes to monetisation, so it's a strategy that will most likely work for the company.

But this also causes is a fairly major imbalance for players, particularly for those who won't, or can't, spend the money to remain competitive.

A game of two halves

eSports, to my mind, should be about two players or teams with an equal stake battling to show who has the most skill.

It should not be about who has been able to upgrade their units fastest and can now dominate the game.

It's not a problem that is found in Hearthstone because cards are not intrinsically better than other cards – and neither are the player's stats.

A true test of skill?

Any time you load up a game of Clash Royale, you run the risk of having to face off against someone who has an intrinsic edge over you, either because of higher level cards or better towers.

It's not even a matter of skill – all it needs is for the player to have bought cards and upgraded them.

The game's matchmaking goes some way to alleviating this problem, but it is still entirely possible to match up against someone with that advantage over you from the word go.

A long wait

Aside from the imbalance of power, there's also the case of having to literal hours for chests to open.

In Hearthstone, you buy a card pack and it opens straight away. You can adjust your deck and jump back into battles.

In Clash Royale, you can either spend gems to unlock a chest early, or just put the game down and do something else for several hours.

Does Clash Royale's monetisation methods mean it won't appeal to eSports players?

It pushes away people with a competitive spirit who don't want to pay upfront – and when only 3% of your players are going to spend, that drives away a huge chunk of potential competitive players.

Instead, to make it more eSport friendly, it would make sense for Supercell to drop the chest award system altogether, award gold for wins, and almost entirely emulate Hearthstone's system.

Anyone's guess

Of course, all of this is purely based on impressions from the first couple of days since the game has been out.

It's entirely possible that the big eSports teams will throw money at the game, or those who see a chance to get in on the ground floor will start investing all their time and money to get a head start on the competition.

There's no way of predicting whether or not an eSports community will arise around Clash Royale, particularly with the game still in its infancy.

But unless Supercell can rebalance the game with a more competitive spirit in mind - maybe there's an opportunity for an eSports version or an eSports mode in the game that relies almost entirely on player skill and not player wealth - then it doesn't seem likely that a community will be growing any time soon.

Deputy Editor

Ric has written for PocketGamer.biz for as long as he can remember, and is now Deputy Editor. He likes trains.

Comments

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Erik Knepfler
I think the bigger factor of whether mobile eSports can match PC eSports is not the games themselves. There is a much bigger problem - the presentation. If you watched the Helsinki tournament, it was cringeworthy watching the moderator trying to get them to talk like pro wrestlers, when they are far more reserved (some might say socially awkward.) Someone needs to re-work these tournaments to cater to the reserved, intellectual "friendly competition" mindset that these types of players are, and stop trying to turn everything into a trash-talking MMA weigh-in. They should be modeled on the great chess matches of the 60s and 70s, not a cage fight. The players would speak better when interviewed if they didn't feel this constant pressure to act like a trash talking pro boxer, which causes them to shut down and not say anything, creating that moderator awkwardness I talked about. This is the fundamental problem with not only mobile eSports but eSports in general, in my opinion. The first tournament organizer to get this right stands to really make an impact.

Now some thoughts on CR itself:

1. Adjusting the game for tournament play by forcing identical cards/tower HP is a trivial change that they could make. They just had a great tournament in Helsinki without it, but if this became an issue in the eSports community, it's an easy fix by simply creating a tourney mode used only in realtime tournaments where the cards and tower HP are mirrored.

2. You seem to underestimate the skill factor in a huge way. A smart player with a good strategy and the right deck can easily beat someone with far more trophies who has spent more money on the game and, on average, has higher level cards and more tower HP to work with. A good attack timed well can completely upset the balance. What's great about this game is that there is definitely not a "pay to win" feeling about it.

3. In a tournament environment, there's the added factor of knowing your opponents favorite decks and such which adds another dimension entirely to the competition.

4. The realtime effect is much larger differentiator than you are making it out to be. Hearthstone may have great strategy, but so does CR, the added dimension of realtime is part of its brilliance. Also noteworthy is how this make it more "televisable", more exciting for fans to watch.
Erik Knepfler
I know my post is so amazing you probably want to offer me a job right now, and I'll entertain any offers but I'm pretty happy in my current job, thanks.

lol
Ric Cowley Staff Writer at PocketGamer.biz
I may have gone a bit strong by saying it rips off Hearthstone. It was a pretty early reaction to the system in place, which mostly consisted of me looking at it and thinking, "oh, so it's Hearthstone then."

I think my point holds on the waiting for chests to open aspect, however. Surely if you want to encourage players to be competitive, you'd want them playing for long periods of time, rather than just every 3/8/12 hours after the chest has unlocked?

Completely agree with Mikkel where he says "a future Clash Royale tournament should make sure all units and players are balanced", that's actually a point I fully intended to make but evidently forgot to put in!

Finally I should say that I do think Clash Royale is a good game - I've been playing it more than anything else of late. And I do think that the monetisation is good, and I'm sure it will make Supercell many more millions of dollars. But, right here and now, I'm not sure it's going to be the game that gets mobile eSports off the ground.
Sean Doc Nollen
Came to comment about "rips off Hearthstone". Everyone else already did. Thanks everyone else. Also, "you can buy a pack and instantly open it"... well no shit. You bought it. You can pay to open chests early too. It's comes out to the same result. The logic is strong with this article.
Nicolas Perrin Game Designer at IGG
I stopped reading at "completely rips off Hearthstone". While Clash Royale is hardly an original game (flash games have been doing this kind of thing for years), it has almost nothing to do with Hearthstone. Upgradable cards, no real "collection" involved (you get all cards except epics quickly after joining a new arena), real time battles in a battlefield... The only common thing is that they both use the words "card" and "decks".
Also, sport and esport success is almost only defined by viewership: some high level battles in CR are already counting millions of views (within days after release), I would say its success is no longer debatable, let's see how long it can keep it up.
Daniel Mesonero Producer at GameDuell
I don't really think that this article hits the mark.
As noted already, saying that CR "completely rips off HS" is a very bold and mostly false statement.
It's also false that no HS card is intrinsically better than others, and it's similarly false that only in CR do you run the risk of getting matched with someone who has an intrinsic edge over you. Try playing HS with a completely basic deck.
CR also has a tournament cap on leveling, which should provide exactly the kind of even playing field that the author is looking for in a viable esports game.
For games like LoL you also wouldn't say that they're esports unfriendly because new players only can play the heroes in rotation.

I think there are improvements that could be done to CR (for example how to motivate long-term, low-skill players when new content is only added to the top arenas), but i don't how it should be impossible to build an esports community.
Gabriel Santos Generalist Game Maker
To say CR "almost completely rips off" Hearthstone is a quick way to raise doubt about anything else yet to be read in the article. I can't think of a single aspect of those two games which is equal. Even the mana system which is the most similar piece is adapted from turn based to real time. The two games don't even fall into the same genre.
Greg Quinn CEO/Lead Developer at Meltdown Interactive Media
I agree that as soon as you throw player spending into the mix, a game immediately becomes unsuitable for esports.

But let's consider another game like Vainglory, it ticks all the boxes, yet it still hasn't 'ignited' esports on mobile, any idea why not?
Mikkel Faurholm Monetization Consultant at AppCrimes
I think Vainglory failed to make find its spot on the e-sport scene because of the genre/gameplay similarities with well established e-sports like LoL and Dota. Vainglory was transitioning a LoL/Dota type moba to mobile, which in my opinion they did just fine, but when taking it to the e-sport scene, the audience no longer see a platform - they see a game - And then the game is competing with LoL and Dota on equal terms - and failing.

In my opinion, in order to 'ignite' the mobile e-sport scene, you need an exclusive mobile game/gameplay forcing the audience to consume the e-sport on mobile, bringing the sponsors to mobile, ultimately creating a new platform, mobile, to view/play/monetize.
Mikkel Faurholm Monetization Consultant at AppCrimes
The difference as I see it, between Hearthstone and Clash Royale, is, if lucky enough, a basic deck can - however unlikely - still beat a top tier deck in Hearthstone. Magma Rager is intrinsically a worse card than Dr. Boom, but does that make it more about skill or more about chance or more about monetization?

In Clash Royale, for a player to beat a higher level one would either take some strategical skill or a slip-up by the other. The chance of RNG affecting a matchs outcome is much lower in Clash Royale in my opinion. Not saying that this makes it more viewable as an e-sport, but i think the balance of everyday laddering and the potential to be an e-sport are two very different things. You mention yourself that e-sport should be about two players with an equal stake. Hearthstone tournaments make sure all cards are available - a future Clash Royale tournament should make sure all units and players are balanced, and isn’t comparable with the ranking system and matching that we see now in their ladder system.
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