eSports has been a controversial and exciting area of gaming for more than a decade now. Whether that be the pro-fighting game scene, competitive shooters like Overwatch and Call of Duty or MOBA’s such as League of Legends. eSports have proved to be an attractive and lucrative proposition for both players and businesses alike.
Challengermode recently popped up in our reporting with the inclusion of eSports and competitive tournament support within mobile strategy game The Battle of Polytopia. So when they reached out to talk to us about their work in making eSports more accessible, we had plenty of questions to ask their Chief Business Development Officer, Phil Hubner.
PocketGamer.biz: Can you give us a brief introduction to your company? When did you start, what do you specialise in and any major recent projects that you'd like to share?
Phil Hubner: We’re a company based in Stockholm working on technology that provides esports infrastructure to all the key stakeholders in the industry including players, organisers, game developers and brands. Our company was founded in 2014 and since then we have launched a platform with a plethora of tools and features for organising and competing in over 80+ games, two API products as well as our recently launched Enterprise Space for branded competitions.
To give you a glimpse of some of our more recent work we just released our latest API product, the Game Integration API. This enables game developers to integrate our tournament tech with their own games so that players never even have to leave the game client to compete in tournaments, leagues or leaderboards.
To mention some of our more recent projects, in the last year alone we have worked closely with the biggest game developers and publishers around the world such as Krafton, Riot Games, Ubisoft, Tencent, and Epic Games among others.
What’s been your core focus up to now and what are your aims for 2023?
Our core focus is and has always been to make eSports truly accessible for everyone, everywhere, on any device. The way we’ve been able to accomplish this has been by bringing together all the key stakeholders in the esports ecosystem onto one platform.
Our mission remains the same for 2023 and with the release of our Game Integration API and Enterprise Space an even larger focus is on working with new commercial organisations and game developers as well as deepening our relationship with existing partners.
How has the esports scene and your work within it changed over the past couple of years?
Over the last few years, the eSports scene has exploded all over the world with more people watching, enjoying and participating in tournaments hosted for millions. Esports has also become a strong marketing tool for the largest brands in the world to reach a new and younger demographic.
There are still many challenges to overcome in the industry, however, Challengermode has had the opportunity to guide players, organisations and brands into the esports world and support them in their undertakings.
Can you tell us about the difference between casual multiplayer gaming and grassroots eSports?
The biggest difference between casual multiplayer gaming and grassroots esports is the intent of the participant. In casual multiplayer gaming, the motivation is purely related to fun and social interaction in games played with or against others.
Grassroots esports implies a certain growth the player is looking to attain, such as moving upwards into the semi-professional or even professional scenes in their respective games; the intent of the player here is usually to go pro.
Is there any difficulty in getting players to embrace grassroots eSports, moving from casual multiplayer?
It can be difficult to change a player’s intent for sure, but most players aren’t thinking about what they’re trying to get out of the games - they simply play. We believe (and have experienced) that any player that happens to casually engage in competitions will find themselves wanting more, and that humans are inherently competitive. As a result, the more accessible casual play in tournaments becomes, the more players will enter the grassroots space by default.
How do you see mobile eSports progressing? Is mobile an area of focus and growth for you through 2023?
Mobile certainly is currently and will be in the future a big focus area of ours. With mobile making up the lion’s share of players and successful game titles in many emerging markets such as South East Asia, South America and Africa, there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of players that are yet to enter the esports market. As those game developers and publishers learn how to engage their players with competition, interest in games with a more significant foothold and especially more long-term stability emerge, and as a result of all that more players start wanting to watch competitions in those same games, we are set to see an explosion of mobile esports in the coming years. Whether that’s in 2023 I don’t know, but it is sure to come.
Out of the recent projects you’ve undertaken in mobile eSports, what has been the most challenging and rewarding, and why?
Player behaviour and expectations from both players and developers are vastly different in mobile titles than in their much more prevalent PC counterparts. Communication channels differed (at least traditionally, until Discord took over mobile as well), as well as movement between titles is much greater than on PC. That said, once we’ve managed to break through that we’ve found an incredibly large and highly engaged audience in most, if not all, mobile titles we’ve worked with.
What needs to change in order for eSports to truly explode as a sport and gain genuine wide ranging appeal?
One of the largest issues in eSports is still monetisation and sustainability of the market itself. In sports, revenues come from broadcasting rights, sponsorships, a steady influx of stadium events where tickets and hotdogs are sold, and so on. In eSports, the vast majority of revenue still comes from sponsors; if you’re discounting money spent on the games themselves, that is.
I would argue that eSports already has wide-ranging appeal, with top events drawing millions of viewers, definitely beating out many national football leagues’ biggest matches but the commercial viability of the industry is a key issue that needs tackling in the future.
Hubner’s answers cover a wide range of subjects and offer a tantalising view of what may be to come if other companies follow their lead. Mobile eSports may be the way of the future, and could go some way to ‘legitimising’ competitive mobile gaming to other players. But as he says, it may be a matter of accessibility that decides if they’re successful or not.