This year was an eventful one for the mobile gaming industry. Epic Games shook things up with its legal feud with Apple, Call of Duty: Mobile celebrated its one-year anniversary, and Riot Games launched the first beta for Wild Rift, the mobile version of its 10-year-old MOBA League of Legends, in select countries.
Similar to the past few years, the mobile gaming industry grossed half of the global gaming market’s revenue in 2020 and is expected to reach the $100 billion mark in 2021, according to Newzoo.
Here are the competitive mobile games that shaped the industry in 2020.
PUBG Mobile was the uncontested king of competitive mobile games in 2020. On top of having great success over several regions since its release nearly three years ago, becoming the highest-grossing mobile game last August and surpassing $3 billion in revenue this year, it boasts a thriving esports scene.
The developer runs a plethora of regional leagues with several levels to build a path-to-pro for talented players in Asia, Europe, North America, and other regions. It also holds a Global Championship that’s gathering the 24 best teams from around the world to fight for the ultimate title and be crowned the world champions in January. Its predecessor, the PUBG Mobile World League, shattered audience records last summer and peaked at over one million viewers.
PUBG Mobile also created collaborations with many brands, such as the most popular girl group of the K-pop industry, Blackpink, and hosted a great number of events throughout the year to keep the game fresh. It gathered more players than the previous year, despite getting banned in India in September, which is one of the countries with the biggest player bases.
The ascension of PUBG Mobile’s competitive scene will likely continue throughout 2021. The total prize pool for next year’s official tournaments will amount to $14 million, scattered through international events and seven regional pro leagues and open series. A Japanese franchised league, the first for the game, will also kick off in 2021 with a $2.8 million prize pool.
Since its release in early 2016, Supercell has created new esports events every year for Clash Royale. In 2020, the top players in the competitive scene were divided into the East and West leagues and the best teams gathered to compete in the Spring and Fall Splits to qualify for the Clash Royale World League. The World League finals awarded $100,000 to the champions Team Queso.
In 2020, the game also reached $3 billion earned solely from player purchases through the game, according to Sensor Tower. That’s the second-highest number for a Supercell game behind Clash of Clans. Monthly seasons keep the game fresh with new cards, balance changes, and more content.
This year, the highlight of Clash Royale was the new format of Clan Wars. It overhauled the entire clan system and offers many more rewards to members with a more exciting format of daily battles with seasonal rewards. The developer will likely plan other things to keep the game fresh over time.
Despite still being in the shadow of the top mobile battle royale in the industry, Free Fire has gained more players every year since its release in 2017. It even won the Google Play award for the breakthrough game of the year in 2019, grossing over $1 billion in revenue.
The game’s esports events are consistently followed by a great part of the community. Both major events in November, the Free Fire League 2020 Clausura Finals and Continental Series, peaked at over one million and 1.5 million viewers, respectively. The record is still held by last year’s World Series, however, with a peak of over two million viewers.
This season couldn’t culminate in one last international event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could be a part of the reason why the Continental Series didn’t reach the impressive numbers of last year’s main event.
Call of Duty: Mobile
Call of Duty: Mobile was the biggest release in the industry of competitive mobile games in 2019, gathering over 100 million players within two months after its release in October. Since then, the community has amounted to 300 million players worldwide and the game grossed over $480 million, according to a Sensor Tower report from October. It also gained critical acclaim with an 81-score on Metacritic.
The mobile game’s esports scene, however, failed to blossom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After hosting all the regional finals for its first World Championship, the developer canceled the grand finals because it couldn’t ensure the safety of its players. Its first season ended with only regional events instead of culminating in the last international tournament.
Despite this drawback, CoD: Mobile will likely become even bigger in 2021 with its Chinese release, which is set for the end of this year. The game is highly anticipated in the region, hitting over 50 million pre-registrations in October.
Clash of Clans
Clash of Clans is the most-profitable Supercell game and the one that propelled the developer to the top of the mobile gaming industry. Since 2014, two years after its release, the game has earned $7 billion from player spending, according to Sensor Tower.
Although it’s not the Supercell game with the most active competitive scene, a lot of players grind the ladder each season to display their ranks and get better rewards. In 2020, the World Championship awarded a $1 million prize pool, similar to Brawl Stars, and the finals peaked at 80,000 viewers, according to Esports Charts. It’s less popular than the world championships for other Supercell games, but it still gathered a large number of fans.
Another Supercell game, Brawl Stars gained more popularity this year with a more rewarding system of battle passes and its Chinese release. But it still struggles to reach the numbers of Clash Royale and Clash of Clans.
Supercell still hosts a number of esports events throughout the season, though, creating a circuit similar to its other games. Brawl Stars’ competitive scene boasts several regional leagues with prize pools and world championship spots to earn.
The 2020 World Finals, which took place in November, peaked at over 258,000 viewers and averaged 134,000, according to Esports Charts. It awarded a $1 million prize pool with the help of community funding and gave $200,000 to the world champions, PSG Esports.
The esports scene of the game will also grow in 2021, according to Supercell’s plans. A new regional league for the EECA region (Eastern Europe and Central Asia) will give the game a total of seven regional leagues throughout the year. They’ll culminate in a playoff setting that will earn the best teams spots in the World Finals to crown a champion at the end of the year.
Those events will become more accessible to players too since a new tab in the game will inform and guide competitors to watch the matches live and see the results.
The mobile gaming industry thrived in 2020. It accounted for over 80 percent of Google Play app revenue this year, according to Statista. Call of Duty: Mobile was the breakthrough game in the competitive mobile industry and many others gained more players over time.
The year also saw the release of numerous successful competitive games on the mobile platform, such as Brawlhalla, Legends of Runeterra, and Teamfight Tactics. Next year looks promising for a market that doesn’t stop growing with big releases ahead, including League of Legends: Wild Rift, the mobile version of Riot’s hit MOBA.