While the centre of the gaming universe has long been moving towards Asia and has sent advertisers and sponsors scurrying after this fast-growing market, a new report from Google and Niko Partners suggests that the pandemic has changed the contours of this market.
According to this new work, advertisers and sponsors who've previously focused on this market need to recognise how gamers have quickly switched from in-person gaming fests to virtual events as the region has locked down.
This shift to virtual esports builds on existing momentum in the Asian market before the onset of the pandemic. The massive growth of mobile penetration in the region has been a powerful catalyst for the growth of mobile esports.
In 2018, 3.6 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) used their mobile phones to go online, according to GSMA, an industry body. The number of mobile internet users is projected to rise to five billion by 2025, and emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia are already beginning to make a dramatic impact on mobile gaming. In 2019, China and Southeast Asia alone were home to a combined 850 million mobile gamers and generated more than $28 billion in annual revenue.
Sensing this heightened interest, mobile handset brands such as Asus, Huawei, and Xiaomi have already created gaming smartphones with enhanced features, including ultra-fast displays, high-speed processors, and console-inspired designs.
Then, cloud gaming infrastructure has improved too and the advent and spread of 5G connectivity has further spurred the growth of this market. Governments ranging from China to Malaysia and Indonesia to Brunei are all building out their backbone for this high-speed network.
While gamers traditionally flocked to internet cafes for the technology gear and high-speed connectivity, the pandemic has pushed much of this activity indoors. From congregating at these cafes, gamers now assemble online to play their games, via a multitude of platforms. As these numbers have ratcheted up, advertisers have flocked to this segment and sponsorship has skyrocketed.
Despite this apparent opportunity for marketers, they need to do three things to gain a firm foothold in this market, according to the report:
- Focus on the mobile opportunity: In Southeast Asia, there are 50% more gamers on mobile devices than PCs. Even in China, mobile gamers outnumber PC gamers two to one.
- Be flexible to the diversity in the mobile gaming world. From casual games like Battle of Balls and Pokemon GO to mid/hardcore titles like Honor of Kings and PUBG Mobile, there's something for every type of gamer in the region. By 2019, “PUBG Mobile” and “Garena Free Fire” were India’s leading mobile games by revenue and Tencent’s Peacekeeper Elite quickly became the second-most streamed game in China after being released in 2019
While 60% of gamers in China and Southeast say they’re strongly drawn to esports,
reports suggest only 10% have participated in mobile esports competitions. To boost these numbers, marketers could consider building or sponsoring tournament platforms for popular games. Using streaming platforms to promote small esports events, or encouraging streamers to host their own tournaments, can build excitement and visibility.
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