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February’s announcement of the $1M USD Clash of Clans World Championship caught many people by surprise. Supercell had just come off the $1M first season of the Clash Royale League, so the Finnish mobile game developer appeared to be embracing esports on a larger scale—but Clash of Clans had been around for several years without any sort of professional competitive structure.
What changed? According to Marika Appel, longtime Clash of Clans community manager at Supercell, the creation of the World Championship was less about building off of Clash Royale’s own esports momentum, and more about expanding upon what Clash of Clans players had already been doing on a grassroots level.
“We talk a lot and try to share learnings,” she told The Esports Observer at the Clash of Clans World Championship at ESL One Hamburg 2019. “But I was actually building all of this more on top of what the community had already been doing. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do for our players, experimenting and building on top of that—taking what they are already doing and hoping to bring it to the next level.”
Appel said that the 2016 addition of the game’s “Friendly Wars” feature allowed in-game clans to challenge each other. In turn, fans created community leagues, some of which had hundreds of teams competing for supremacy. Last fall, Supercell added an official “Clan War Leagues” game mode to open up that competition on a global level, and that feature helped drive interest in a larger-scale effort to professionalize the esport.
“When we got that feature,” said Appel, “we felt like now could be the time to make an official tournament with these top-flight events—where the best clans from each month come physically to a studio, we are livestreaming them, and they get to meet their clanmates.”
Partnering with ESL on the initiative came out of what Appel said was “kind of a coincidence.” Supercell worked with ESL to produce a live streamed reveal for a Clash of Clans game update in June 2018, and conversation with ESL producers during production downtime revealed a shared vision to explore mobile esports on a larger scale.
“We started talking about what would happen if we had official tournaments and competitions in Clash of Clans. Everything just kind of clicked,” said Appel. “We shared the same dream, we shared the same vision: building something for the players—the best-possible tournament experience we can. Also, part of how we clicked was that they also felt experimental about what is the future of mobile esports. Could we also be part of that?”
Competition for the World Championship began in March with the first of six monthly live qualifiers held in Katowice, Poland, with two additional teams chosen by the community to compete in the finals. ESL One Hamburg is primarily a Dota 2 event with a $300K prize pool, but Supercell took over the big stage every morning to showcase a million-dollar mobile competition. For Appel, it was not only the culmination of several months of competition, but also several years of building and maintaining a hit mobile game.
“When the opening ceremony started, I froze and looked at the TV [in the players’ lounge] and said, “I have to be in the arena!” she said. “I ran into the arena and I was just standing there watching it, and I almost cried. I’ve been in Clash of Clans since we launched it. I’ve been building our community since day one—from fan number-one to these millions of people. That moment, I will never forget it.”
It doesn’t sound like the first big live event in Clash of Clans competitive history will be the last, either. Appel said that her team has further plans ahead and has highlighted potential improvements on the roadmap, even if it’s too early to announce any formal plans.
Although each development team handles its own esports efforts, Clash of Clans is part of a growing competitive initiative from Supercell, which also has a $250K Brawl Stars World Championship in South Korea next month and the Clash Royale League World Finals before year’s end. Additionally, Chinese multinational investment holding conglomerate Tencent announced last week that it had acquired majority control of Supercell, potentially opening up additional international opportunities for the studio’s esports ambitions.
“We are still working on the plans, so I don’t have anything concrete yet. But we definitely want to keep the [Clash of Clans] World Championship,” said Appel. “Next year, we’ll improve on the small things and put more support and effort into local and regional tournaments—the path to pro. I think that could be something for us next year, but we are still figuring it all out.
“We can always improve, and this year was our first. I call it kind of like a beta,” she added. “Our entire team, our community, our content creators, and our players feel like we are definitely on to something, and next year we could make it even better.”
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