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The Fall Championship of the PUBG MOBILE Club Open (PMCO) concluded on Dec. 1 and was expected to be one of the landmark events for the title. 2019 will be remembered as the year for the rise of mobile esport titles and one such name that has global appeal, has been PUBG MOBILE. The title’s popularity on PC made the transition to mobile easier and the game has had incredible success, with over 600M downloads to date.
To engage the growing player base, Tencent has begun to sow the seeds to cultivate a sustainable esport ecosystem for players and viewers across the world. This can be thought of as the first major year for the game as an esport and the title has managed to establish itself as a legitimate esports title. In fact, a new tier of competition has been announced and the prize pool has been doubled from $2.5M USD to $5M in 2020.
Below is a look at the apparent growth of the title as an esport especially when it comes to viewership, reach, and penetration in order to break down how the two editions of the PUBG MOBILE Club Open that were held in 2019, are not the same. The Spring Championship took place in Berlin in late July while the Fall Championship was held in late November in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The data suggests that the Spring Championship did better than its Fall iteration. Almost all metrics, such as peak viewership, watch time, and average viewership were higher during Spring, despite the fact that the Fall Championship had one extra day of competition. For this analysis, we limit our focus to only the main event and the prelim stage as the qualification processes for the two seasons were quite different in terms of format and structure, and are hard to compare.
The Spring Championship lasted a total of five days (two Prelim Days and three Main event days), while the Fall Championship was spread over a period of six days (three prelim days and three main event days).
Data via ESC.watch
South Asia and Southeast Asia (SEA) Continue to Lead the Way
What hasn’t changed from the Spring Championship is the fact that the viewership from South Asia and SEA is still much higher than the rest of the world. However, across the board, the viewership has decreased. The Hindi language livestream was the most-watched one during the Spring Championship, recording a peak viewership figure of 230K+. The Hindi Videos on Demand (VODs) from Spring on YouTube have a total viewership of 17.6M, while those from Fall add up to 16.3M. This represents a 6.8% drop in viewership despite more Indian teams playing at both the Prelims stage and the main event, and the fact that they performed better than last season. Considering that the Spring VODs have been online much longer than the Fall VODs, this comparison may be slightly inaccurate however peak figures are still lower. Another factor that should have helped the Hindi stream was the fact that SEA is perceived to be a much more convenient time zone for Indian viewers than Europe.
One potential explanation for the decline in Hindi language viewership could stem from the fact that in India, November is a month during which schools and college students are due to appear for their final exams. Another possible reason could be that other titles such as Call of Duty: MOBILE and Garena Free Fire have eaten into the player base.
To cater to the audiences in SEA, the game was broadcast in Bahasa (Indonesian), Malay, Thai, and Vietnamese. All these streams saw an increase in viewership except for the Vietnamese one. With the Indonesian team Bigetron RA claiming victory at the tournament, Bahasa viewership increased by nearly 21%. In fact, the highest peak viewership for any single stream of the Fall edition of the tournament came via the Indonesian stream at 239K viewers.
The English Stream Fails to Repeat Spring Performance
Europe has yet to grow as a market for mobile titles, and the region is unable to show consistent figures for PUBG MOBILE. Despite this, the organizers tried to make a concentrated effort to reach out to audiences with language-specific streams in French, German, Greek, Czech, Polish, Turkish and Russian. However, even the combined total viewership of all these streams put together is significantly lower than a single stream in SEA. Also, this move seems to have cannibalized the tournament’s English viewership, which fell by a significant 47% from Spring to Fall.
Activating the South American Market
One market that has shown a lot of potential in 2019 has been South America. While PUBG MOBILE isn’t the most popular title in the region, the viewership that came from the region for Garena Free Fire has been truly impressive, with the Free Fire World Series witnessing over 2M peak concurrent viewers. Unfortunately, the fact that PUBG MOBILE hasn’t received a similar level of support is holding back the game’s viewership. The region is yet to experience a single LAN and seems to be slowly losing players to Garena Free Fire. While during the Spring Championship, the region did contribute nearly 500K views, the Fall Championship saw a heavy dip in these figures.
Overall, viewership for the PMCO seems to be very region focused. Running 15+ streams for a less than $500K tournament comes with its own set of problems. To complicate matters, some of the streams are broadcast on more than one platform, making quality control and stream moderation quite challenging. Consolidating the smaller streams might be a better approach as a higher number on one stream is likely to make it more discoverable on platforms than a number of smaller streams. It also has a snowball effect in the sense that a stream with 200-300K concurrent viewers is more likely to be discovered organically, especially on a platform like YouTube.
One particularly concerning figure is the one for the English stream, as the numbers have reduced drastically. A lot of the native European language streams don’t have the same production value and the numbers to warrant a stream of their own. Since English is a largely accepted language among gamers in Europe, it would make sense to direct these viewers to the English stream since not only does it have better production value, but more recognizable talent.
2020 will be an interesting year for PUBG MOBILE as the tournament structure and season will see regional leagues and qualifiers funneling into the global ones. It will be important to keep audiences engaged with new elements, better quality, and innovative production. With the gradual build-up towards the bigger stages, it will also allow for better narratives, comprehensive storylines, and a natural flow to how the year progresses. While there certainly seems to be an audience for the game, the responsibility to drive its growth will largely be upon the organizers.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.
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