The Handheld Hurricane: Mobile Gaming

5 min readDec 3, 2020

When gaming capable hardware is in the hands of the masses, it shouldn’t be a surprise that convenience rules above all. By Michael Oliver.

Everyone has a mobile phone. No matter the household, background or location, it is a universally owned tool that has seemingly endless capabilities. Phones are only getting better, and it’s about time that games were actually fun to play on the devices. If you’re like me, you’ve experienced a lifetime of mediocre mobile games; ones that are only good for short bursts of fun before hardware or game design limitations make them easily forgettable. In recent years however, mobile games have taken the reigns of the gaming industry by becoming the leading platform in revenue.

Rise of mobile gaming

Mobile phones have come a long way since their brick days, and so have their games. 1997 saw the release of the first popular mobile game, Snake, on the relatively rudimentary Nokia brick. The reliable yet limited device is paralleled with the rudimentary yet addictive gameplay of its featured game. Snake set the scene of the potential for mobile phones to be effective at passing time on the go, and was a massive hit with parents who wanted some peace and quiet whilst shopping.

A decade later, Steve Jobs showed the world Apple’s first iPhone as the single most revolutionary thing in the mobile phone industry. The impressive hardware, ease of access/use, internet capabilities and eventual app store set the stage for the future, with every mobile phone company following the touch screen smartphone model. With the introduction of new devices, the desire for handheld entertainment remained, so inevitably games such as Angry Birdsand Candy Crush were introduced to the forum. These became insanely popular on handheld devices, with the former reaching over 500 million total downloads. Ease of access meant that both these gaming titles were free, with optional microtransactions and adverts as the monetary component to the games. Internet capabilities and an ever-growing app store led to independent developers having the tools to create their own titles like those designed for PC and console. The hardware on the devices was improving at an alarming rate, facilitating the process. Last year App Annie’s (Perez, 2019) report found that mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spending, and 10% of the all-time amount spent on apps. Not to mention mobile gaming makes up $85 billion of the $165 billion gaming industry.

Today, many games from long established PC and console genres have made their way onto the mobile scene. As a result, mobile gaming has carved its own lane within esports, moving like a hurricane of popularity.

Rise of mobile esports

When the hardware capabilities were finally met mobile esport games hit the scene immediately. With games like Clash Royale (2016) displaying their own esports integration through in-game leagues and divisions. Factors like smooth gameplay/framerate, stable internet connections, and PvP capabilities meant esports on mobile was completely possible. This led to the almost instant creation of independent tournaments and leagues as gaming giants like PUBG Mobile (2017) and Fortnite (2017) moved in like a tidal wave. These events paralleled that of already existing esports and have grown at an alarming rate. Places like Asia and Brazil have carried the wave of mobile esports and pushed it to be the behemoth of the gaming industry. Half of the world’s mobile gamers live in Asia at 1.2 billion, and in these areas (especially India) the mobile phone is the primary device of use when on the internet. The cheap cost of mobile internet and hardware in comparison to consoles and desktops makes it the perfect gaming device for many fans. 2018 was the first year that mobile esport titles were among the top 10 games for prize pools in all of esports. The total prize pool of both pro and amateur tournaments was £25.3 million, with Honour of Kings/Arena of Valor (2016) being accredited for the biggest individual prize pools. Arena of Valor is a mobile MOBA title that is extremely popular in China due to their already huge MOBA scene.

It is clear that mobile gaming has become a very real contender for PC and Console: According to a report performed by Niko Partners, mobile esports games generated $15.3 billion globally which accounted for around 25% of total mobile revenue. PC esports generated $16.1 billion, so mobile gaming is unmistakably here to stay in the world of esports. With global quarantines keeping everyone inside, the mobile esports scene is only growing. Weekly game downloads rose up 35% in March, reaching 1.2 billion. The Verge believes, “Mobile is now the primary driver of growth for digital games consumption, increasingly becoming the world’s preferred form of gaming,” This claim is reinforced when the PUBG Mobile Club Open final had a total of 532 million views. The prize pool totalled more than $2 million and had a peak viewership of around 600,000. Furthermore, Call of Duty: Mobile was released in 2019 and recently saw its one-year anniversary celebrating an insane 300 million downloads. Not only does COD: Mobile have multiple upcoming esport tournaments in Asia, but it also has a well-developed ranked system that mirrors that of a modern esport FPS (the current COD doesn’t even have ranked).

The leading surge

It was only a matter of time before the convenience of the mobile would take over the gaming market, as it has with many others sectors. With decades of gamers being accustomed to PC and console esports, the contender of mobile esports is a current reality that companies must adjust to quickly. From what started as Snake on a Nokia brick, mobile gaming is now the leading surge in modern esports. It is becoming a major fragment of our social fabric, as well as a prominent competitive arena in the esports space. It is also becoming a means to connecting and engaging with friends and other game lovers without the need of a gaming venue.

With titles like Clash Royale, PUBG, Arena of Valor, and Call of Duty: Online, mobile esports has a wide ranged arsenal of competitive games to maintain its lead above the rest. It appeals to the masses that already own a mobile device, skipping the need to commercialise a console or PC before the game itself. If there is any doubt around the matter of fact, then take a look at the global (not just Western) spectators when the next big PUBG Mobile or Arena of Valor tournament comes around and you’ll see first-hand the huge audience for the medium. Mobile gaming is here to stay, and it seems to be here to rule in this current day and age. It’s not a matter of asking whether or not mobile gaming is here to stay or not, but more so the question should be: how long before it takes over the traditional mediums of PC and console? I don’t think we’re too far off.


Perez, S., 2019. Mobile games now account for 33% of installs, 10% of time and 74% of consumer spend. Tech Crunch, June 11.

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