League of Legends: Wild Rift, the mobile version of the popular PC title, is in the earliest stages of its esports development, but already Riot Games is looking to plant a flag in the emerging mobile esports market.
“We really believe that mobile gaming will help transform the future of esports,” John Needham, global head of esports for Riot Games told The Esports Observer. “To top off 2021 for Wild Rift Esports, regional teams will qualify for our first-ever Wild Rift global tournament. While we haven’t nailed down all the specifics, Riot is committed to a global Wild Rift Esports event in the fourth quarter of the year. For us, this is about learning from our ten years of experience on LoL Esports while also learning what makes the mobile community special, creating a sport that is unique and exciting to watch for Wild Rift players.”
While details regarding the event remain scarce, the fact that Riot Games is committing to hosting an international competition so early into the game’s lifespan is significant. Riot has consistently taken a methodical approach to building out esports infrastructure for its titles. Wild Rift only became available in North America in March, and already the company is making a clear indication that it wants to make a splash in the mobile esports market.
Even prior to this announcement, Riot had already begun to build up Wild Rift in one of the key markets for mobile esports – Southeast Asia. The company tapped ESL Gaming to operate tournaments in Malaysia and Thailand back in December of 2020. The Philippines has already spun up a league structure in the Icon Series. Wild Rift will be represented in both men’s and women’s disciplines at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games – the only esports title to have two events.
Leading the development of the region’s initiatives is Chris Tran, Riot Games head of esports for Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. He explained that while Riot has a decade of experience in esports, the company still needs to learn about the new community developing around its mobile title.
“We have to be out in the market to understand how to begin iterating on it…” Tran said. “It would be much easier to do the wrong thing and just make the assumptions that what works for League of Legends will just work for Wild Rift.”
According to Tran, the device a game is played on plays a major role in shaping the audience of that particular title. While League of Legends and Wild Rift have the same characters and basic gameplay, the type of user who chooses to engage consistently with that experience on PC is different from one who would more actively game on mobile. This difference in demographics and user habits will also necessarily inform how the game develops as an esport.
Part of that difference is the share of women engaged with the esport. According to Tran, women make up a much more significant part of the user base for Wild Rift and other mobile titles than on PC. We see this already reflected in Southeast Asia’s esports activity, with multiple organizations signing women’s Wild Rift squads so early in the game’s lifespan, and all-women teams competing in open qualifiers alongside traditional, male-dominated squads.
While mobile gaming is already massive throughout the world, its esports component has been much slower to develop in Western markets. As such, it makes sense that Riot’s first foray into the space would be in a region that has already proven a demand for mobile esports leagues and activities. While today’s announcement makes it clear that Riot intends to build Wild Rift into a global esport, that starts with learning what works in more mobile-friendly markets.
“We’re the first touch, we’re the probe, but we’re part of a much larger overall strategy.”
Teams outside the region are also taking note of the opportunity Wild Rift presents in Southeast Asia. European organization Alliance recently announced its entry into the region with the signing of a professional Wild Rift team.
Although Southeast Asia is moving quickly in the early days of Wild Rift, Tran made it clear that Riot is maintaining its future-focused view on the global development of the esport. “I think Riot is one of these unique companies with a long-term perspective. That allows us to make thoughtful investments not just for today or even tomorrow, but for what the day after the day after tomorrow might look like.
“I want to still be watching, playing, and enjoying Wild Rift in 20-30 years.”
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