Tencent’s PUBG Mobile and Garena’s Free Fire were the clear success stories of the battle royale scene last year. According to Priori Data, these titles saw year-on-year growth of 436% and 280% respectively, whilst Epic Games’ Fortnite declined by 30%, and NetEase’s Knives Out by 13%. The sustained success of PUBG Mobile and Free Fire is a result of them establishing dedicated fan-bases in territories such as India, Brazil and Southeast Asia.

Tencent’s PUBG Mobile and Garena’s Free Fire were the clear success stories of the battle royale scene last year. According to Priori Data, these titles saw year-on-year growth of 436% and 280% respectively, whilst Epic Games’ Fortnite declined by 30%, and NetEase’s Knives Out by 13%. The sustained success of PUBG Mobile and Free Fire is a result of them establishing dedicated fan-bases in territories such as India, Brazil and Southeast Asia. 

Emphasis on isolated territories proves damaging

Competitive multiplayer titles are more popular than ever on the mobile platform, as we are seeing a shift towards more intense and involved experiences. The most successful of these are fully-fledged esports: providing democratized competition for global audiences.

Fortnite has a clear esports agenda (The World Cup in July boasted a $30m prize pool) but, like other cross-platform titles, it centres on PC and console. What’s more, its popularity is centred in large Western markets – namely the US. Similarly, Knives Out lacks any official mobile esports presence, and its heavy reliance on the Japanese market - which represented 96% of its 2019 net revenue - leaves it vulnerable to decline.

Mobile esports titles surge in 2019

Conversely, PUBG Mobile and Free Fire have flourishing competitive scenes. There were more than 20 official PUBG Mobile tournaments across the globe in 2019, and PUBG Corp. has announced a major restructuring and expansion of the competitive landscape for 2020. The game’s success is likely fuelled by Tencent’s existing expertise in establishing Honor of Kings as a major esport in China.

Garena’s Free Fire typically leads the pack in terms of viewership, and frequently ranks amongst the most-downloaded games in the world.

Emergent markets are tangibly impacting the battle royale scene

The increasing presence of developing games markets in India, South America and Southeast Asia is now becoming truly reflected in the global scene. The dominance of Android devices in these territories is actively contributing to the overall growth of Google Play, and publishers are beginning to recognise this.

In 2019, Tencent launched PUBG Mobile Lite – a lightweight version of the game which is exclusive to Android. More recently, Epic attempted to negotiate a fee-free deal with Google Play after months of boycotting the app store, suggesting that it hoped to source growth in the aforementioned emergent markets.