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MLBB: How Moonton created the king of mobile esports cover image

MLBB: How Moonton created the king of mobile esports

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MLBB esports’ growth since 2016 has been astonishing to see. So how did a relatively unknown developer create the biggest mobile esport title?

The MLBB M3 World Championship, which took place in December 2021 in Indonesia, achieved a record-breaking peak viewership of 3.1 million. In fact, this number isn’t a big deal for the mobile game which can constantly get more than 1 million viewers in its tournaments.
So how did MLBB, often engulfed in controversy for being a League of Legends clone, reach here? We take a look at the history of MLBB from once being called a cheap MOBA to now being one of the biggest gaming and esports titles on Android and iOS.

MLBB got the timing just right

MLBB’s success can be attributed to a lot of things. One of the most important ones though is the timing of the game’s release. The game was released in 2016 and while MOBAs were one of the most successful gaming titles on PC, there was little competition on mobile.
Firstly, the game’s chief opposition at the time was Vainglory. While Vainglory might have been better than MLBB in almost every aspect at the time, it lacked one crucial thing – accessibility.
Vainglory was a very graphic demanding game and couldn’t run properly on low-end devices. It also only had tap-to-touch controls which made it better to play on bigger devices. Thus, MLBB was the far better option for players in the mobile-first developing countries.
The other games which could have competed with MLBB like Arena of Valor or Heroes Evolved killed themselves off by bad decisions made by the developers. This ranged from bad servers, questionable matchmaking, and a lack of community engagement.
Moonton capitalized on the timing and lack of competition to rack up a dedicated player base – especially in Southeast Asia.

Organically creating a mobile esports scene

Unlike many other big developers right now who use esports as a way of marketing their game and growing it, Moonton utilized another strategy. In the initial days, they organically allowed the MLBB's esports scene to grow while focusing on the game itself.
Moonton wasn’t a big developer and was founded just a year before MLBB was released. Initially, they didn’t have a big team and utilized whatever manpower they had to make MLBB more optimized and competitive.
While doing this, they had an in-game esports tab where players could sign up to compete or watch tournaments between countries. This resulted in more organic growth of the game’s esports scene through community tournaments.
Later, Moonton themselves stepped into the scene by organizing the MLBB SEA Cup (MSC) – another bold move. Instead of founding a global tournament, the developer focused on the markets of SEA where they had a big player base. The MSC first happened in 2017 with a prize pool of $100,000.
This is another thing that sets Moonton apart from other developers. Instead of creating a uniform and global esports ecosystem, they utilized different strategies in different regions.
For example, in the matured market of Indonesia, the MPL is a franchised league. In regions like Cambodia, Brazil, and Malaysia, on the other hand, it has an open tournament circuit.
All of these factors combined have enabled MLBB to become one of the biggest mobile esports titles in the world.

What is the future of MLBB esports?

MLBB, while one of the biggest mobile esports in the world, is only known in some regions like Southeast Asia. The primary viewership also comes only from this region.
However, over the past year, Moonton has been trying to make the game more global. This includes setting up new competitions in Brazil, Turkey, and Latin America. It has also begun focusing on North America. In fact, the company organized the first LAN event in NA in Las Vegas on Oct. 30, 2022.
And it looks like the game will grow even further. League of Legends: Wild Rift, which was touted to be the MLBB killer, has failed miserably to do so. In fact, Riot Games has said that it is stopping organizing tournaments for Wild Rift globally except for China.
The only competition it faces right now is from titles like Brawl Stars, Pokemon UNITE, and the upcoming Honor of Kings. The first two are not complete MOBAs. Honor of Kings is the only one that can spell trouble for MLBB. It remains to be seen how the game's global release fares later this year.
Nonetheless, MLBB has a big headstart over all of its competitors and looks set to become the first-ever global mobile MOBA esport title.

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Wasif Ahmed
Wasif Ahmed
Editor | Twitter @wasifahd_
Wasif is an esports journalist from India who covers mobile gaming news. From PUBG Mobile to Wild Rift, he has been covering mobile esports for over three years. You can reach out to him on Twitter to chat about games and esports anytime.