Building up Mobile Esports – Interview with ESL Director Kevin Rosenblatt

ESL Gaming, the world’s largest esports company, has announced a new Mobile esports ecosystem providing millions of gamers around the world the opportunity to compete and engage with popular titles such as Asphalt 9: Legends, Brawl Stars, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Legends of Runeterra, PUBG Mobile, and League of Legends: Wild Rift.

We spoke with Kevin Rosenblatt, the co-managing Director of ESL North America and General Manager of Mobile at ESL Gaming about their upcoming Spring Season and why they chose to focus on amateur players and up and coming talent.

Kevin Rosenblatt ESL

You are taking your Mobile Open series worldwide this year, what was the reason for the massive expansion?

We started our program in early 2019 and from the beginning our program has always really been geared towards diversity of player base, using mobile as a platform to lower the barrier for entry, and using that as an opportunity to cast a very wide net. To provide an opportunity to compete to as many players as possible. So far, we have seen about 1.6 million total participants and registrations across our two years.

We want to accelerate that dramatically.

We think the opportunity is to follow the exponential growth curve that is sitting at this intersection of connectivity, which is 5G, and hardware, which is the next gen phones coming out. We think that expanding geography is really the first logical step to completing that mission. We are going to continue to expand to where we feel we can provide a premium and differentiated experience and we are looking to other regions in the future.

This event is focused on the grassroots, amateur players as well as the esports pros, why the amateur focus?

This is the first year that we are offering a more professional level of competition with the addition of the ESL Mobile Challenge. We think that a lot of esports ecosystems focus on a very top-down approach. They focus on the top part of what we call the “competitive pyramid”. Which is just the top one to five percent of the players in a given ecosystem. That’s where most of the prize money is invested, that’s where the production value is. Our program is birthed out of the opposite ethos, we wanted to build something that was bottom up.

ESL Mobile Open path to Challenger

© ESL

So, it was built out from this grass roots and amateur scene that we really wanted to build infrastructure for, because we believe that this part of the pyramid needs the most opportunity. To have an ecosystem that stands the test of time, that is self-sustaining, and that grows, you really need to start at the bottom. That is why we wanted to provide the infrastructure and work our way up. We think that that will create a more attractive environment for brands and other operators who want the space. We are no longer in this chicken or egg cycle because operators that want to come in, if there is no infrastructure, no opportunity, the scene never grows. We wanted to break the cycle, plant our flag in the ground, and be an industry leader. As we move into the future, the amateur piece will always be a part of our DNA. We see mobile as the platform and vehicle to provide the most opportunity.

Mobile esports does not have as strong a footing in North America and Europe as it does in Asia Pacific or China, do you foresee any issues with the level of support in those regions?

Uptake has lagged in the West. I think that is a fair statement. It’s a phenomenon that we have seen in other esports where the West has lagged the East from a player base perspective. To give context to this, I think a couple of stats are probably best to frame the opportunity.

According to Newzoo there are 300 million smartphone users in North America. We look at that as our total addressable market. When you compare that to Asia Pacific, there are 2 billion smartphone users. It seems like an apples to oranges comparison just in terms of the size of opportunities.

Coming back to North America, there are about 200 million mobile gamers just in North America alone. So, the uptake rate when you compare that to smartphone users is massive. We see this as an accelerating trend. I believe that esports is going to be a key use case of that and we believe that we have had 1 million total registration across North America in the past 2 years and that it can only grow from there. We believe that the ceiling is not only very high today but that it is going to continue to accelerate and grow over the next five years.

ESL Mobile Open Games

© ESL

The games in the Open vary by region, what was your reasoning for this decision?

We wanted to build a global program that feels consistent across the regions that we operate in. So, that’s APAC, North America, Europe, and MENA. We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we are still building individual communities with their own communication style and their own needs within those verticals. The diversity between regions in respect to game titles is a very important part of us taking a measured approach to building those communities out in the right way.
We want to make sure that there is also diversity between genres. Not just across what is popular in the region, we want to make sure that within the ethos of expanding opportunity that we provide a wide variety of genres. If you are a fan of strategy games, or battle royale games, or racing games, there should be an opportunity for you to compete in one of our programs.

ESL has announced their plans for the Spring Season, are there any hints you could give us about your plans for the Fall season?
We are absolutely going to do a season in the fall, both Open and Challenge. Players will have another chance to compete later in the year. We still have a couple of tricks up our sleeve. We are actively taking player feedback to improve the program in real time. We are going to make some more announcements on our plans in the next few months.

Like nearly every other esports event in the past year, ESL Mobile will be held online. You have mentioned that the finals may be held in-person at various venues. In your opinion, how likely is it that we will see these live in-person events?

ESL Mobile will absolutely be returning to live finals events in the future, when it makes sense, and it is safe to do so. We believe there is a massive opportunity to rethink from the ground up what a live esports event is when we combine it with a mobile first approach. We are extremely excited for the future. I can’t speak to exactly when a live event might take place, this year or in future years. But I can tell you that we are monitoring this very closely and want to make an announcement as soon as we can.

The upcoming season

It is clear that the team at ESL Mobile are continuing their tradition of focusing on the grassroots community. Regions like Europe and North America still have a long way to go before they compete at the same level as teams from the East. That’s why programs like these are so important, they help nurture the esports talent of tomorrow. This event will allow the top performing players from amateur and grassroots levels to move through the competitive ecosystem and earn the opportunity to compete on the biggest stages in esports. They could even be in with a chance of winning serious cash, the total prize pool for the event is $650,000.

Live broadcasts will air on the ESL Mobile Twitch and YouTube channels. Play begins April 12.

Competition dates:

  • April 12 – May 6, 2021: Mobile Open Play (Ladder #1)
  • May 7 – May 8, 2021: Mobile Open Play-In Weekend (Ladder #1)
  • May 10 – June 3, 2021: Mobile Open Play (Ladder #2)
  • June 4 – June 5, 2021: Mobile Open Play-In Weekend (Ladder #2)
  • June 15 – July 7, 2021: Mobile Challenge Regular Season
  • July 17 – 18 and July 22 – 23: Mobile Challenge Finals
Read next: ESL Mobile Open – Mobile Tournaments in Europe, Americas, and Asia