Record-breaking M4 World Championship bolsters SEA as the number one region for mobile esports
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The fourth edition of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang World Championship (M4) took place in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1 to 15 January 2023, featuring 16 top Mobile Legends teams from around the globe competing. And it was an all-Filipino affair in the final, which saw ECHO beating defending champions Blacklist International to win four games to none and take home the prestigious world championship trophy, alongside a prize winnings of USD 300,000.
Continuing the trend seen in the previous editions, M4 broke its viewership record again in this latest edition, with a concurrent peak viewership of over 4.26 million across the globe, surpassing its predecessor by a mile and establishing itself as the third-most popular esports tournament in history.
In this insights article, we take a closer look at the record numbers set by the tournament and how this is a strong sign of the mobile esports phenomenon in Southeast Asia.
Another record-breaking edition for one of the top mobile esports titles
Presented by Moonton, the M4 World Championship is the fourth iteration of the annual mega-event and the most prestigious international esports tournament for Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), the popular mobile multi-player online battle arena game in which two teams of five battle to take down the opposing base while defending their own. Since the tournament’s first iteration in 2019, teams from all around the world compete in their respective Mobile Legends Professional Leagues (MPL) each year and only 16 of the best teams will qualify for the season concluding tournament, the World Championship.
With a prize pool of USD 800,000 for the M4 World Championship, this tournament is one of the biggest esports events in the scene and the high viewership numbers and engagement from the fans is a testament to the growing popularity.
As reported by Esports Charts, the MLBB esports broke its viewership record when the semi-final match between previous champions Blacklist International and popular Indonesian team RRQ Hoshi peaked with over 4.2 million viewers, smashing the previous record of 3.2 million peak viewers set in M3. It became the third most-watched esports tournament of all time, with only the 2011 Free Fire World Series staged in Singapore (at 5.4 million viewers) and the 2022 League of Legends World Championship (at 5.1 million) recording higher peak viewership.
M4 World Championship Viewership Statistics
Increase in viewership underlines strong interest
In its entirety, the M4 World Championship accumulated more than 80.1 million hours watched with an average audience of 806,000 concurrent viewers over its nearly 100 hours of airtime (reported by Esports Charts). These stats represent a significant increase in viewership compared to the last tournament.
“It is no surprise that the latest edition MLBB World Championship is such a success,” commented Stefan Chong, Esports, Rights Holder Management at SPORTFIVE SEA. Chong is a former professional MLBB esports athlete who previously competed at MLBB’s M2 World Championship in 2020 with the EVOS SG team.
“Especially in Southeast Asia, the number of active players of the game and followers of its esports competitions has been on the rise for the last few years, and M4 has solidified its place as one of the most popular esports tournaments. This is a clear indication of the growth and potential of the mobile gaming industry and the increasing popularity of mobile esports.”
This is a clear indication of the growth and potential of the mobile gaming industry and the increasing popularity of mobile esports.
Stefan Chong, Esports, Rights Holder Management, SPORTFIVE SEA
Southeast Asia – the number one region for mobile esports
It is telling that Southeast Asian cities have been chosen to be the host for all four editions of the MLBB World Championship – Kuala Lumpur (2019), Singapore (twice in 2021), and Jakarta (2023). The year 2023 has barely begun, yet M4 wasn’t the only major mobile esports tournament to have taken place in the Indonesian city; Featuring another popular mobile game, the 2022 PUBG Mobile Global Championship was also held in Jakarta on 6 - 8 January and saw a peak viewership of 850,000, a respectable figure that surpasses the numbers attained in its last edition. Following M4’s success, the top five most popular esports events in terms of peak viewership now include two mobile esports tournaments – M4 and 2021’s Free Fire World Series, the latter of which was also hosted in Southeast Asia (Singapore).
The global interest and popularity of mobile esports have been growing exponentially in recent years and Southeast Asia is at the forefront of this growth. This is a region that has a large and rapidly growing population of mobile users and a strong cultural emphasis on gaming. Combined with the increasing availability of high-speed internet and affordable smartphones as compared to the expensive PC and consoles, the hardware barrier to entry has been lifted, leading to the booming mobile esports scene with a huge and ever-increasing audience of players and fans in Southeast Asia.
Recognising the tremendous potential in this ‘mobile-first’, or in some cases ‘mobile-only’, region, it is no surprise that Southeast Asia has been picked as the home ground for many of these major mobile esports tournaments. For Moonton and its marquee MLBB World Championship tournament, it was a strategic move to maximise the engagement with their audience across the Southeast Asia region, leading to the viewership success. On top of holding the tournament in Indonesia, arguably the most popular country for MLBB in terms of players and fan base, fan engagement activations in the form of watch parties were also organised in other key cities such as Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, with each of them attracting hundreds of fans gathering to watch the tournament live stream together.
Fan activations & watch parties held in host city Jakarta & various key cities around the region
What’s next for SEA in 2023
Mobile esports has already proven to be a hit in Southeast Asia in the past years, and the region is expected to continue to be the focal point of mobile esports, judging from the line-up of mobile esports tournaments in Southeast Asia to come in the next 12 months.
Moonton has revealed that this year’s M5 World Championship will take place in Philippines, a country that has dominated the MLBB scene for the past three years, with Filipino teams – Bren Esports, Blacklist International, and ECHO, winning the past three world championships. There is a strong possibility that M5 in Philippines could raise the bar set by M4 even higher and become even more successful. In addition, mobile esports titles MLBB, PUBG Mobile, and League of Legends: Wild Rift, will be represented at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) taking place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in May. In the previous SEA Games held last year, the MLBB event set a new viewership record, drawing in over 2.2 million concurrent viewers at its peak, while the PUBG Mobile event also had a respectable peak viewership figure of 903,000.
A growing audience
The mobile audience in Southeast Asia is growing every year and this has driven significant investments from brand sponsors and media organisations. The promising outlook for 2023 and beyond will bring along a plethora of opportunities for brands wanting to tap onto the potential of esports and penetrate a young, digital-savvy audience market. To gain a firm foothold in the Southeast Asia region, it could certainly be worthwhile for brands to focus on the mobile esports realm and engage with this growing community.
“Southeast Asia has emerged to be the number one region for mobile esports. With its ever-growing player and fan base, this is arguably the most attractive mobile esports market out there, one that translates to a huge amount of potential exposure for any brand sponsor – whether they are endemic or non-endemic.” – Yusuf Batliwala, Head of Partnership Sales, Esports & Gaming, SPORTFIVE Asia.
With its ever-growing player and fan base, this is arguably the most attractive mobile esports market out there, one that translates to a huge amount of potential exposure for any brand sponsor.
Yusuf Batliwala, Head of Partnership Sales, Esports & Gaming, SPORTFIVE Asia