It’s the fastest growing sport on the planet – but the only playing fields are virtual. At Milan Games Week, gamers from all over the world gathered, and the finals of the first live mobile gaming tournament took place over 5G.
It’s a Friday and, by local standards, a relatively balmy 25⁰ C in Milan, Italy.
Inside the city’s Fiera Milano Rho event centre, however, the temperatures are soaring like an eagle over the Mojave Desert’s Death Valley in the middle of summer.
It’s Milan Games Week where fans, families, cosplayers, and, of course, gamers gather to cheer, play and compete in what is the world’s fastest growing sport – esports.
And over the weekend, esports history is about to be made as the finals of the first live international mobile gaming tournament takes place over 5G.
Love of the game
The Vodafone 5G ESL Open Mobile has attracted more than half a million participating gamers from 17 different countries.
After three months of qualifiers, a shortlist of finalists are about to take each other on at arcade racer, Asphalt 9: Legends and Playerunknown’s shooter Battlegrounds Mobile (PUBG) in front of a noisy crowd of live spectators and many thousands watching online via Twitch and other platforms.
“Mobile gamers have waited a long time to being able to be on stages like this for mobile esports, and we have been watching the scene rise up over the last couple of years”, says John Sargent, aka JoRoSaR, an esports commentator.
Marius Lauer, or Verdipwnz, is an esports shoutcaster, Twitcher and analyst who has hosted some of the tournament qualifiers at ESL events.
“Every event has been amazing and different – you see all sorts of people trying hard to compete and win this live qualification. Everyone trying hard to be their best, to be invited to a big tournament,” he says.
The grand finals for both games are live over Vodafone’s 5G network.
5G as game changer
“It has been immense – watching the first ever 5G e-gaming competition live with 40+ players playing in front of 200,000 visitors and hundreds of millions of watching on Twitch, Facebook, YouTube all the way from qualifiers to finals,” says Nikos Vlachopoulos, Vodafone Group’s marketing and brand director.
“While there has been a lot of speculation about use cases and monetisation of 5G…. we have been busy delivering and launching in parallel the gaming pass for our Italian customers.”
Milan was a pilot city for Vodafone’s 5G trials ahead of rollout. With 5G comes less latency, near real-time data transfer, and greater stability. In other words, everything a mobile gamer needs to be able to play rich media games on a cellular connection.
“The atmosphere at the Vodafone 5G ESL Mobile Open has been electric. Our partnership with Vodafone has been fantastic and the future is even more exciting,” says Bernhard Mogk, Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Business Development at ESL Gaming.
“We are seeing the field of mobile gaming opening up to a much broader audience, giving a wider range of gamers, more and more opportunities to professionally compete in our tournaments”
Winner, winner, chicken dinner
Eighteen year old, Ledjon Feraj – also known as Future Flash’TM’ – of Greece walked away with the top prize of €14,000 after winning the Asphalt 9: Legends final.
“I was always waiting, expecting competitions like this to come along…now that Greece was included I qualified and won,” he says.
“At the start, I expected that I would lose – that’s the sad truth!”
As the first player in the world to compete and win on a 5G network, Future FlashTM said the experience was “Epic! I am really honoured.”
Congratulations to him on his amazing victory! 👏 pic.twitter.com/cMbinIELfs
— Vodafone Group (@VodafoneGroup) September 28, 2019
Team Futbolist of Turkey snagged the PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) mobile top prize of €40,000.
The team is one of the top ten in PUBG. Based in Istanbul, they are the most successful Turkish esports team, treated like mainstream professional athletes with physio and mental performance coaches.
Their goal is to become top five in Europe and top 10 in the world. If PUBG mobile is their game, they may be on target.
— ESL PUBG Mobile (@ESLPUBGMobile) September 29, 2019
Good times – real time
Esports is the world’s fastest growing competitive sport. While there is clearly a delineation between traditional esports and casual gamers, mobile gaming is the largest segment, claiming nearly half of global games market revenues in 2019 at $68.5 billion.
And the trend shows no sign of decline.
“The Vodafone 5G ESL mobile open is serious business. I mean, seeing organisations like Penta, Unicorns Of Love & co, investing into teams for a game in your tournament? That proves it – it is a statement”, says Mr Lauer.
“As soon as you have 5G – if you keep up the momentum of this series, there are infinite possibilities for events and event styles; bus tours with tournaments in them, plane tournaments, rooftop tournaments. More locations, more action – pro gaming on a different scale and location.”
Like pro-gamers Ricardo Pacheco and Toni Jorda who, earlier this year, used the world’s first 5G cross-border data connection to game while travelling from Portugal to Spain.
Had a lot of fun today playing with 5G of @VodafonePT and @vodafone_es. Good connection and did not find any latency. I can’t wait to get 5G on my phone! @GiantsGaming @redbullPOR pic.twitter.com/wUMUR6M0h3
— Ricardo Pacheco (@foxgringoCS) May 22, 2019
So watch this space – if 5G delivers all that it promises, it could finally push mobile gaming into contention, a worthy challenger to traditional console based eSports.
And when the temperature gets too high indoors – it could also take professional gaming outside where the air is clear.