HoK vs MLBB: Could Tencent’s Crown Prince Dethrone the King of Mobile Esports in SEA


HoK vs MLBB. Could Honor of Kings defeat Mobile Legends: Bang Bang as the most popular mobile esports in Southeast Asia? Short answer? It depends. 

Earlier this year, Honor of Kings (HoK) announced that the game will be launched worldwide in 2024. Before we discuss its potential to defeat Mobile Legends: Bang Bang in its strongest region of Southeast Asia, let’s take a look at Honor of Kings and its significance.

HoK: Tencent’s Crown Prince

The story of Honor of Kings (HoK) unfolds with a distinction that commands attention. Originating in China in 2015, this mobile gaming gem emerged onto the international stage under the moniker Arena of Valor. Despite its initial confinement to the Chinese market, HoK swiftly ascended to global acclaim, earning accolades as the highest-grossing mobile game worldwide, as attested by esteemed sources such as Statista, Sensor Tower, and Business of App.

Behind this juggernaut lies Tencent, a behemoth within the gaming sphere, eclipsing even industry giants like Sony and Nintendo in the eastern hemisphere. While Microsoft dominates the western landscape, Tencent reigns supreme in the east, wielding its influence with unmatched prowess.

MLBB: The King of Mobile Esports

The inception of Esports Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) in 2017 marked the dawn of a new era in mobile gaming, but it was the explosive growth witnessed in 2018 that truly catapulted MLBB into the realm of esports royalty. Since then, MLBB has reigned supreme as the undisputed king of mobile esports, boasting unrivaled popularity and viewership metrics, as corroborated by Esports Charts.

The epicenter of MLBB’s dominance lies within Southeast Asia, where countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia serve as bastions of its fervent player base and thriving esports scene. This regional stronghold has positioned Southeast Asia as the nucleus of mobile esports, with its prominence overshadowing other regions still fixated on PC esports.

While MLBB basks in the limelight, it is bolstered by the support of ByteDance, a formidable entity hailing from China and often regarded as a peer to Tencent in terms of revenue. However, ByteDance’s primary revenue stream emanates from platforms like TikTok, relegating its foray into the gaming market to a peripheral role. Consequently, ByteDance’s footprint in esports and gaming remains modest when juxtaposed with the colossal presence of Tencent.

With that in mind, surely the fight between HoK vs MLBB could easily resolved quickly, right? Well, not really.

The Unfortunate Candidate

In the annals of mobile esports history, a challenger emerged in the form of LoL: Wild Rift, poised to challenge the supremacy of MLBB. With ample capital and human expertise at its disposal, Wild Rift appeared to possess the necessary ingredients to dethrone MLBB and ascend to the zenith of mobile esports dominance.

Published by Riot Games, renowned for its unrivaled stature in PC esports with titles like VALORANT and League of Legends, Wild Rift boasted the pedigree and resources to craft a formidable esports scene. Moreover, as a subsidiary of Tencent, Riot Games enjoyed access to substantial financial backing, ostensibly positioning Wild Rift as a formidable contender in the mobile esports arena.

However, despite these promising prospects, Wild Rift’s journey towards esports glory encountered unexpected detours. Earlier this year, signs of capitulation emerged as Wild Rift relinquished its esports initiatives, opting to entrust its future to grassroots and community-driven endeavors. This strategic shift represented a departure from conventional esports frameworks, signaling a recalibration of priorities within the Wild Rift ecosystem.

The Dimming Battle Royale

In the expansive portfolio of Tencent’s esports endeavors lies PUBG Mobile, a title that once enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity but now finds itself grappling with a gradual decline in relevance. Esports Charts reveal a stark contrast in viewership metrics, with PUBG Mobile’s peak popularity in 2021 soaring to almost 4 million viewers, only to plummet in subsequent years, failing to breach the 1 million mark.

While it’s tempting to attribute this waning popularity to the inherent limitations of the Battle Royale genre in esports, particularly when juxtaposed with the enduring appeal of MOBAs like MLBB, the underlying reasons may be more multifaceted.

Indeed, the competitive landscape of Battle Royale esports presents unique challenges, from the inherently unpredictable nature of gameplay to the difficulty in sustaining viewer engagement over extended periods. Compared to the strategic depth and structured gameplay of MOBAs, Battle Royale titles like PUBG Mobile may struggle to maintain the same level of excitement and narrative coherence required for sustained esports success.

However, beyond genre dynamics, other factors may also contribute to the struggles faced by certain esports titles in attaining the level of success enjoyed by MLBB. From branding inconsistencies to resource allocation challenges, the esports ecosystem teems with complexities that demand strategic foresight and adaptability.

The Unresolved Struggles

As we delve into the realm of Tencent’s esports ventures, one can’t help but notice the mercurial nature of their approach to event branding. Take, for instance, Honor of Kings (HoK), a titan in its own right within the mobile gaming sphere. Over the years, its premier international tournament has undergone a series of rebranding efforts, morphing from the Kings Champion Cup to the Honor of Kings World Champion Cup, and further evolving into the Honor of Kings International Championship. The most recent iteration, the Honor of Kings Invitational Championship, marks yet another shift in nomenclature.

Similarly, PUBG Mobile, under Tencent’s umbrella, has witnessed a similar carousel of name changes and conceptual overhauls in its official tournaments. Such inconsistency, while perhaps reflective of strategic experimentation, poses a narrative challenge for fans and stakeholders alike. Indeed, storytelling perspectives suffer when the storyline is fragmented by frequent alterations in tournament identity.

How Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Dominates the Indonesian Gaming Market

Yet, beyond the realm of branding lies a deeper concern: the critical role of manpower and expertise in shaping the esports landscape. In contrast to Moonton’s robust presence, boasting multiple business units dedicated to esports and gaming in Indonesia alone, the combined manpower of Riot Games and Tencent in the same region falls alarmingly short.

Esports, with its multifaceted complexities, demands a holistic approach that transcends mere headcount. Expertise, honed through years of industry immersion, proves indispensable in navigating the intricate web of esports dynamics. However, the evaluation of expertise extends beyond the confines of a traditional CV or portfolio; it encompasses a nuanced understanding of ethics and a genuine commitment to the industry’s advancement.

Indeed, the dearth of manpower and expertise emerges as a pervasive challenge plaguing the esports industry at large. The narrative surrounding this issue, pregnant with implications for the ecosystem’s sustainability, warrants deeper exploration—a task that may necessitate a separate article dedicated to dissecting the intricacies of this systemic deficiency.

HoK vs MLBB: MOBA Fanaticism

In the intricate dance of market dynamics within the MOBA realm, even before this HoK vs MLBB, a distinct behavioral pattern emerges among its players—a steadfast loyalty that sets them apart from their counterparts in other genres. Unlike the more transient allegiances observed in FPS, BR, or RPG communities, MOBA enthusiasts exhibit a tenacious adherence to their chosen title, making them notoriously resistant to switching sides.

This steadfast allegiance poses a formidable challenge to market leaders seeking to maintain their hegemony. Indeed, the erosion of market share often stems not only from the emergence of new competitors but also from internal complacency—a reluctance to adapt or innovate, coupled with a tendency to exploit the loyalty of their customer base.

Yet, amidst this intricate interplay of market forces, HoK vs MLBB, the maneuvers of industry giants like Tencent and Moonton stand out as a testament to strategic acumen and resilience. As they navigate the labyrinthine pathways of fierce competition, each move brings them closer to the coveted throne of mobile esports dominance.

Yabes Elia

Yabes Elia

An empath, a jolly writer, a patient reader & listener, a data observer, and a stoic mentor

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