The world of competitive gaming is one that’s constantly changing, but over the years there’s been one truth: the most popular e-sports are PC and console games. But Supercell, the Finnish studio behind the blockbuster mobile strategy game Clash Royale, is looking to change that. August 20th will see the debut of the professional Clash Royale League in North America , and the developer says that fans can expect something very different compared to existing e-sports like Overwatch or Dota 2.
“We’re still trying to figure out what e-sports looks like on mobile, and I don’t think the right approach would be to just copy what works on the bigger screen,” says Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen.
The competition actually consists of five leagues that span North America, Europe, mainland China, Latin America, and Asia; at the end of the season, the best teams from each will compete in a world championship. Supercell has partnered with 44 different e-sports organizations to represent players, and that includes some big names that will be familiar to competitive gaming fans, like Team Liquid, Cloud9, 100 Thieves, and Team Solomid.
Competition for player spots kicked off earlier this year with the launch of the Clash Royale League Challenge, an amateur competition which aimed to find the game’s best talent, who could then be signed to a team. According to Supercell, 25 million people participated over just six days, hoping to get a spot; each of the pro teams has a roster of four players, and will be providing both salaries and housing during the season. (Supercell declined to offer specifics for the league’s minimum salary requirements.)
As e-sports continues to grow and become more professional, multiple attempts have been made to bring mobile titles into the fold. Games like Tencent’s Arena of Valor have seen some success in Asia, but there has yet to be a mobile e-sport that has broken out globally. Paananen believes that Clash Royale could be that game — and it’s something he’s been thinking about since before it even launched back in 2016. When Supercell was still developing the game, he says, staff would form competitive tournaments, and those who weren’t playing would sit around and watch. “It was so much fun of course to participate, but more importantly it was fun to watch other people play,” Paananen says.
That continued after the game came out and players started forming tournaments on their own. Supercell has dabbled in hosting its own competitions before, including the Crown Championship World Finals last year in London, but a fully professional league represents a more concerted effort to make Clash Royale into a viable e-sport. The game has millions of existing players (though Supercell hasn’t revealed specific numbers), and they’re already primed for watching. The Clash Royale app has a built-in feature called “TV royale,” where players can watch recent matches. High-level battles regularly have 20,000 or more virtual spectators.
Clash Royale League matches won’t be featured in the app — at least not right now — but will instead be broadcast on platforms like Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube. For the North American circuit, teams will compete at a studio in Los Angeles. (You can see an artist’s rendition of the studio below.) That’s all pretty common for e-sports competitions like the Overwatch League or the League of Legends Championship Series. But Supercell says that the viewing experience for Clash Royale will be different, because it’s going to be tailored for your phone.
“One of the things we’ve learned over the last few years is that most of our audience is watching on mobile devices,” says Tim Ebner, Supercell’s head of e-sports. We won’t know exactly what that will look like until the league’s first season kicks off next week, but Supercell says that the presentation — including things like camera angles and on-screen graphics — will be optimized for smaller displays. Most notably, games will be broadcast in portrait mode, so they feel native to the platform.
This combination of factors, including the large existing audience and the untapped potential of mobile, is what sold so many teams on joining the fledgling league, despite the still-unproven nature of mobile e-sports. Patrick “Chief Pat” Carney, who founded the mobile-focused e-sports team Tribe Gaming which is part of the North American league, says that he’s “extremely optimistic” about the potential for the Clash Royale League to be a breakout hit, particularly for Western audiences. “The recipe is in place,” he explains. “The game is phenomenal and born to be an e-sports title; the player base is massive; the developers, teams, and players are fully committed; and the storylines and narratives are epic.”
For Supercell, the league is just one part of an ambitious plan. CEO Paananen says that he wants the studio to create experiences that last for many years — and he believes e-sports are an integral component to that longevity. “We want to create games that people play for decades, and games that will be remembered forever,” he says. “And for a competitive game like Clash Royale, it feels obvious that e-sports must play a role in that.”