How 5G Will Drive Mobile eSports

Thursday 4/15/21 09:03am
Posted By Ana Schafer
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Snapdragon and Qualcomm branded products are products of
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

We’ve teamed up with the IMGA (International Mobile Gaming Awards) to bring you a whitepaper on the 5G Future of Mobile Games. In it we discuss with game industry influencers how 5G is impacting the mobile gaming space and areas of opportunity for developers such as Cloud Gaming, Mobile Multi-player gaming (MMP), Mobile eSports, extended reality (XR), and the future of storytelling (pervasive gaming) with AI in games. In this blog, we do a deeper dive into the mobile eSports space.

The Meteoric Rise of Mobile eSports
It may sound like all fun and games, but as the Whitepaper points out, eSports is a business, and in many ways is trying to duplicate the commercial success of professional sports. Today, eSports revenues have passed the $1 billion USD benchmark of 2019, and is growing even more rapidly in terms of revenue, audience (454 million viewers up 15%), and prize pools ($173 million USD, up 14%). The largest prize pool for eSports is for Dota 2 at over$34.3 million USD of which 45% goes to the winning team. The richest individual player back in 2019 was the Danish Dota 2 player Johan Sundstein (N0tail) who made almost $7 million USD that year.

While eSports traditionally involved the use of high-end, souped-up gaming PCs, the growth and popularity of mobile gaming is now rapidly pushing mobile eSports into the spotlight, especially in regions like China and Southeast Asia.

In the Whitepaper, Kristian Segerstrale, CEO of SuperEvilMegaCorp who made the first, large mobile eSports game, Vainglory says:
“In our journey with Vainglory, we had 60 frames per second, hundreds of actors, real-time multiplayer game, showcased on mobile in 2014… it was way ahead of its time in terms of player culture. Back then, we simply didn’t expect that mobile would be a medium that you would use for real time multiplayer gaming… fast forward a few years, if you look at Twitch or YouTube, the largest channels and the largest player basis for multiplayer games actually are now on mobile.”

Never Lagging Behind
To be the best with so much at stake, professional eSports gamers must have the best of everything. This means the best training regiments, hardware, and connectivity. But eSports, and mobile eSports in particular, are at the mercy of lag, that time between when the player’s input is captured on the gaming device to the time it takes for the game to register that reaction and update accordingly. Mobile eSports require very precise timing and even the smallest amount of lag can mean the difference between a championship victory or a sudden loss in a heated, tight competition.

Enter 5G Into the Game
5G offers a solution with a latency of less than 1ms and higher bandwidth of up to 10 Gbps, along with many other benefits like latency as low as 1ms and 100x traffic capacity per unit area. In addition, 5G infrastructure can potentially cover a wider area than terrestrial-based infrastructure technologies like fiber. The ongoing rollout of this infrastructure couldn’t be timelier as mobile eSports is poised to benefit in a number of ways.

Wi-Fi is notoriously bad for very crowded places and here is one area where 5G really can make a difference. It's designed with that specifically in mind that you have a situation where Internet can't fail. If you're doing a big eSports competition and it's the finale, people have been training for a year, Live Event, people in the audience, and internet just can't fail. Like that's number one, because you spent a lot of money building up to this. It's really like playing a soccer match and all of a sudden, the goals are not there, and the players can't play.
- Tommy Palm

With 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth, in-game lag should be a thing of the past. It should also help alleviate the issues of synchronizing game state amongst gamers, an issue we discuss in our Mobile Multi-player game (MMP) blog. And with 5G’s ability to maintain this performance while handling a massive number of connections, 5G can accommodate a larger number of players and other users (e.g., spectators streaming the action) simultaneously.

In-game performance can also benefit from aspects of 5G’s infrastructure design. Small cells, servers near the edge, and 5G consumer premise equipment can all bring gaming servers closer to gamers, along with resolving problems encountered in the last mile, especially for multi-venue competitions.

5G’s sheer speed can also open up new multi-player game engine architectures, which developers of eSports games may not have considered in the past. One of the most talked about right now is cloud gaming, where players’ inputs are captured on their devices, sent to a game engine running on a cloud server, and rendered game frames are returned back to the players’ devices for display. This offers numerous benefits to developers building mobile eSports games as all the game logic, game state synchronization, and anti-cheat measures can be handled by the same instance of the game engine.

The ability to shift some or even all of the game’s heavy processing to the cloud reduces the need for players to have ultra-high-end gaming hardware just to be competitive. This could in turn allow more players to get into mobile gaming, since the majority of people today have mobile phones, while not everyone has expensive gaming PC hardware.

Finally, 5G also makes more use of the wireless spectrum, including mmWave, which can provide more capacity while handling significantly more gamers. Since lower frequencies are heavily congested (e.g., with TV and radio signals), mmWave makes use of faster, wider bandwidth. mmWave can be super effective in smaller densely populated areas with high concentrations of users (e.g., stadiums for eSports venues, Internet gaming cafes, etc.). In addition, unlicensed spectrum could also be used to offload gaming traffic in heavily congested areas.

Going Beyond the Game
As Kristian Segerstrale states in the Whitepaper:
“Mobile multiplayer games are becoming hangout spaces for players, where people chat, connect with friends, search for tournaments, watch tournaments, participate in amateur tournaments, follow streamers, follow players, learn more about the game, and much more.”

This means that in addition to competitive gameplay, systems at eSports tournaments must also perform several other functions. This includes live streaming to spectators (both onsite and remotely), live streaming to onsite jumbotrons, commentator and media coverage, etc.

5G offers a number of benefits to these supportive functions. With its capacity for up to 100x increase in traffic and network efficiency over 4G, 5G is poised to support the sheer amount of live streaming required to both onsite and offsite viewers. 5G’s network slicing can allow a network to be dynamically configured based on gaming traffic conditions and priorities. For example, dedicated resources could be reserved for gaming, streaming, and other needs by configuring and connecting computing and networking resources. Also, AI can be used to identify and accelerate gaming network traffic. Network slicing may also allow audience members at an eSports venue to enjoy 3D augmented experiences, instant replays on their own mobile devices, 360-degree views of the gameplay, time-lapse capabilities, and the ability to actually join in by playing the game from their seats.

Professional eSports teams can also benefit from 5G. For example, the speed and infrastructure of 5G could make remote training more effective for teams who cannot train together all the time. Also, many top players have contractual obligations to stream for publicity, so the wide-area coverage of 5G can help facilitate this (e.g., as they travel).

Mobile eSports Gaming with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.
Our portfolio of Snapdragon® mobile platforms are designed to power premium mobile gaming devices for professional and hobbyist gamers alike. Not only do they enable fast and reliable 5G cloud connectivity, but their powerful processors bring PC and console-quality gaming, including ultra high-resolution graphics, animations, and advanced visual effects to mobile.

Our latest iteration – the Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform ¬– integrates our Snapdragon X60 5G Modem-RF System with Qualcomm® Snapdragon Elite Gaming™ features including ultra-smooth gaming, highest HDR quality, and desktop-level features. The Snapdragon 888 is expected to be in commercial devices in 2021, while our current SoCs, the Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform and Snapdragon 865+ 5G Mobile Platform, which use the Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System, are already powering a number of today’s premium gaming phones.

Mobile eSports is rapidly gaining popularity and could be considered the ultimate proving ground for real-time operations over 5G, due to the demands that these games and associated systems place on communication infrastructures.

Developers interested in mobile eSports targeting devices powered by Snapdragon should check out the following resources:

The 5G Future of Gaming Whitepaper includes many more exciting details and ideas on how 5G is poised to drive the future of mobile gaming. And for additional information and context, we’ve put together the following series of blogs that provide a deeper dive into the Whitepaper’s topics:

Snapdragon, Snapdragon Elite Gaming, and Qualcomm Adreno are products of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.