eSports playing for high stakes in LatAm

January 4, 2022

eSports tournament EVO 2019 Evolution Championship Series at Mandalay Bay Events Center
Luisa headshot

Luisa Muneratti

SVP – Latin America & Iberia

Many countries in Latin America have incubated thriving electronic sports (eSports) industries which are now starting to generate sizeable revenue for gamers and games companies. And with the smartphone playing a central role in the digital lives of players and spectators combined with the expansion of fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks, it is expected that eSports participation will grow further in parallel.

Gaming focussed market research company Newzoo estimates that the eSports industry in Latin America will generate US$48m of revenue in 2021, up 16% year on year compared to 2020. Almost 44m consumers in the region are likely to log in and watch professional gamers playing a range of popular titles, most commonly Garena Free Fire, Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. Elsewhere Statista forecasts that the number of esports viewers in Latin America will hit 70m in 2022, up from 55m in 2020 and 62m this year.

Brazil at the forefront of the action

The region has seen a raft of new eSports tournaments set up over the last couple of years. Some were boosted by a surge in interest during long periods of coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Brazil is at the forefront of that expansion. Last May saw game publisher Garena team up with Brazilian agency 3D Gaming to organize the Latin America Clash (LAC). This Free Fire tournament included 48 teams from Central and South America.

The event was streamed live on the official Battle Royale platform BOOYAH! and the individual channels of the pro gamers participating. Free Fire already has its own dedicated competition, the Liga Brasileira de Free Fire (LBFF), which signed a lucrative commercial partnership with Spain’s headquartered bank Santander last February.

A study carried out by Blend New Research and Search Games Brazil in partnership with eSports and gaming platforms ESPO and Go Gamers estimates that there are already 25m players of Free Fire in the country and 3m for League of Legends and 1.5m for Counterstrike. Free Fire is estimated to be played by around 71% of all Brazilian gamers, primarily since it can be downloaded and run on essential, low-cost smartphones.[i]

MOONTON Games expanded its Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League to include Brazil in June this year, the first MPL competition outside of Southeast Asia.[ii] The event has been broadcast on TikTok and Facebook, Nimo TV, Twitch, and YouTube.

Events expand regional participation

Other Latin American countries are also getting in on the action. Statista is forecasting eSports revenue in Mexico will expand from US$988m in 2020 to US$1.34bn by 2024, with professional online gaming officially recognized as a sport in the country in 2019.

July saw the Internet International Esports Federation (IESF) partner White Lite create the IESF LATAM Open Esports Championships, starting with five pre-qualification events held across Latin America in 2022. Various League of Legends: Wild Rift tournaments are also planned for 2022/2023 at regional, national, and community levels in multiple countries.

Meanwhile, thirteen football clubs across the continent – including Flamengo and Corinthians (Brazil); Boca Juniors and River Plate (Argentina); Club América, Chivas and América de Cali (Mexico); Atlético Nacional (Colombia); Liga de Quito (Ecuador); Cerro Porteño (Paraguay); Nacional (Uruguay); Universidad de Chile (Chile); and Universitario (Peru) – participated in the Brawl Stars Master League last September in a bid to boost the popularity of the game in the region.

Twitch saw an increase in downloads in South America after the onset of coronavirus in early 2020. Spanish ranks as the second most spoken language on the platform, spoken by 11% of the gamers using it. Reports also suggest that the Free Fire World Series 2021 held in Singapore became the most viewed eSports tournament in the world, excluding Chinese viewers. That was partly down to the 1.06m Portuguese speakers and 890m Spanish speakers who logged in to watch it. Many hailed from Latin America.[iii]

5G adds new eSports dimensions

The steady expansion of fifth generation (5G) mobile network infrastructure across Latin America over the next few years will drive up eSports participation and spectator numbers up even further. It may also push gameplay onto a broader range of mobile devices, offering higher bandwidth and lower latency, which will provide much more fluid high-definition gameplay for connected AR/VR headsets and smartphones, for example.

5G networks also come with network slicing capabilities, which means large swathes of capacity can be temporarily provisioned inside eSports venues for the duration of the tournament. This capacity will allow the audience to enjoy a range of new interactive gaming experiences supported by more reliable live streaming. That could include 3D augmented footage, for example, instant replays on their own mobile devices, access to 360-degree views of the gameplay, and time-lapse capabilities. Faster stadium mobile connectivity could even let spectators join in the action by playing the games from their seats.

While Latin America is not as far advanced as other regions of the world in its implementation of 5G, almost all operators in the region are currently at the trial or planning stage. Claro and Telefónica now offer 5G in 23 cities between them in Brazil, while Claro Peru has expanded its 5G coverage to 19 districts of Lima. Paraguay, Bolivia, and Ecuador are deploying suitable infrastructure, with Costa Rica currently running 5G trials. Other operators plan 5G rollouts in Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Uruguay.

In its Mobile Economy Latin America 2021 report, the GSMA forecast there will be 15m 5G connections across the continent in 2022. By 2025, 12% of total mobile connections (around 86m) will be on 5G, including 20% in Brazil and 14% in Chile and Mexico. All that activity is expected to put Latin America’s mobile network operators (MNOs) at the heart of the eSports community in the future, creating exciting opportunities for partnerships in event management and sponsorships. It will offer players and spectators the flexibility of paying for game downloads, play passes, and tickets through direct carrier billing.

[i] Beijing’s recent moves to curb Big Tech players makes LatAm’s booming market even more enticing, LABS, 15th October 2021

[ii] Mobile Legends: Bang Bang creates esports league in Brazil, eSports Insider, 28th June 2021

[iii] The explosive growth of mobile esports, eSports Insider, 1st November 2021

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