Press Start to Play: Mobile games offer new opportunities for pro gamers

columnist graphic for fall 2020 guilherme guerreiro

It has only been two weeks since I published my column about “Among Us,” and a new game has already taken the world by storm: “Genshin Impact.” Defining the game is tough,  especially for those who are not used to gaming lingo. Here’s my best attempt: 

Genshin Impact is a free, open-world online role-playing game (RPG) with gacha elements. It is currently available for mobile, PS4 and PC. Now, I understand this is still pretty dense, so let’s break it down. 

Being an open-world online RPG means that it is not divided into stages; the game allows you to explore the world from the start. The game uses a leveling-up system with different classes the player can pick and items to collect (aka loot). 

This leads us to gacha. Borrowing from the Japanese capsule prize machines called “Gachapon,” the word means that a player expends currency to try to acquire a character or item. In that sense, it is very similar to the loot box system, except that loot boxes do not usually lock characters away from you. 

This system may seem harsh, and it certainly is. Players acquire a legendary character or item in Genshin Impact only 0.6% of the time. There is a pity system that guarantees a five-star character after the player tries 90 times. But even so, getting to that number requires an insane amount of dedication. 

Or maybe just a lot of money.

The game allows you to acquire the currency needed to try for a character simply by playing. But it can take a long time, so there is also the option of buying it. Add that to the pressure of limited characters, and you can start to understand how, even though Genshin Impact is a free game, it still managed to rake in $60 million in its first week. And that’s only the mobile revenue, excluding the money made on PS4 and PC. 

Speaking of mobile, we finally get to the point of this column: Genshin Impact proves why mobile games should be taken more seriously by the esports community — it’s all about money.

I know this makes me look pragmatic, but the esports community gaining more money is beneficial for everyone. As much as I like to use the term, there is no such thing as a “community” when it comes to esports companies. They are simply business partners. With the pandemic, the very definition of an esports company has been put under debate, as streamers can now seek sponsorships and host their own tournaments. 

When I talk about the “community,” I am referring to the professional gamers that compose it. And unlike big corporations, these people could benefit from some extra cash, especially since only a few manage to live off of their passion.

In concrete terms, this means that athletes follow along the lines of content creators and make a channel on a streaming platform. But unlike the latter, they should seek to diversify their content and center their professional skills. This would entail creating connections with fellow athletes and constantly collaborating, as well as hosting their tournaments. 

They could even have sessions where they challenge viewers or give video game lessons. A lot of it will depend on what game the athlete focuses on, but the core element should always be a sense of community. Athletes can be really popular, so there should be a lot of people interested in talking directly to them. And if what matters is the community element, then the athletes should feel comfortable to expand outside of their comfort zone if that is what’s popular. 

This is where Genshin Impact comes in. Usually, professional gamers might be hesitant to adopt mobile gaming — probably because it does not translate well to their skills or prepare them for tournaments, since most of the popular esports games are made for PC or console.  

But, if they follow the steps above, adopting mobile games would prove to be more beneficial because they are so popular and rake in so much money. Genshin Impact is the latest one, but many other mobile games have made headlines with earnings like the $4 billion revenue from Fate/Grand Order last year. 

If professional gamers hop onto these trends and bring their professional skills and network, they have the potential to create new content and earn big. In turn, they are less reliant on companies to make a living and can also innovate the gaming industry by introducing a blend of professionalism and casual gaming that has never been done before. 

I know how complicated this sounds, but it really is simple at the end of the day. All I am suggesting is that professional gamers create their streams and branch out to find the perfect mix between insane skill and community engagement. This happens by gamers hopping onto trends.

 If they earnestly give it a try and communicate with one another, there is a high chance that we may get a new form of content for successful, highly-watched video games such as Genshin Impact even if the games are made for mobile. For them, this means gaining financial independence and more freedom to live off what they love. And if what stops professional gamers from gaining economic autonomy is a lack of adaptation to trends, then at least they can rest well knowing the problem is easy to fix. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a sophomore writing about esports. His column, “Press Start to Play,” runs every other Wednesday.