Southeast Asia (SEA) known for its vibrant and rapidly growing gaming community, has emerged as a hub for mobile esports, vividly demonstrated by the record-breaking M5 World Championship. The first four iterations of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang World Championship were hosted in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with M1 (2019) held in Kuala Lumpur, while M2 (2020) and M3 (2021) being held in Singapore, and M4 (2022) held in Jakarta. The fifth and latest edition, commonly known as the M5 World Championship was just held in metro Manila, Philippines. This event not only captivated a massive audience, with more than 5 million peak viewership becoming the most popular Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) esports series event to date, but it also etched its name as the second highest viewed esports event of 2023, trailing only the behemoth League of Legends Worlds 2023, which garnered 6,402,760 peak viewers. The magnitude of M5’s success reflects the burgeoning dominance of mobile gaming in SEA, a region that has passionately embraced this platform. SEA-6 includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

We will take you on a chronological journey, starting from the thrilling M5 Wild Card held in Malaysia in November, through to the climactic M5 World Championship in December, hosted in the Philippines. Additionally, we offer unique perspectives from our local analysts, Edward Tien and Marco Vicente, who experienced the electrifying atmosphere of the M5 Wild Card and the M5 World Championship, respectively, along with the M Summit, a key event that ran concurrently in the Philippines. Their insights will provide an in-depth look into the tournaments that define mobile esports today.

M5 Wild Card Tournament

A notable evolution in the M5 World Championship was the introduction of the first-ever wild card format in the M series. The M5 Wild Card tournament, a new concept in the series, allocated World Championship slots via this wildcard system. This four-day event, running from November 23 to November 26, brought together eight teams from both MPL and non-MPL regions, fostering intense competition. The tournament was a blend of professional teams and rising stars from regions like Mongolia, Nepal, and China.

 M5 Wild Card Tournament at JioSpace, in Petaling Jaya, Selangor

The M5 Wild Card tournament marked a pivotal moment in both Moonton’s and Malaysia’s esports history. The wild card format tournament follows Malaysia’s history of hosting major MLBB events, including the M1 World Championship in 2019 and MLBB Southeast Asia Cup 2022 (MSC 2022). The M5 Wild Card changed the dynamics of M-series qualifications, offering a second chance for MPL teams like SMG and marking the debut of Team Lilgun, the first Mongolian team in M-series history.

The M5 Wild Card event not only showcased top-tier esports action but also offered an immersive fan experience. Fans could explore merchandise stalls, including Homebois t-shirts and other memorabilia, celebrating their victory in MPL Malaysia 12. These elements collectively created an environment that extended beyond the matches, enriching the overall experience for attendees. Additionally, the event offered unique fan engagement opportunities like a free removable tattoo spray booth, inspired by Mobile Legends: Bang Bang esports.

M5 Wild Card offers immersive fan experience

The conclusion of the M5 Wild Card in Malaysia was marked by a notable post-event celebration at the Dewan Serbaguna Parlimen (Parliament), a testament to esports’ elevated status in the country. Organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports (KBS), Esports Integrated (ESI), and Moonton Games, this event served as an official send-off for the national athletes competing in the M5 World Championship. The choice of Parliament as the venue signified the growing recognition and support for esports within national frameworks.

M5 World Championship and M Summit in Manila

As a first timer to host the M5 Series in the Philippines, the M5 World Championship and the M5 Summit were historic for the Filipino esports scene. The occasion saw the coming together of the best Mobile Legends: Bang Bang teams competing for the $900,000 prize pool and sought-after title. Twelve of the 22 teams that competed in the competition, including the Wildcard teams, had coaches or players from the Philippines on their squad, showcasing the Philippines’ significant influence in the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang landscape.

 

M5 Championship at Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila

The M5 World Championship smashed viewership records, surpassing the milestone set by the previous M4 World Championship. The grand final match between AP.Bren from the Philippines and Onic Esports from Indonesia peaked at more than 5 million viewers, the highest for a Mobile Legends: Bang Bang event. The eventual winner, AP.Bren had its own breakthrough for being the first team to win twice in the M5 series and the first team to hold the crown as the country-host of the event. The M5 World Championship is the first esports tournament that offered a sign-language stream during the second phase of the knockout phase. The competition’s record-breaking success was bolstered by the Department of Tourism in the Philippines, in partnership with Moonton to elevate the event. The Department of Tourism offered discounted tickets and tour packages for players and tourists who watched the event, an initiative to solidify that esports is an integral part of tourism in the country.

The success of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and its roaring esports scene in 2023 were also demonstrated during the M5 Summit. According to the Niko Partners Esports in Asia and MENA 2023 Report, the esports market in Asia generated $686.7 million in revenue in 2022 up from $634.3 million in 2021 – a growth of 8.3% YoY and 47% of events in the Southeast Asia region are mobile events. The summit not only celebrated the achievements of Moonton of the year but also provided a glimpse into the future, unveiling its esports plan with partners like ESL, ONE Esports, International Esports Federation, and Mineski. The M5 World Championship and M5 Summit stand as a witness to the rise of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and the importance of shaping its global landscape. The best is yet to come for mobile esports worldwide.

Niko’s Outlook of Esports in Southeast Asia

Niko Partners has estimated that the Asian esports industry generated a combined revenue of $680.4 million in 2023, a 7.3% growth over 2022. Asia accounts for more than half of the over $1.1 billion global esports market. There are also nearly 755 million esports fans across the region. Southeast Asia, along with India and Japan, is the fastest growing Asian sub-region. There are a lot of opportunities for growth in this region. The esports industry has also seen major mergers and acquisitions activities, which Niko tracks as part of its Esports Tracking subscription.

Niko Partners is enthusiastic about the burgeoning esports fandom in Southeast Asia, viewing it as a prime opportunity to enhance our comprehension of the esports landscape across Asia and share our expert insights. We encourage you to stay updated with our esports research in 2023. In a world where players have a vast array of video game and entertainment choices, esports offerings that leverage local expertise and insights are increasingly proving successful. Gaining a deep understanding of the local ecosystem and the nuances of esports audiences is crucial for attracting sponsors and establishing a sustainable, long-term esports infrastructure.