IN AN episode of SPIN.ph’s weekly “POV” talk show on March 31, reporter Snow Badua read a comment from a viewer, noting the impressive viewership numbers of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang during a discussion about whether the PBA should expand beyond 12 teams.
“MOBILE LEGEND LIVE VIEW 400,000,” the comment read, probably pertaining to the Facebook Gaming livestream of the official MLBB page during the grand finals of the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League - Philippines Season 6 between Bren Esports and Omega Esports.
According to Esports Charts, the best-of-seven bout reached a peak viewership count of 456,967. The season’s highest record, however, almost doubled the figure as it amassed 765,916 concurrent viewers during the matchup between Bren and NXP Solid in the first round of the playoffs.
The comment, presumably, meant to highlight the fact that a five-year-old mobile game has more viewers compared to a 46-year-old basketball league, which reportedly peaked at "just" 331.8K viewers during its Philippine Cup bubble finals between Barangay Ginebra and TnT Tropang Giga.
“Yung ML daw... pag nag-live 400,000 ang pinakamababa? Diba? So ibig sabihin no'n, doon pa lang, na-overtake-an na ang PBA,” Badua said.
Though these numbers appear accurate, the rationale behind the comparison is hardly fair.
The esports-versus-sports viewership overlooks a lot of things, even if the PBA and MPL-PH are both leagues of national caliber and were held without the presence of live audiences due to the global pandemic.
The platform, for instance, already placed the basketball league at a disadvantage. Livestreaming is MPL-PH’s vernacular. Internet connectivity is required to play MLBB, let alone watch its tournaments via Facebook or YouTube. The PBA, on the other hand, gets most of its audiences through television, and the comparison failed to take into account the audience reached by the said medium.
In fact, the recently concluded PBA Finals alone garnered 1.5 million average viewers on PBA Rush and on livestreaming. Meanwhile, the entire MPL-PH Season 6 was said to have an average viewership of 132,893 on its official platforms.
The age bracket of the fans of both leagues is also a factor. While the MPL-PH appeals to a younger demographic, digital natives who live and breathe the internet, the PBA’s audiences have yet to fully adapt to online viewing. Nor are they obliged to do so.
More variables that prove the inequity of the differentiation include the duration of both leagues, air time, and frequency of airing, among others.
MLBB’s vast viewership is a facet that quantifies the value of esports as an industry, but it doesn’t necessarily make it better than the PBA. After all, it’s still a big deal whenever esports tournaments are broadcasted on national TV, same as when multimillion-peso brands venture as sponsors or presenters.
For PBA, however, that’s just the status quo.
Esports has made enormous strides, but it still has a long way to go to reach the level of traditional sports, and that’s the reality. Contrasting the viewership numbers between the two industries, whether to advocate for esports’ growth or pressure traditional sports to work on its issues, is an invitation to alternative facts.
A better narrative for the growth of esports manifested in the Southeast Asian Games 2019. It was a huge step in abolishing the mighty wall that separated esports and sports because for the first time in the biennial multi-sport event’s history, six esports titles — Dota 2, Tekken 7, Starcraft II, Hearthstone, Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang — were recognized as medaled events, much like basketball and many more traditional sports.
As for quantifiable metrics, the local MLBB scene has been really phenomenal. The open qualifiers for the MPL-PH Season 7 saw a record-breaking number of registrants that reached more than 3,000. The viewership numbers from the previous season also appeared to be reaping fruits as several non-endemic brands have entered as official sponsors of the ongoing leg.
Ultimately, comparing sports and esports is counter-productive. It’s never going to be about which industry is doing a better job, especially when they both share the same ethos — celebrate the beauty of competition and the stories it generates.