Report: Tencent giving up on Arena of Valor in the West

Tencent's mobile MOBA has reportedly lost its marketing team and will limp along without any user acquisition efforts.

Tencent is leaving mobile MOBA game Arena of Valor to sink or swim by itself in the West, according to a report by Reuters.

The news organization is reporting a rift between Tencent and League of Legends creator Riot Games. This makes for a challenging intra-organizational tiff, as Tencent owns Riot. Additionally, “missteps” in the development and marketing of Arena of Valor outside China (where it’s known as Honor of Kings) have seen the US and European marketing teams for the game disbanded.

Riot got involved after it complained Arena of Valor was a knock-off of League of Legends. To make matters worse, well-known League esports players were used to promote Arena of Valor’s esports efforts. Riot’s complaints initiated a two-month marketing freeze for Arena of Valor and demands that the League developer be given the option to review all marketing plans for the game and a veto for use of select celebrity gamers.

It’ll “live or die” by how it performs from here on out in North America and Europe without the benefit of marketing spend, according to one Tencent source speaking to Reuters. It currently has a combined playerbase of 250,000 players in the West, according to its report, with 150,000 players in North America and 100,000 players in Europe.

According to data from analyst firm Sensor Tower last year, Arena of Valor only generated a modest $3 million after seven months in the US. The revenue doesn’t match the significant investments in the game, particularly esports efforts that included a $4.5 million tournament that included a Tesla car in the top prize award.

Speaking to GameDaily.biz, Kantan Games’ analyst Dr. Serkan Toto told us that market conditions are a significant contributor to Arena of Valor’s performance in the West.

“MOBAs generally have had a hard time making it on mobile in the West, at least so far,” said Toto. “This includes very well made ones like Vainglory or Fates Forever. Arena Of Valor is, in my opinion, the best MOBA on mobile by far—but it was not enough to break into Western markets.”

As recently reported by Reuters, and doubled down on in today’s report, Riot and Tencent are working together on a mobile version of League of Legends. Toto noted that the game “can become successful in the West” thanks to the popularity of the IP.

SuperData co-founder Joost van Dreunen told GameDaily “several interrelated issues” have been hurdles for Arena of Valor.

“First, unlike League of Legends, the branding for Arena of Valor isn’t as strong in Western markets,” said van Dreunen. “Second, a rival title, Mobile Legends, managed to build up a strong user base prior to AoV’s arrival. Third, despite an esports push, its Pro Series and a $500K prize pool, most of the teams that are competing in the pro league are unfamiliar to Western market audiences. Fourth, despite adding licensed characters to increase player retention, it did not improve its total install base.”

Arena of Valor’s original Chinese release, Honor of Kings, featured a roster of heroes rooted in Chinese mythology. The international release replaces many of these with licensed Western characters, including Batman and Superman. One Reuters source said the decision was “meaningless and is actually now hurting us.” Toto told GameDaily this was an idea that was “simply too clumsy” for the game.

“Mobile gamers not only in Asia but also now in the West are sophisticated and well-informed, and this goes double for a hardcore genre like MOBAs,” Toto explained. “Just adding characters that Westerners presumably like was too obvious a move.”

Tencent’s promotional choices were sound, but the market simply wasn’t responsive in the way Tencent hoped.

“On paper, Tencent did everything right,” van Dreunen said. “But its struggle to make AoV a success on equal footing as some of the other titles under its ownership is a refreshing reminder that even the biggest game companies do not have a guarantee of success."

With Tencent cutting its Arena of Valor marketing losses, user acquisition will likely stall. For service games, this can be a death knell as existing users depart with no one to replace them.

While Arena of Valor hasn’t made an impression, Tencent and Riot may be gearing up for round two with a mobile League of Legends client. Should that become available in the West, we’ll find out if mobile MOBA simply lacks appeal or if users would simply prefer to stick with something familiar.

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Johnny Cullen is a freelance writer and author from Derry, Northern Ireland who has written for Eurogamer, VG247, Official PlayStation Magazine UK, and so many more since July 2009. Come @ him about The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 3, Jonsi and Alex, or the Four Horsewomen of WWE on Twitter @JohnnyCullen.

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