Tencent once more seeks to expand its mobile hit Honor of Kings globally

Honor of Kings, the world’s largest mobile game made by China’s internet behemoth Tencent, is rolling out a global version by the end of this year.

That’s according to a tweet by Level Infinite, which will be publishing the overseas version of the battle royale game for TiMi Studio, the storied games development studio inside Tencent that introduced Honor of Kings back in 2015.

Based in Singapore and Amsterdam, Level Infinite is a publishing arm that Tencent created in 2021 to help it deliver gaming titles across the world.

This is Tencent’s second overseas attempt at replicating the success Honor of Kings has garnered in China, where users from early teens to white-collar workers battle their friends through short sessions in their busy life and spend generously on weapons and costumes. The gameplay has been described by many as a mobile adaptation of League of Legends developed by Riot Games, which is now majority-owned by Tencent.

By 2021, Honor of Kings had accumulated $10 billion in revenue worldwide since its launch, making it the highest-grossing mobile game on Google Play and App Store, according to market analytics provider Sensor Tower.

From January to August last year alone, the title racked up $2 billion, in part thanks to continued COVID-19 lockdowns that limited people to home entertainment. Its size dwarfed runner-up Brawl Stars, which made $320 million in user spending. The game hit 100 million daily active users in November 2020, according to Level Infinite.

Tencent has fostered a vibrant esports ecosystem around Honor of Kings in China, attracting players with attractive prizes. The overseas version attempts to do the same. A global Honor of Kings tournament will be held later this year with a $10 million prize pool, said Level Infinite.

A game’s achievement at home doesn’t automatically translate into success overseas. In 2017, Arena of Valor was launched basically as a Westernized version of Honor of Kings, but it stumbled outside Asia. In 2019, the US accounted for just 3.5% or $7 million of the game’s total user spending outside China, or 0.2% of what China’s iOS players alone have spent on the game, according to Sensor Tower.

Missteps in “development and marketing,” coupled with a strained relationship between Tencent and Riot Games, were reasons behind Arena of Valor’s failures in Europe and the US, Reuters reported in 2019.

Internal management issues aside, critics argued Arena of Valor had failed to fully understand user behavior and culture in the West. For example, while Honor of Kings benefits tremendously from its integration with Tencent’s ubiquitous messenger WeChat in China, Western markets don’t have the exact networking equivalent.

This new edition of Honor of Kings thus appears to be Tencent’s gathering steam for a second try. It won’t be surprising the title is built upon Arena of Valor using similar intellectual property rather than a new development from scratch, given they both fall under TiMi. The launch also comes at a delicate time for Tencent, which just recorded its slowest quarter ever as China’s ongoing crackdown on video games and internet monopolies hobbled its revenue growth.

But the challenge of overseas expansion remains the same for Tencent: this time, will the game find a way to overcome international management and cultural barriers?