- Since the loot box deprecation last December, Brawl Stars KPIs have improved, but only temporarily. The game’s year-over-year performance has been pretty mediocre, and it’s unlikely Supercell’s last update will improve this.
- Over the years, Brawl Stars has experimented with adding new Events (rotating game modes) and a handful of features like a competitive ladder and social layer, but Supercell has implemented very few systemic changes to address and improve gameplay depth.
- On a positive note: esports is alive and kicking for Brawl Stars, with 2023’s upcoming championship promising to be bigger than ever.
- While Brawl Stars does a fine job of incentivizing players to diversify their roster, the game lacks added depth for the handful of Brawlers the player might try and master further. Future updates should ideally mitigate this as much as possible.
Brawl Stars, Then & Now
In the free-to-play mobile development space, Brawl Stars — Supercell’s successful and revolutionary real-time hero battler where players compete against one another, solo, or in a team — was the cat’s meow when it was announced in June 2017. Several deconstructions dropped immediately after release and in the months after analyzing what Brawl Stars did right, why it was different, and why it might prove to be a major hit.
But then discussion of the game went relatively quiet. For many mobile developers not directly working in the competitive PvP space, Brawl Stars might have disappeared off their radar over the last few years, but this doesn’t mean the game has grown stagnant. In fact, even before Supercell’s December update shocked the industry by removing loot boxes, a number of meaningful Events have considerably shifted the Brawl Stars meta since release. Now, it’s time for a proper retrospective.
To start, however, let’s take a quick look at December’s notorious update and figure out whether it truly worked. While it’s still a little early — as a change to the core loop usually manifests itself in different long-term retention and spending behavior — it seems the spike in December was a one-time occurrence. It was more noticeable on Android, which suggests its cause was something along the lines of retargeting campaigns, which are easier to do on Android these days following Apple’s ATT privacy changes. When looking at the big picture (Brawl Stars’ roughly 360 million lifetime downloads) the 3 million that seem to have been added as a result of the update are of relatively low significance.
Of course, the update generated organic buzz, but it became clear by January that the level of new downloads was reverting back to its baseline. The question then is how curious players who rejoined Brawl Stars and the waves of fresh players began to spend, though that’s unfortunately something only internal Supercell tracking data can discern. According to data.ai, however, revenue data estimates shows a corresponding jump during the initial weeks following the update:
Data.ai currently shows $1.4 billion in lifetime revenue for Brawl Stars. This makes the title the fourth most successful game Supercell has ever released globally. This sounds great at first blush, and it obviously makes Brawl Stars a major hit. But let’s also remember that Supercell has only ever released five games globally. Brawl Stars, in that context, is far from Supercell’s peak.
The game generating the lowest revenue for the developer is Boom Beach, which is currently showing $700 million of lifetime revenue. The game is likely to be discontinued in the near future, after Supercell pushed exactly one update in 2022. The more than 10-year-old Hay Day still tops Brawl Stars with $1.52 billion in revenue and both Clash Royale and Clash of Clans complete the company’s top-3 with $2.75 billion and a whopping $6.73 billion in lifetime revenue, respectively.
Especially throughout 2022, Brawl Stars has seen a very noticeable decrease in KPIs. In 2022 the game was downloaded 32% less (on average across both Android and iOS) than in 2021, according to data.ai, and the game raked in just about half of the previous year’s total revenue.
These are not developments any product lead would consider comforting, especially at Supercell, where performance standards are extremely high. But next to it being the most popular Western, mobile-only esports game, Brawl Stars is still very much alive and kicking with an average DAU of 2.5 million throughout last year.
Brawl Stars received a lot of analytical attention when it first released in 2018, triggering the industry to publish deconstructions left and right. As stated above, it has earned tremendous revenues since then, but we've also seen a steady progression of undiscussed changes to the game. It’s very difficult to find an up-to-date breakdown of the game’s feature set anywhere online. This deconstruction aims to rectify this, breaking down most of Supercell’s numerous additions and near-constant tweaks to and removals of the game’s feature set.
We’ll also shed light on the impact these changes seemed to have had. Because even though the December update didn't permanently affect KPIs, the game's updates over the years have more than tripled the game’s RPD since its global launch (worldwide on iOS). Brawl Stars still has room to improve — for example, in its minimal number of long-term progression vectors — but it has come a long way.
In this deconstruction, we’ll cover:
- A quick breakdown of the game’s meta and what makes it tick
- A full overview of the game’s Events, including some short-lived ones that have since been removed
- An up-to-date analysis of the game’s currencies and systems, with comparisons to past implementations of the game’s meta (including the recent loot boxes change)
- The evolution of the game’s monetization model
- An account of the game’s vibrant esports scene and other community efforts
- Future prospects for Brawl Stars
What’s all this Brawl?
As is the case with every live service game, the Brawl Stars loop became increasingly intertwined over the course of the game’s lifespan, which becomes apparent when looking at the diagram below. Complexity increased specifically when features like the Brawl Pass and Clubs were added. Last November, at peak complexity, and before Supercell removed Brawl Boxes, the game’s loop looked like this:
Throughout the timeline below, it should become clear how Brawl Stars grew to hold this many interconnected elements. Toward the end of this deconstruction, we’ll discuss a more up-to-date diagram showing the most recent loop, which removes loot boxes from the equation. You’ll find that for the first time in the game’s history, Supercell succeeded in making the game’s loop less convoluted.
A tight and interconnected game loop usually signals a well-designed and versatile ecosystem of unlocks where each currency serves a distinct function. This is especially the case for Brawl Stars, which has featured an ever-evolving game loop as new features have been added.
The main element around which the loop of Brawl Stars is built is stimulating the player’s Brawler diversification. This is the game’s main underlying driver of retention, and thus worth highlighting fire and foremost.
In short: the game heavily incentivizes playing with as many different Brawlers as possible. The two most influential factors instigating this are the character-specific matchmaking rank and the diminishing trophy returns on victories.
Unlocking a new character is not only intrinsically rewarding because it offers a new way to play, but it also motivates the player extrinsically by allowing players to more easily earn many hundreds of total trophies per character and thousands on a single account. This is because, when playing Brawlers with a low rank, losing results in a much lower trophy penalty than the trophy reward for winning. Only when reaching 700 trophies on a single character does losing and winning yield the same result.
This driver is important to keep in mind when going through the changes made to the game since launch, as all changes to the game complied with this overall design philosophy.
2017 - Soft Launch Year
Supercell is well-known for their extremely lengthy and thorough soft-launch periods. Most recently, in October of last year, the company ceased development of its latest in-development title Everdale, which had been playable in specific countries for more than a year. (The game found a new home at Metacore, thanks to a deal with Supercell.) Brawl Stars globally launched in December 2018, 18 months after it was announced. Since its soft launch, all the way until official launch, the game’s meta contained far fewer elements than it does today, looking something like this:
Even before, during its public soft launch in June 2017, Brawl Stars started out with 15 Brawlers. Fast forward to today and we now see 64 playable characters populating the roster. But what happened to the game’s feature set while this content was being added? Answering this question calls for a hefty, chronological timeline, so strap in!
Reader’s Note: This timeline focuses mainly on the numerous game modes (or Events) that have been added over the years. For the few readers who have never played Brawl Stars, here is a page with short descriptions of the most prevalent Events. They are visible in the timeline, but not fully deconstructed. This leaves a bit more space to talk about what is interesting about Supercell’s approach. It might also be handy to keep this overview page of all available Brawlers open for quick reference on the game’s playable characters.
July 14th, 2017 - Bounty, Gem Grab, Heist, and Showdown
The first players who downloaded Brawl Stars were onboarded in the Bounty and Gem Grab Event. Additionally, the game featured Heist and Showdown, the latter of which was only single-player at that time. One thing that was quite revolutionary back then was the rotation in which these Events were available. Taken from competitive games in Asia, Brawl Stars added a time-limited nature to Events to keep players more regularly coming back to see if their favorite gameplay mode was active. This model has since become quite commonplace among battle royales and other playlist-oriented multiplayer titles.
Interestingly, each of these four initial Events are still in the regular rotation to this day. This is notable because, over the years, Supercell has tried adding 18 new Events, 11 of which are still available today in some shape or form, but only 2 of which stayed playable permanently. In 2017, when the initial four were the only Events available, the game would alternate a little more drastically, often temporarily removing access to the other Events entirely.
The great thing about the soft-launch rotation of Events is that it already facilitated an element of strategy that is still inherent to Brawl Stars to this day, namely the choice of Brawler and the diversification this manifests. Just like the individual MMR for every single Brawler, the radically different Events expedite the use of various Brawlers as well.
This is because specific styles of Brawlers are designed to shine in distinct Events and maps. Close range fighters like Bull and El Primo have huge advantages in Showdown, especially on maps with many nooks and crannies to hide and ambush from. Barley and Dynamike, both of whom send projectiles over walls with an arc, are particularly strong in Heist. In Gem Grab, the ability to fire targeted shots is generally the most essential part of a team’s composition, making Brawlers like Colt and Brock must haves.
The four initial Events strike an excellent balance between different styles of play, facilitating a variation that is so unique in PvP games that platforms like data.ai now classify “Brawl” as a separate subgenre within the broader action game category. Safe to say, Brawl Stars has been dominating here since launch.
September 4th, 2017 - Brawl Ball
One of the most creative and successful additions to the game happened very early on, during the game’s soft launch. This football-inspired Event, Brawl Ball, added so much strategic depth to the game that it’s remained a permanent fixture of the rotation to this day. The mode allows tanks to shine, as they have enough health to hold the ball reliably without getting killed. High hit-point Brawlers can even waltz through the last line of defense and get the ball close to or even in the goal.
Additionally, Brawl Ball requires players to shift their priorities as it puts killing others second to making sure the ball is moving in the right direction. The mode’s best design choice is the fact that players that are holding the ball cannot attack, promoting passing and shooting over hogging. Other great additions to this mode are the more powerful shots using up the player’s fully charged Super, being able to intercept the ball like a goalkeeper, and the sudden death (on Draw) that removes all obstacles from the field.
December 7th, 2017: Robo Rumble & Big Game
Available: Occasionally (during weekends)
Even early on during its development, Supercell’s intended direction for Brawl Stars became clear when they added the first PvE mode to the game. In Robo Rumble, a team of three players has to survive for two minutes while fending off nine waves of small, AI-controlled robots coming from all directions.
With each win, the difficulty increases the next time a player makes another attempt. With every new difficulty step up, more and stronger enemies are spawned, indicated by a scale of angriness. The best players can complete 20 levels of increasing difficulty, with 15 of these being stretch goals within the “Insane” level.
Available: Very rarely
Robo Rumble was not the only mode that was added with this update. Big Game (or Boss Fight, as it was named back then) was another PvE Event made available early on in Brawl Stars and playable in the game’s rotation relatively often, at least compared to its rate of appearance today. Big Game still pops up from time to time, but it didn’t end up one of the staple modes.
In Big Game, six players are matched up, with five of them ending up on the same team and one solo participant. This makes the mode the only asymmetric multiplayer Event the game has to offer. The last player’s size, stats, and power are heavily increased as they become outlawed, destined to be hunted by the team for two minutes. If the outlaw survives, they achieve victory on their own. If not, the team of hunters shares the victory.
As this mode allows for lots of (sometimes cheesy) strategies, the developers made it a “Special Event,” meaning you cannot gain or lose trophies depending on the outcome. This is a telltale sign of an unbalanced game mode, and not without reason: balancing a 1v5 contest with a roster of 60-plus Brawlers is no easy task. And consider also that Big Game is more designed for the variation and surprise it adds when it’s available, and not for reasons related to competitive integrity.
The most glaring issue is that Big Game doesn’t allow players to choose if they want to be the solo player or part of the group. Some players might enjoy the challenge of going alone, but for most it’s likely not a comfortable position to be in. This could easily be solved by adding a preference option to the UI, but this would add complexity to the matchmaking and potential queue time imbalances, which might not be worth the hassle.
2018 - Launch Prep Year
May 21st, 2018 - Duo Showdown
While not a fully stand-alone mode, Duo Showdown gave players the ability to team up with a friend and tackle this battle royale-style mode against other teams of two. It has some added, subtle differences between the solo variant. Next to the teamwork component, the major change in duo play is that players can respawn if their teammate stays alive for 15 seconds.
December 12th, 2018 - Brawl Stars Global Launch
In December, after being in soft launch for 18 months, Brawl Stars globally launched. It is still the most recent Supercell Global Launch to date.
2019 - Eventful Growth Year
February 27th, 2019 - Boss Fight & Siege (Removed)
Available: Occasionally (during weekends)
In the game’s second PvE mode, Boss Fight, a team of three players fights a giant robot. Where in Robo Rumble the goal is to survive, here the objective is to kill the boss. Throughout the fight, the brawler-sized robots from Robo Rumble also make an appearance, albeit more as an added challenge and distraction.
Boss Fight has the same difficulty tiers as Robo Rumble, but the overall higher difficulty stems from the boss’ elevated hit points and increasingly escalating temper as time passes. The angrier it gets, the higher its damage output.
In 2019, Brawl Stars began adding more complex Events, one of which was Siege, or what you might call Supercell’s problem child. As the first Event of 2019, Siege was also the longest-running mode to ever be eventually removed. Only some months ago, three and a half years after its debut, Siege permanently exited the game’s Event rotation.
The mode’s design is best thought of as a 3v3 MOBA, but with one giant, occasionally spawned, AI-controlled robot for each side. Players were tasked with defending their safe and defeating members of the other team, all while gathering gears around the battlefield. These gears powered up the health of the giant robot, which would only appear if your team managed to collect more gears than the opposing side.
The main reason Siege was eventually removed is likely because the mode was too complex and difficult to play with randomly assigned teammates. In Power League, the Event was more successful and popular, albeit highly polarizing.
September 18th, 2019 - Lone Star (Removed) & Takedown (Removed)
In September 2019, Supercell released two new Events which were both unfortunately short-lived. The first one was a welcome variation on Solo Showdown, but with the scoring system of Bounty and respawning enabled instead of the unforgiving one-life-per-game restriction of battle royale modes. Where Bounty is a 3v3 mode, Lone Star was 10-player free-for-all on giant maps, further emphasizing the titular loneliness.
Secondly, the Takedown mode dropped 10 players onto a map that also housed a Big Robot boss with the objective to do the most damage to the boss before it was killed. But obviously, players can also kill each other. When killed, players respawned after five seconds.
Only four months after release, both these Events were abandoned. Lone Star was left behind most likely because of inherent issues like kill-stealing promoting toxic, frustrating gameplay and Takedown because it favored one or two Brawlers (Colt specifically). It simply ended up being a single-strategy grind fest.
October 23rd, 2019 - Power Play (Removed)
Until late 2019, Supercell used Events as a way to feed into Brawl Stars’ main game loop. But the developer correctly identified more players that were interested in a more seasonal, competitive ladder. This is how the game’s first competitive scoring system came to be. Having its own progression based on a maximum number of Power Play Points that could be earned each day meant that the competitive mode did not award any regular trophies. Instead, the higher a player’s rank in the leaderboard, the more Star Points they would earn.
Power Play itself did not introduce new core gameplay, but rather allowed for a limited, daily chance at climbing the local or even global leaderboard by playing the existing modes across three times matches.
This relatively simple competitive ladder system would be in place for the next 17 months, until it got replaced by Power League.
2020 - Pivot Year
January 23rd, 2020 - Hot Zone
After a long slump of low variation in terms of new and regularly available Events, 2020 finally saw the first entirely new PvP Event that was able to supplement the initial five. In January, as well as in May, the Event was temporarily added twice as part of time-limited events with each iteration slightly changing the rules on how scoring was calculated. In July, the third iteration of the Event became permanent.
May 13th, 2020 - Brawl Pass Replaces Brawl Box Progression
Up until this point, the game’s tokens would directly convert into Brawl Boxes. Players would earn tokens by playing regularly, as is still the case today. Additionally, Star Tokens incentivized players to play every newly added Event in the daily rotation at least once, as 10 of these would tally up to earn them a Big Box.
With the introduction of the seasonal pass, players would have about two months to fully progress to unlock available tiers. As usual in F2P, this feature (as opposed to RNG) allows for a more straightforward and visible approach to earning rewards, all while locking (especially paying) players in for at least a month of recurring logins and steady engagement. Free progression in the first Brawl Pass contained mostly Brawl Boxes, Big Boxes, Gems, Coins, and Power Points (for the first time for any Brawler of the player’s choice).
Additionally, the Premium path awarded a new Brawler (Gale), his Pin set (a feature that was introduced this update as well), and a unique skin at the end. Not much would change to this setup until December 2022, but technically this update almost three years ago helped lay the groundwork for eventually removing loot boxes from the game.
A last note on something that really shines with the Brawl Pass implementation is the purchase price. Where most games require a separate IAP to gain battle or season pass benefits, Brawl Stars has always allowed players to purchase the pass with Gems. That allows for future passes to be effectively earned through stockpiled in-game currency rather than just direct purchase.
This was very smart on Supercell’s part for multiple reasons. The first and obvious one is that it obfuscates the price. The second and most important reason is that this way, it allows Supercell to keep players from churning with every new season, because the progression in each pass itself awards Gems worth half of the purchase price of the next pass.
As Supercell also removed Gems from all other sources (especially the boxes themselves), engaging with the pass allowed low-spending players who spend their Gems on nothing else to only have to spend money to purchase every second pass. This created a habitual cadence requiring a (€11.99) IAP every four months, or for the non-payer one out of two passes for free, as the Gems are earned through the free track of the pass.
July 2nd, 2020 - Super City Rampage (Removed)
With Super City Rampage, the team seemed eager to amaze and attract players with a fun and fresh mode. Purposely themed to be fit with the second season of the game’s newly implemented Brawl Pass: “Summer of Monsters,” Super City Rampage featured gameplay most similar to the existing Boss Fight Event, but with a different (and much more fun) loss condition. Players were tasked with killing the monster boss before it destroyed all the buildings on the map. With higher difficulty tiers, the HP of the boss increased.
Meeting Godzilla’s little brother. | Source: YouTube
It’s unlikely (but also unclear) if this Event initially was meant to be a serious attempt at adding a new permanent mode to the game’s rotation given its highly specific theme, but Super City Rampage survived all the way until March 2022. Supposedly, the diminishing returns on the game’s novelty effect weren’t worth keeping it live anymore, as player sentiment upon its removal amounted to: “I don’t really care, as I only played it once and just for the tokens.”
2021 - Competitive & Social Year
March 16th, 2021 - Power League Replaces Power Play
Power League replaced Power Play in Brawl Stars as a separate ranked Event in March 2021. This play mode provided a more structured and competitive ranking system than its predecessor. The main difference between Power League and Power Play is Power League uses a points-based system to determine the player's ranking, while Power Play relied on win-loss record.
In Power League, players compete against one another to increase their Power Points and climb the league ladder. The league is divided into different divisions and players need to win games to earn Power Points and move up the ranks. The higher the division, the better the rewards and tougher the opponents are. Instead of resetting every two weeks, Power League resets every Brawl Pass season, or roughly every two months, which is when players receive rewards based on their final ranking in the league. Divisions are reset every season.
Power League also introduced custom team drafting. Before a match starts, both teams of players have the option to compose their team by picking Brawlers in turn. This drafting process was needed specifically because the Event is picked randomly only after players have already committed to playing Power League.
Because the drafting process adds quite a bit of time, Power League matches are played in a best-of-three format. With the raised stakes that came with this feature, the increased agency in terms of matchmaking was a welcome addition.
April 7th, 2021 - Knockout
Similar to Hot Zone, this Event was first tested for the duration of season six before it became a permanent event from season 7 onwards. It is the most recently added mode that is still part of the permanent rotation to this day.
June 28th, 2021 - Basket Brawl
Available: Very rarely
Basket Brawl was a sports-themed variation on Brawl Ball, but never quite caught on. It’s still in rotation, but only appears once every blue moon.
November 24th, 2021 - Clubs, Club Games, and Gears
By far the heftiest update of 2021 dropped in November, when Supercell added long-awaited social features to Brawl Stars. To help promote new permanent player groups of up to 30 players, the team introduced Club Games.
The goal of Club Games is to increase a club’s division. The higher a club’s division, the more rewards its members receive at the end of each week. To climb divisions, a club needs to collect trophies during the Club League, which initially ran every week, from Wednesday to Monday. To increase or at least maintain their club’s division, members need to win games to earn Club Points during a Club League week. Club divisions are not affected by Brawl Pass seasons.
Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday during a Club League week, players can earn trophies for their club by turning four entry tickets into Club Points.
Normal matches take place on a specific mode and map, and cost one ticket. Or players can spend double the tickets to enter a Power Match, which plays out exactly like matches in Power League, including team drafting and best-of-three. The amount of points earned depends on the match they choose to play, who they play with (pre-made teams of club members or randoms), and of course the match outcome.
When the week is over, all Club Points are tallied and matched against the other seven clubs in the race. The highest clubs are promoted in the divisional ladder while the lowest clubs are demoted. As the individual commitment of players is tracked by counting the tickets they spent, individual players earn Club Coins accordingly. This Club Games-specific currency was introduced during this update and can be used to purchase Power Points, Coins, or an exclusive Brawler skin.
As if a gigantic new social layer wasn’t enough, this update also added another way to improve Brawlers after having at least one of them upgraded to level 10 (and once more at 11). The initial system consisted of five kinds of Gears players could freely choose to add to their brawlers. This could be done by finding a specific token and adding gear scrap to it. After crafting a Gear this way, it could be upgraded using more scrap.
The complexity of the initial Gears system shows that, back then, Supercell wasn’t yet leaning towards removing the Brawl Boxes, as this system actively added the tokens and scrap resources to their drop tables. This increases the reward space rather than reducing it, which is desirable in most cases, but not if you’re looking to remove loot boxes altogether.
December 16th, 2021 - Duels
In this Event, two players face off head-to-head to try to best each other with their own pre-assembled team of three Brawlers. After a battle, the losing player moves on to their next Brawler while the winning player will start the next round with the same character. This Event is refreshing because it’s the only one next to Solo Showdown that is played without a team, which is why Supercell adds it to the rotation only occasionally.
It also requires some strategizing in terms of Brawler selection to include counters. It’s also not a permanent mode as it’s not very effective in terms of Trophy grinding. Because the player plays with potentially three Brawlers, the potential Trophy increase per Brawler gets a little complex.
2022 - Rework Year
March 1st, 2022 - Wipeout
Wipeout was added about a year ago, but it hasn’t seen that much action since then. The Event is barely ever available and it’s unclear if Supercell wants to continue it. In any case, it’s nothing revolutionary, as it’s similar to Bounty, but without the stars and a different win condition (getting 10 kills) instead of a fixed time limit.
March 8th, 2022 - Payload (Inactive)
Available: Only once
This Event was introduced for a single season before it was removed. Similar to Wipeout, it’s not clear if Supercell ever wants to reintroduce the mode, as it was received quite well but most likely was a little tricky to balance in terms of map design. Similar to payloads in Team Fortress or Overwatch, players would be able to push theirs further by standing close to it. In Brawl Stars though, the map always has two payloads (one for each team), to keep the challenge symmetrical.
April 27th, 2022 - Bot Drop (Inactive)
Available: Only once
2022 seemed to be the year where Supercell focused on more interesting, standalone Events as Bot Drop released the season after Payload., but also never saw the light of day again after it finished. Bot Drop was basically a team-based variation on Takedown, but with the win condition of Siege, requiring teams to collect eight bolts. It doesn’t provide the same freshness as Payload, as it is again “one of those robot killing modes,” but this time it’s also a mashup of two discontinued Events from 2019.
June 29th, 2022 - Club Quests Added to Club Games
Initially, when Club Games was first released, the feature was called Club League because week in and week out, players could only try and promote their club to a higher division. Safe to say, a continuous team-based challenge like that undoubtedly fatigues any game’s player base. To alleviate this, Supercell added the more casual Club Quests, which provided players the chance to reap the benefits of their club’s division without much collaboration for an entire week.
Instead of facilitating a Club League every week, the introduction of Club Quests changed it to a biweekly cadence. During Club Quest week, clubs can’t change divisions, but all members can simply complete three individual quests to earn a week’s worth of Club Coins. As the amount of Club Coins increases with each division, reaching a higher division will earn players one additional week of stress-free rewards.
July 4th, 2022 - Mystery Mode
The newest addition to Brawl Stars’ arsenal of Events is still being iterated. It’s a high-potential idea that facilitates a huge amount of variation in terms of gameplay, as it’s based on interchangeable modifiers. Supercell came up with about 10 modifiers that they are able to add to the game’s most common Events.
The Graveyard Shift modifier means, for example, that Brawlers don’t regenerate health and instead lose a tiny bit of health every second. Additionally, every attack provides a big amount of life-steal (Vampiric Aura, if you want to stay close to the theme). Adding this modifier to the Solo Showdown mode changes the dynamics of the game drastically, as it forces players to be much more aggressive to stay alive.
Mortis is by far the most fitting to play Graveyard Shift. | Source: YouTube
While the occurrence of Mystery Mode itself is currently quite rare, we will most likely see more of these modifiers return in some shape or form. One could imagine a highly variable (albeit chaotic) mode where the modifier is randomly assigned every round instead of being predetermined. Time will tell how Supercell decides to update this mode, but the modifier direction is promising as it generates high variation through its combinatorial nature.
October 25th, 2022 - Gears Rework
As a preparation for the removal of loot boxes, the Brawl Stars team iterated on the Gears system to make it more straightforward, removing Gear Tokens, Gear Scrap, and the upgrade system. Instead, Gears became simple Coin purchases, allowing for an effective and sizable currency sink at the end of every Brawler’s progression.
December 12th, 2022 - Brawl Boxes Removed
The end of this already-turbulent timeline features one of the most controversial changes the Brawl Stars has undergone since release. A few months ago, Supercell proudly announced it would distance itself from loot boxes. There’s been plenty of discussion and in-depth analysis around this move, the best of which dug deep into the potential reasoning and possible repercussions of the change.
As mentioned before, since the release of the Brawl Pass and the fact that players were able choose which Brawler would receive the gained Power Points in there, Supercell had begun straying away from gating a Brawler’s upgrade process through probability. Gradually, Gems, Gear supplies, new Powers, Gadgets and eventually the Brawlers themselves were removed from loot boxes. Now, mainly through the game’s Brawl Pass, a player earns Credits that progress toward one specific Brawler unlocked in the game’s newly added Starr Road.
Brawlers that could before only be unlocked in a chance-based manner from the game’s Brawl Boxes are now exposed and unlockable in sequence, in the Starr Road. Often, players can choose one out of three characters they want to unlock next, which they can change again at any point until the point of unlocking. Additionally, Brawlers that were unlocked in a performance-based manner (through the game’s Trophy Road) were congregated into the Starr Road as well. While many game elements were feeding into the boxes, over the years fewer rewards were actually coming out of them. This eventually made it relatively easy for Supercell to depreciate the boxes entirely, as it had by last year become solely a source for Brawler progression.
Now that we’ve thoroughly analyzed the game’s development timeline, looking at the evolution of the game’s loop (here’s a neat gif!) shows that removing the Brawl Boxes was a logical choice that in turn made everything the core loop much more straightforward. You can also argue that the decision wasn’t such a big change after all because of the gradual steps made beforehand (and, of course, the mounting regulatory pressure on loot boxes in European markets)
One last note regarding the game’s loop: As with the removal of the Boxes, which became the last place Brawler-specific Power Points were given out, these usability of Power Points has been diminished to zero and could potentially be removed from the game as well. Their initial utility and purpose (gating individual Brawler upgrades) slowly changed into restriction and frustration, as with each Brawler that was added to the game’s roster, earning Power Points for a specific Brawler became more difficult.
Over the years, the number of Brawlers in Brawl Stars has more than tripled. For logical reasons, the release cadence of new characters in the game’s earlier years was far from consistent and Supercell’s overall content output was lower, too. Here follows a short, yearly breakdown of the Brawlers added to the game, with the necessary context when applicable.
End of 2017 Brawler Count: 19
During the first months of soft launch, Supercell added four additional brawlers. In chronological order: Piper, Pam, Tara, and Darryl. These additions were clearly made to expand into more specific class-based play styles still missing to the game, including Sniper, Sturdy Support, Ninja, and All-round, respectively.
End of 2018 Brawler Count: 22
As Supercell was evaluating and getting Brawl Stars ready for global launch throughout 2018, the year didn’t bring a whole lot of new content or features. Only three new brawlers were added: Fran and Penny in May, and then Leon just before launch in December.
End of 2019 Brawler Count: 32
Brawlers added (in order): Gene, Carl, Rosa, Bibi, Tick, 8-Bit, Sandy, Emz, Bea, Max
The team picked up speed in its first full post-launch year by adding many Brawlers now considered staple members of the roster. About half of those added in 2019 are still strong in the game’s current meta. 2019 was also the year that Supercell solidified the cadence in which they introduced new Brawlers. Starting that year, players now wait on average about 40 days for a new Brawler to release.
End of 2020 Brawler Count: 43
Brawlers added (in order): Mr. P, Jacky, Sprout, Gale, Nani, Surge, Colette, Amber, Lou, Byron, Edgar
While finding a way to introduce seasonal Brawlers using the game’s newly added Brawl Pass required appointing these Brawlers as Chromatic (more on this later). This is a way for Supercell to tell players these seasonal Brawlers fall outside the game’s regular rarity system. Having them unlocked at a slower cadence also allowed the team to add more experimental Brawlers that are a little more “out there” in terms of play style.
End of 2021 Brawler Count: 53
Brawlers added (in order): Colonel Ruffs, Stu, Belle, Squeak, Buzz, Griff, Ash, Meg, Lola, Grom
Throughout 2021, Supercell released new Brawlers at the same cadence as it did after establishing its regular release schedule the year prior.
End of 2022 Brawler Count: 63
Brawlers added (in order): Fang, Eve, Janet, Bonnie, Otis, Sam, Gus, Buster, Chester, Gray
Again, in 2022, Supercell continued to release new Brawlers as it had for the past year and a half. Funnily enough, the first season of this year included a pretty obvious wink at Candy Crush Saga with the visual style of its theme.
As we’ve covered earlier in this deconstruction, the biggest retention driver for Brawl Stars remains the drive to collect the game’s cast of Brawlers. The intrinsic and extrinsic motivators covered earlier in this piece are central to that loop. A striking example of this was mentioned only briefly in the timeline but deserves to be highlighted more prominently. The Brawler rarity system, and specifically the unlocking of Chromatic (or in other words older seasonal) Brawlers has some interesting pacing math behind it that works in beautiful synergy with the game’s Brawl Pass.
As new seasonal (Chromatic) Brawlers are unlocked in the premium track of the Brawl Pass, they can only be collected by repeatedly purchasing and completing subsequent passes, which, as mentioned in the timeline, can be done through the use of Gems instead of IAP. The more seasons the player refrains from purchasing, the harder it will become to keep owning all Brawlers, including Chromatic ones. To catch up, every season the player completes, they earn 500 Chromatic tickets, including those players who do not purchase the Brawl Pass. That provides players with exactly enough currency for one legacy chromatic Brawler purchase.
This tight gameplay and monetization loop does, on one hand, keep dedicated players coming back (although nothing lasts forever), because the only way to catch up in case one falls behind is by saving up the 90 Gems earned by completing the pass. That in turn means they can purchase the pass without spending real money every two months if they complete it every season.
On the other hand, the system also deters new players from trying to collect all Brawlers, as only a capped amount of Chromatic tickets can be earned per season. Long story short: paying to purchase the Brawl Pass helps players catch up in regard to Brawler collecting, while not doing so eats into your reserves of Gems and Chroma Credits.
Additionally, any players who weren’t able to purchase the prior season’s Brawl Pass have to wait until that season’s Brawler becomes available for purchase with the Chroma Credits they received last season. For monetization purposes, Chroma Credits can’t be used initially, and the price of last season’s Brawler has been cranked up in a blatant attempt to make the most of the (rapidly waning) novelty effect.
As a result, players who wish to purchase a missed Chromatic Brawler will have to wait months until they can get it with their hard-earned Chroma Credits. You can start to see how this loop is designed to maximize spending on Brawl Passes and other currencies to accelerate the collection of new Brawlers.
Regarding short-term completion, the game’s Event-based setup already helps ensure engaged players feel an urge to check in once or twice per day to see if there are any special game modes to play. Over the years, Brawl Stars has successfully launched a wide enough assortment of modes to make daily check-ins worth it for highly engaged players.
But wait, there’s more! A good example of occasionally recurring live ops not covered in the timeline are Challenges. The first one ran on March 20th, 2020 and was Paris-Saint-Germain-themed, borne out of the then-active and year-long commercial partnership between Supercell and the fashionable football club. Since the first Challenge, Supercell has deployed a number of others — many themed around holidays like Christmas and Lunar New Year — to keep players coming back and striving for unique rewards.
During a Challenge event, players are tasked with progressing through several stages to earn extra rewards with prizes ranging from Brawler skins to pins and sprays. Players can only lose three or four times, depending on the event, before they lose access, although extra attempts can be purchased using Gems.
As is required for success in F2P, holiday-themed events are accompanied by a store reskin including special discounted purchases. Technically, these events are the only seasonal live-ops Brawl Stars contains.
Inherently, the “just one more” effect when playing Brawl Stars is extremely strong because of the game’s pacing. The short rounds and near-instant matchmaking keep players hooked and, most importantly, makes losing games a lot less frustrating than much of the competition thanks to the lower required time investment.
Throughout the years, Supercell has put increasing emphasis on monetizing Brawl Stars through its season pass. As was made clear last December, the company has been one of the forerunners when it comes to more fair and transparent monetization.
Starting in May 2020, when the Brawl Pass was first introduced, Supercell began actively moving away from gating progress and restricting rewards through randomized purchases. As it should be, the Brawl Pass has proved a no-brainer for dedicated players as it provides the biggest bang for the player’s buck. It’s especially smart that purchasing it proactively refunds half of its cost down the road, so this can be reinvested into future seasons.
But like many aspects of the game, Supercell’s monetization strategy has its flaws. One example: Golden Tickets, which were part of the initial implementation of Club Leagues. At the time the game’s social clubs were released, players were able to spend 15 gems or 300 Star Points to purchase extra tickets to play each week.
Instead of using Star Points on boxes or skins, players could use them (or Gems) to purchase four Golden Tickets. As some players in the community calculated at the time, this resulted in a significant bonus in Club Trophies for a price, transforming the entire system into a pay-to-win contest. For this reason, two months after the feature’s release, Golden Tickets were no more.
Overall, the game’s solid monetization owes much of its success to the Brawl Pass and Supercell’s continued support of seasonal rewards. The game has enough placements in terms of cosmetics, and Brawler Skin, Pins, and Spray offers are refreshed daily without overloading players with a Fortnite-level of variation. Next to that, players can buy out grinding effort by purchasing Coins, Brawl Pass progression, and Brawler Unlocks through the Credit progression.
It would be nice to analyze the game’s purchase placements some more, but as all of the game’s purchases go through the Gems, it’s impossible to say what these Gem sinks bring in without internal data.
While we’ve covered an exhaustive timeline of the game’s development, this already lengthy deconstruction hasn’t yet touched on the game’s most unique and distinguishing aspect. Perhaps this will be the topic of a future Brawl Stars piece, but it’s important to at least go over two of Brawl Stars’ in-game community drivers.
As of October 2020, players have been able to create their own maps from within the game. This has proven a huge success. Supercell shared that during the five months after the feature went live for all players, more than 150 million maps had been created. The developer has been exposing these UGC maps in the game’s main screen in a special Map Maker segment where players — after submitting their creations to a full-blown Greenlighting system — can play approved picks and upvote or downvote the maps afterwards. Playing matches here generally leads to more chaotic gameplay compared to Supercell’s own maps.
Unconventional gameplay galore in the game’s custom maps. | Source: YouTube
The map that was most-upvoted during the previous day is shown as “Winner of the Day,” which helps drive fervent map designers in the community to compete with one another and allows Supercell to showcase what’s possible with its creator tools (and perhaps to draw inspiration for the game’s own map designers as well).
Brawl Stars is the most successful Western mobile esports game in the world. It’s not easy to say if the whole endeavor is lucrative for Supercell, as organizing the events and coughing up the prize money each year is likely a hefty expense. But considering the studio has upped the prize money for this year, one could conclude that the Brawl Stars esports scene is still proving useful for Supercell. Even if such competitions are major revenue drivers, a thriving esports community creates exposure and excitement among players and helps market the game to new audiences, too. Supercell works with several third-party operators like Matcherino and ESL to facilitate the scene and accompanying tournaments.
While some developers like Riot Games have shifted esports resources away from mobile and toward more hardcore PC titles, Supercell has carried on with its annual Brawl Stars Championship. The differentiating factor here is that the Finnish game developer looks at the tournament with a player-inclusive mentality. Every year, they allow anyone in the player base to qualify for the championship by initially opening up the in-game Championship Challenge (the same Challenges feature that is used for all live-ops) to everyone. What follows is a series of monthly qualifiers and matches over the span of several months, selecting the best teams to qualify for the World Finals held in August.
Next to the yearly championships, Supercell also engages in other esports events like the Chaos Cup and the Snapdragon Pro Series hosted at esports and LAN convention DreamHack. More impressions of these events can be found on the Brawl Stars esports channel on YouTube and the official Brawl Stars esports website.
An uncertain future
While Brawl Stars still makes up a large chunk of Supercell’s revenue, longer-term trend lines show a steep decline for the game over time. When looking at the last six months, numbers look less dramatic. The Brawl Box deprecation campaign has a lot to do with this, but as its effects wear off, it looks like it’ll be back to where it started.
This evolution can’t be a big surprise, as effectively, nothing has changed that adds to the player’s intrinsic motivation to play this game. With a game of this age, and the UA needed to sustain its player base, we have two key reasons to explain Brawl Stars’ slow decline:
- “Low” long-term retention: Arcade and action games inherently suffer from a lower long-term retention, as by definition they offer less depth than progression-based or strategy games. While the best puzzle games show 13-14% day-180 retention, Brawl Stars hangs around 8-9%. While this is very high for any action game, it nonetheless illustrates how Brawl Stars retains fewer players than your average top-grossing title.
- Relatively low spend depth: While the game most likely manages to convert very well, high spenders don’t have a huge pool of purchases they are tempted to make after purchasing the quarterly Gems package to fund the Brawl Pass. This group most likely represents a very sizable chunk of the $2.5 million or so weekly baseline that the game’s revenue seems to be fluctuating at these days.
Where can Brawl Stars go from here?
As is logical for any five-year old game, Brawl Stars is in desperate need of some serious novelty. The game remains relatively dynamic on a day-to-day basis thanks to its hourly changing Events, but systematically, the game has been stale for the last year. The last addition to combat this staleness was the Clubs feature at the end of 2021.
Players are used to occasionally seeing new Event types. Therefore, the easiest move Supercell could make is further iterating on the most recently added modes (Bot Drop and Payload) and slotting them into rotation more regularly. As these modes provide high gameplay variation, they would most likely keep current players engaged for longer. But as the game lacks long-term progression, this alone is unlikely to ever turn things around.
As such, the main addition to combat declining retention and improve spend depth is a system introducing real and long-lasting Brawler mastery. Such a feature would encourage players to invest time and resources into playing only a select few Brawlers. While the game has done a tremendous job at diversifying the average player’s Brawler roster, it’s always lacked the means for players to make long-term investments into the handful of characters they truly love to play.
The mastery track could include Brawler-specific, single-player challenges or even a campaign that would enable players to grind and slowly customize that Brawler’s play style in new and meaningful ways. It’s important that this process would require weeks to complete for a single Brawler. To maximize its potential, these challenges could even be tiered in terms of difficulty. The reward could be similar to what the Gears are offering right now, but paired with a cosmetic change. For example, different color particles and a Master skin would go a long way in incentivizing players to pursue a mastery path.
Lastly, some conventional quality-of-life multiplayer features that would benefit Brawl Stars are still missing:
- More agency in terms of collecting cosmetics and showing them off
- Commending and reporting players according to match behavior
- Community features to share moments and replays
We believe Brawl Stars still has a long life ahead of it, especially because of its vibrant community and esports scene. But Supercell has already poured enough time into its main collection-based game loop. Going forward, a focal pivot toward more Brawler-specific, long-term features is crucial to keep the game from growing stale and improving its reward mechanisms and, by extension, player retention and spending as well.