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Opinion: How PUBG Mobile transformed the Esports scene in India


It’s no secret that PUBG Mobile has taken India by storm and the mobile title has thrived in the subcontinent giving birth to an entire ecosystem of content creators, tournament organizers, players, organizations, and talent. As an Esport in the region, PUBG Mobile is the king, with titles such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive which are popular globally, taking a back seat. The two titles formed the pillars of the small Indian esports community for a long time, but the entry of PUBG Mobile has tipped the scales heavily.

For tournament organizers, the incentive to execute a PUBG Mobile event has become much higher as the footfall and the viewership for those are significantly larger than what is expected from a traditional Esport. Esports organizations too, have realized that there is a huge market to be captured and huge fan base that can eventually be tapped when it comes to the game. At this point, it would almost be foolish to be an Indian Esport organization and not have a PUBG Mobile roster.

While PUBG Mobile’s rise to the top certainly seems surprising, especially when compared to the global esports landscape, the conditions and existing infrastructure in India is fertile ground for mobile titles.

The rise of PUBG

Launched in the year 2017, at a time when people in India were alien to anyone who tried to play a game professionally. PUBG really picked up the pace by 2018, players were so passionate about the game that it was inevitable that a competitive scene grew around it.

The success of PUBG is mainly attributed to its reach, as put by the co-founder of gaming monk-Ashwin Haryani “The Internet penetration rate increased with Jio, reaching even rural areas along with cheaper smart phones is what made PUBG so successful”. The game with 33million plus downloads in India was first of its kind on mobile in the world, the potential of a phone game upholding an esports scene was unthought of, in fact the game was so well developed that the focus of the game was gameplay over graphics and people accepted this.

Why PUBG dominates the Indian Market

Courtesy: Inc42 Media

 

India has a population of 1.3B people, nearly one-fifth of the total population of the entire planet, and is set to become the most populated country in the world by 2024/2025 based on current projections. But what sets the country apart is the fact that 50% of the populace is below the age of 25 and 65% of them are below 35.  For any marketer, this is a dream scenario as a younger demographic means better purchasing power, adequate disposable income, and an affinity for trends and Improving infrastructure has led to cheaper access to the internet which has further accelerated the game’s growth in the country. From 2017 to 2018, India witnessed an annual growth of 18% in internet users, and in 2019 the country has 451M active internet users, which is the second-highest in the world.  For additional context, this is higher than the total population of the United States, which stood at 327M people in 2018.

While internet usage is currently dominated by the urban population, rural penetration is on the rise, with growth rates at 35% compared to 7% in urban areas. But what is really the clinching factor is the fact that 97% of Indians on the internet use their mobile devices to access it. An ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry)-PwC joint study showed that by 2022, 859M Indians will become smartphone owners as compared to 468M in 2017. In fact, a large segment of the population, although mobile users, aren’t smartphone users and are expected to make the change with time.

The Rise of Content Creators

It seems clear that while a majority of Indians don’t have access to a gaming PC or a console, access to smartphones is already there and growing. As a result, a lot of mobile titles have had massive popularity over the years but a few key factors drove PUBG Mobile to new heights. The emergence of content creators who went all out in terms of building their brand, their following, and their content, has become essential to the health of the scene, making not only a name for themselves but elevating the title to new heights.

Channels such as Aaditya ‘Dynamo Gaming’ Sawant have already amassed a massive following, sitting at over 5M subscribers. Being one of the first to arrive on the scene, Dynamo’s rise to popularity has been interesting to watch. In a time when global streamers are adding more and more elements to their stream and trying to establish a more personal connection to their fanbases, Dynamo’s streams feature just pure gameplay and voice without any bells or whistles. Other popular streamers such as Naman ‘MortaL’ Mathur, Chetan ‘Kronten’ Chandgude, and Ronny ‘Rawknee’ Dasgupta have also steadily built up big followings by carving out niches for themselves.

And if we look at how some of the popular streamers have been performing lately, Dynamo added nearly 240K subscribers on YouTube in the month of September alone, while MortaL increased his tally by an impressive 190K.

But it isn’t just the big ones; there are many more streamers who are popular in the realm of PUBG Mobile, all of whom are able to hit consistent numbers, which allow them to pursue YouTube as a full-time career. There are even channels dedicated to covering news, drama, and gossip about these content creators and have furthered the cause by helping the Indian audience keep up-to-date and discover even more people.

This newfound fame and popularity have now gone mainstream as brands and companies are now using these new celebrities to reach out to a newer audience. Amazon Prime recently featured MortaL, 8bit Thug, and Viper, along with two-time National Award-winning actor, Manoj Bajpayee to promote a web series. Earlier this year, the makers of the Bollywood film Uri also featured the lead actor in a promotional video with one of India’s top YouTubers, Carryminati, playing PUBG Mobile. The movie went on to become one of the most successful Indian movies to have ever been made.

With mainstream media attention, celebrity influence, and easy access, PUBG Mobile in India is inescapable. At a time when gaming has become the social currency for a lot of age groups, PUBG Mobile is the top dog in the country.

PUBG Esports in India

With a massive player base and an equally excited fan base, PUBG Mobile tournaments have begun to cater to a wide audience. From paid entry online tournaments promoted by ticketing platforms such as BookMyShow to some of the biggest Indian Esport LANs, almost no big brand has lost out on the opportunity to cash in on PUBG Mobile. Audiences are so hooked to watching their favourite players and teams play, that they will even tune in to scrims and practice games. Youtube is the primary platform on which PUBG Mobile content is consumed by Indian audiences but live streaming platforms like Nimo.tv are trying to get big streamers and influencers by offering them deals as well.

Sponsors have also been key in making PUBG Mobile tournaments a reality as they realized the numbers and the reach that the title can reel in. Smartphone manufacturers like Oppo and Vivo have naturally gravitated to the game while non-endemic brands such as Mountain Dew, who has been involved with esports around the world, has begun to make the shift in India as well. In a span of just one year, PUBG Mobile has become the title with the highest prize pool in Indian esports, and it seems unlikely that its position at the top will be threatened in the near future. Handset manufacturers are the biggest sponsors with brands like One Plus, Huawei and even ASUS roping in mobile gaming influencers to promote their products.

Internationally as well, tournament organizers have begun to cash in on the PUBG Mobile craze by dedicating regional streams to cater to Indian audiences. These regional streams almost always perform far better in terms of viewership than the English channels. To put this into perspective, the English stream for Day 2 of the PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO) Summer Split shows 1.8M views, while the same for the Hindi stream is at 3M. Both numbers are from the VODs on the PUBG Mobile Official Youtube channel. The day 3 Hindi stream has been watched over 3.8M times while the number for the English stream is not available.

In India, PUBG Mobile LANs are more often than not, packed to the brim, with organizers having to turn down fans from entering the venue. No other esports title in India has ever witnessed this level of fandom, especially when it comes to LAN attendance. The PUBG Mobile India Tour (PMIT) and the PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO) are the two biggest tournaments in PUBG Mobile in India, and both are organized via Tencent. But they have enlisted the help of local organizers and studios such as Tesseract Esports, Playtonia, and Nodwin Gaming. While all 3 have established their own properties in the past and worked with other clients, it’s safe to say that Tencent and PUBG Mobile is a big boost to their businesses. But apart from Tencent run tournaments, there are plenty of third-party and community tournaments running year around. While it’s hard to keep a track of these individually, tournaments with prizes ranging from $100 USD to $15K is on offer almost every week. It’s hard to verify the authenticity of these tournaments however, as they aren’t streamed but depend upon paid registrations.

The game was so competitive by itself that the first tournament PUBG Mobile Campus Championship 2018 saw an overwhelming response of 2 lakh registrations. Players began to play longer hours as prize pools increased, Tencent has always been a huge contributor to these tournaments as publishers and organizers could get more eyes on the game. The game also adapted to regional languages like Hindi, Tamil etc. Akshat Rathee co-founder of Nodwin mentioned this to Inc42.

“Gaming was there in India, even before PUBG, but it was mostly played on PC and the language of games was mostly English, all the commentary and storylines were also in English,” said Akshat Rathee.

Most importantly PUBG got an average person’s attention on esports in India, people that were previously unaware about competitive gaming are now familiar to what it’s about. The owner of Villager esports, Kuldeep Kumar says “The game accelerated esports growth in India”, he says that in 2 years the game has grown exponentially and reached more players who want to pursue pro gaming as a career. Gamers will find what suits best for them after PUBG, even if PUBG never returns players and orgs will move on to other games.

PUBG BAN

The ban that has caused much concern in the to the Indian players, and the entire esports scene in India is another turning point in Indian gaming that can be moulded to grow the industry.

“gamers will end up finding different avenues to game” said Ashwin Haryani as he pointed out that Gaming Monk is back on track after a short decline in gamers post PUBG ban on their platform. He says that players have shifted to either Free Fire or CODM or a different game altogether.

It will take little time for players to adapt to different games, and yes, we may see new and younger stars in other games as well that will play professionally and represent India.

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