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The Dawn of Indian eSports


  • India has been a more recent entry into the competitive esports scene. It is perceived as a young generation’s thing. But slowly, thanks to games like PUBG and Fortnite, the esports scene in India had also started growing.
  • The Esports audience of 6 million in 2017 has grown to over 17 million in 2020 while prize pools grew from around INR 77 lakhs in 2016 to INR 384 lakhs in 2018.
  • The release of PUBG Mobile India created a revolution in the Indian esports scene. The game with over 734 million global downloads had India at its top with more than 175 million downloads on its own which amounted to over 24% of the global market share.
  • The esports and online gaming market in India has been driven by the proliferation of high-performance smartphones and increasing presence of gaming-related companies and markets.

Esports is a sporting competition that involves video games, PCs, and gaming consoles rather than the traditional running, jumping, or swimming. Most organised esports tournaments involve 2 teams or sometimes even individual players battling through a particular video game to achieve kills and/or objectives to proceed to win. The professional players are called esports athletes, and much like traditional athletes, they too have a number of sponsors backing them.

 

Esports have also, over the years, grown massively so much so that many particular companies have been setup around this industry including streaming platforms, news platforms, and some that even work as guides and training platforms for aspiring esports athletes. Various streaming platforms are the ones to benefit mostly from the growth of the industry of which Twitch is the biggest player followed by other services such as YouTube gaming, Facebook live etc.

 

India however, has been a more recent entry into the competitive esports scene. A majority of Indians are still unaware of the esports industry as it is more of a young generation’s thing. But slowly, thanks to games like PUBG and Fortnite, the esports scene in India had also started growing. Even though PUBG has been banned, players are now finding workarounds or alternatives to the game. Bottom line being, the esports industry is still on a rise in the country. The most popular genre being FPS, MOBA, and Battle-Royale, games like DoTA2, Counterstrike, Fortnite etc are building a quite large player base, and even teams are being launched for the competitive scene.

 

Even though legitimising esports as a career option will take quite some time, there has been a good growth in the industry. Esports accounted for around 4% of all online gaming users and 9.13% of aggregated revenue out of the overall online gaming market in FY20. The growth in esports prize money pool by 123.3% during 2016-2018 has also been responsible for the growth of the industry. The rise of 4G and its spread along with cheaper internet services has only added to this growth.

Esports in India

Esports in India has always been around, from over the LAN counterstrike tournaments to FIFA, the only problem is that it was a niche industry with no official acknowledgement. However, as technology got cheaper, and the internet became widespread and easily accessible, the niche has slowly expanded. Most of this growth is however quite recent where the esports audience of 6 million in 2017 has grown to over 17 million in 2020 while prize pools grew from around INR 77 lakhs in 2016 to INR 384 lakhs in 2018. This increase in prize pool has in turn brought in a lot of new professionals looking to adopt esports as a viable career option.

The release of PUBG Mobile India created a sort of revolution in the Indian esports scene. The game with over 734 million global downloads had India at its top with more than 175 million downloads on its own which amounted to over 24% of the market share, more than the combined share of China (2nd place) and US (3rd place). Obviously not all the players who downloaded the game turned into professional athletes but many enthusiasts have slowly turned into esports athletes due to the large prize pools involved.

 

While in 2010, India only had 25 game developers whereas now there are more than 250 joining the list every year. Conglomerates like Paytm, Alibaba, Tencent et al, have been investing heavily in the Indian esports industry, which is currently one of the top 5 countries in terms of mobile gaming. Most of the revenue generated in esports is sponsored by companies like Asus, Oppo which have been funding to organize and promote esports competitions in India. The market leader in esports, Acer, organises Asia’s biggest eSports tournament known as the “Acer Predator Gaming League” every year. Alongside Acer, HyperX has been associated with ESL India Premiership League, which is the biggest tournament for eSports in the country. This has lead to the inception of various Indian esports teams such as Orange Rock, TSM Entity, Total Gaming, Marcos Gaming and many more thereby solidifying the Indian esports scene.

In 2019, India ranked 17th on a global scale in the soon to be a billion-dollar industry. With the growth in professional gaming in India, improved infrastructure like increase in the number of events and tournaments for gamers to participate, better internet services and the rising purchasing power of the consumer, gamers can now look at gaming as a professional career choice rather than just a hobby or a leisure activity.

 

“India continues to be one of the most promising markets for esports in the world in terms of size and potential. Mobile gaming penetration has surged in the past few years fuelled by affordable handsets and lower data costs. Additionally, further penetration of video streaming platforms like Youtube and video-based social networks like Tik Tok has further helped propel the mobile esports friendly games into mainstream,” Paytm First Games COO Sudhanshu Gupta expressed during one of his interviews last year.

Was COVID-19 a Catalyst to eSports?

As we all know, 2020 was a bad year for the entire planet with strict lockdowns everywhere and all leisurely activities getting shut down, many people turned to the world of video games for relief and entertainment. According to a report by Barc and Nielson the number of mobile game users per week grew from 60% in pre COVID-19 times to 68% during the lockdown. Similarly the time that mobile game users spent went from 151 minutes before COVID-19 to 218 minutes after the lockdown.

 

Even new gaming start-ups such as Nazara Technologies, Gaming Monk, WinZO, Gamerji saw quite a good amount of growth during the pandemic lockdown. Ahmedabad-based Gamerji, which has conducted more than 6000 esports tournaments to date, saw a 2.5X surge in traffic post the lockdown, with 150K new users a month.

 

“There is higher player engagement in most platforms and this could potentially boost the esports economy, as most sponsors who would usually partner up with cricket or other major sporting events have all been postponed, this leaves esports as one of the few sporting events that sponsors can partner with to promote their product,” said Yash Pariani, director, Indian Gaming League, a Mumbai-based start-up that has seen a 90-100% increase in customer engagement and daily sign-ups within esports since the lockdown.

 

This has also lead to a growth of related industries such as esports betting, streamers, and even game reviewers as well as news media. While the lockdown growth has shown that Indian gamers and audiences have the propensity to engage and spend, there’s a long way to go for the Indian market. Firstly, gaming start-ups and esports companies have the challenge of sustaining this growth and making substantial rises in revenue earned from players and viewers.

 

What Drives Esports in India?

The esports and online gaming market in India has been driven by the proliferation of high-performance smartphones and increasing presence of gaming-related companies and markets.

A few reasons for the same are detailed below:

Smartphone Penetration

Availability of cheaper technology lead to the number of smartphone users in India to grow at a rate of 15% during 2015-2020. The growing demand for digital services for information, entertainment and communication through apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube have paved way for more matured segments such as esports in India. Also with the ease of accessibility in smartphones, games such as PUBG Mobile took the Indian market by storm with an estimated 33M monthly active users.

 

Emergence Of Esports Café

Esports cafes are not only a way for people to play games without owning the sometimes expensive pre-requisite hardware, but this is where the competitive mentality is built through amateur tournaments. It also allows gamers to engage and create communities. India is home to an estimated 350-plus such esports cafes with PC hardware giant NVIDIA announcing plans to expand its gaming footprint in India by adding 100 more cafes.

 

Rise In Start-up Investments

As demand for competitive gaming rises in India, the esports and gaming segment is attracting adequate investor interest.. Between 2014 and H1 2020, the total venture capital funding in Indian gaming start-ups was $448 million. Among the gaming start-ups, the top-funded start-ups are Dream11 with $100 million in total funding, followed by Smaaash Entertainment with $82.6 million in funding and Nazara Technologies with $79 million.

 

On a global scale, India has just started out and has already shown the potential of becoming a top country in eSports. As it stands now, the Indian gaming industry is shaping up to become one of if not the biggest market for digital gaming. With the emergence of competitive gaming, eSports is evolving as a viable career option for virtual athletes and gamers. The Indian eSports industry today is without a doubt one of the fast-growing industry in the world and its fairly evident the future of eSports in India is quite promising. But it still has a long way to go to catch up with in terms of revenue and income for players. To put in perspective, In 2019, esports tournaments in the US offered over $40 million  in prize money, whereas one of India’s largest tournaments — the PUBG Mobile India Series 2020 — offered INR 50 Lakh as total prize money.

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