By Navanwita Bora Sachdev
When the Arknemesis 6500 sq ft gaming café opened in Chennai last year, it was the talk of the Indian esports community, with its state-of-the-art equipment and its sleek surroundings. Its founder Harish Suri even created India’s first fully sponsored Overwatch team.
India has been seeing a lot of action in the esports sector. As the Indian middle-class gains rapid access to smart objects, online gaming, professional esports, and mobile gaming, is becoming a burgeoning industry with opportunities galore for esports companies like AFK Gaming, Nodwin Gaming, and Nazara Technologies.
Esports in India: But are we truly there yet?
Compared to China, with their multiple government-supported eports centres, India has a long way to go. To put things into perspective, according to Newzoo data, China’s revenue from esports right now is around $1400 million, and the industry is poised to touch billions by 2020, which includes media rights, advertising, sponsorships, merchandise, tickets, and game publisher fees. In comparison, India’s current esports revenue comes to around $800 million.
Still, there is good news for Indian gaming fans. The Indian esports market is projected to become five-fold by 2021. However, are China and India headed for neck-to-neck competition? According to Riad Chikhani, CEO of GAMURS, the world leader in esports, India’s esports pace might be rapid, but China is already way ahead in the race.
“China is a unique circumstance in esports. Although India’s esports scene is growing at a rapid pace, China is already a hub for some of the largest companies involved in the entire industry. Conglomerates like Tencent have been investing heavily into esports for the past five years, and have helped create and maintain several large-scale leagues and organisational bodies to manage them,” he explained.
Read More: Will Esports be an Olympic Sport in 2024?
Chikhani says it would take more than a bit to bridge the gap between China and India’s esports success. “China’s gaming industry is already the largest in terms of revenue in the entire world, so competing with China in the future will be hard. India will need to realise rapid growth while China’s stagnates to become neck-in-neck,” Chikhani added.
Having said that, the Indian esports sector is buzzing with action. The mobile game publishing company, Nazara Technologies has already positioned itself in the Indian esports market. Recently, it acquired 55 per cent stakes in Nodwin Gaming. In the next five years, Nazara has plans to invest $20 million to encourage esports.
Nazara has also invested in Electronic Sports League (ESL) to benefit from sponsors for events such as ESL One, ESL Pro League, Intel Extreme Masters and The International. Esports startup eGamers Arena collaborated with host World Cyber Arena qualifiers in India for a championship held in China. Also, American gaming technology company Nvidia organised five GamerConnect symposiums in India.
Esports even touched television when U Cypher partnered with MTV to bring together U Cypher Championship, with teams playing for a prize money worth $80,000. Moreover, Angel investor and former UTV head Ronnie Screwvala also appeared in Indian esports news, when he set up India’s official esports federation to prepare and send Indian teams for world majors.
Further, Chinese giant Alibaba itself is investing in the Indian gaming market, along with its $100 million investment in Chinese esports. So while China has become the second largest esports market in the world, second only to the US, things are changing at a rapid pace in India too.
Chikhani sees the current esports trends as a breakthrough into the mainstream. He says the cool quotient of games allow them to reach out to a mainstream audience. “Fortnite is seeping into all parts of pop culture, and streamers are no longer for a niche set of gaming fans. These games are becoming “cool,” to a mainstream audience, which results in a rise in viewership. We are also seeing more structured esports leagues at least in the US, and as that grows, esports can start to achieve a system of tiers and ladders of different age groups similar to traditional sports. That will help its continued move into the mainstream.”
Worldwide, the most popular esports games right now are Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch, PUBG, Hearthstone, CS: GO, Hearthstone, and Dota 2. Strong fan bases also remain for games like Call of Duty, fighting games, and Rocket League. According to esports market research organisation Newzoo’s report, esports audience in 2017 went as high as 385 million throughout the world.
Esports: Not yet stable in India
Esports is yet to reach a stable state in India due to its lack of required infrastructure. India’s first fully sponsored Overwatch team is a team called Arknemisis, made up of six young athletes, who train physically as well as mentally for different esport tournaments. Most recently, they took part in the ILG Overwatch tournament in LXG Chennai.
Mansoor Ahmed, captain of Arknemisis, has been a professional gamer since a young age. “I was introduced to Counter Strike 1.6 (PC game) when I was 14 by my brother, which was my first and I have been into competitive gaming ever since,” he said.
When it comes to esports, Indian infrastructure is weak. Ahmed thinks the reason is the lack of support at the grass-root level. Are Indian esport players able to hold their own in international events compared to countries like China?
“At a young age, gamers need to be groomed into esports athletes and should have a local ecosystem good enough to sustain and grow. Most gamers end up either starting late or are able to dedicate only limited time to esports. They also need to have a regular job. That is why we cannot compete against top international teams,” Ahmad says.
“Also, it doesn’t help that viewership is low for esports in India. Hence, many brands are not interested in investing in athletes or teams, which again is not helping esports teams sustain,” he adds.
Ahmed has participated in more than 20 tournaments since the time he started playing Overwatch professionally and has won at tournaments like Pascal launch event OW Tournament 2016, Overwatch IND Inaugural Cup 2016, Overwatch GeForce Cup Season 1 2016, Coolermaster’s The Skirmish 2018, and ILG Season 2 Chennai 2018. The team Arknemesis has got tournaments lined up every month till December this year.
Ahmad says that the gaming industry has come a long way over the past few years. “There was a time when it was taboo in the eyes of parents. Now, I see families come down to the event day and watch their kids participate in various tournaments,” he says.
Many teams and players are backed by big organisations and sponsored by brands, for example, Entity Esports, which is an Indian organisation and a well-known name in the Indian esports community backs DotA 2 and CS:GO squad. Also, Team Brutality, which is a Mumbai-based CS GO team, is sponsored by Dell, Corsair Intel, and many more. Team Arknemesis is sponsored by Corsair and ASUS ROG.
“At the end of the day, after all the investment by brands and organizations, up to a point, being an esports athlete seems a viable career choice, but we still have a long way to go,” says Ahmad.
(Navanwita Bora Sachdev is a freelance contributor and a senior writer for The Tech Panda)