Esports in India

You may have been hearing a lot about Esports recently. Especially in the context of the lockdown, with outdoor sports having downed shops for the moment. In which case, you may have been wonder:  What exactly is Esports?

Well, for those in the fog, we have the answer: Esports is the world of competitive and organized video gaming, bringing competitors from across the globe together crossing leagues and genres of gaming.

To make a long point short: Pubg is an example of a popular esport, with global leagues and their ilk set up around it.

Labelling video games as sports is a controversial point of debate. While some point to the growth in popularity of Esports as justification for designating some games as sports, others contend that video games will never reach the status of “true sports”. However, popularity is not the only reason identified: some have argued that “careful planning, precise timing, and skilful execution” ought to be what classifies an activity as a sport. After all, physical exertion and outdoor playing areas are not required by all traditional or non-traditional “sports”.

In 2003, China was one of the first countries to recognize esports as a real sport, despite concerns that video games were addictive. The government instead encouraged esports, stating that by participating in them, players were “training the body for China”.

The first esports event took place almost half a century ago, in 1972, where Stanford University students competed in the video game Spacewar. They were invited to the “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” whose grand prize was a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone. There, Bruce Baumgart won the five-man-free-for-all tournament while Tovar and Robert E. Maas won the team competitions.

The fighting game Street Fighter II (1991) popularized the concept of direct, tournament-level competition between two players. Previously, video games often relied on high scores to determine the best player, but this changed with Street Fighter II, where players would challenge each other directly creating the path for competitive multiplayer and deathmatch modes found in modern action games. The popularity of fighting games such as Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom in the 1990s led to the foundation of the international Evolution Championship Series (EVO) esports tournament in 1996.

In South Korea, esports’ rise is thought to have been influenced by the mass building of broadband Internet networks following the ‘97 Asian financial crisis. The high unemployment rate at the time caused many people to look for things to do while out of work. Instrumental to this, was the prevalence of the Komany-style internet café/LAN gaming center, known as a PC bang. The Korean e-Sports Association, an arm of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, was founded in 2000 to promote and regulate esports in the country.

Fast forward to almost five decades later, the esports industry hit an all-time high of $1.1 billion in 2019 and is estimated to reach $2.17 billion by 2023. Needless to say, it’s gained a global reputation and is one of the fastest-growing sectors today.

India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and home to over 1.3 billion people, has emerged as a lucrative market for esports from a growth perspective. In recent years, the country has witnessed several a surge in esport startups. As of 2019, India stands at no. 17 globally in the soon to be a billion-dollar industry. With the growth in professional gaming in India, improved infrastructure and stadia, greater internet penetration, and rising purchasing, gaming is slowly becoming a professional career choice rather than just a hobby. Being a mobile first market, games like Tencent’s PUBG Mobile have played a huge role in the rise of competitive gaming in India.

India has evolved as a major player in the online competitive gaming arena. Game revenue rose from $253.6 million in 2014 to $1.1 billion in 2019. These figures are only likely to rise further, given that India is now second only to China when it comes to the number of smartphone users, according to esports analytics experts Newzoo.

Further, even gaming content consumption is at an all-time high, with streamers like Tanmay Bhatt, Mortal, Dynamo, Carryminati, among others raking in huge numbers – and bucks.

Is it all green? It rarely is.

Everything is not prosperous in the booming scene of Esports.

(1)People’s perception is that gaming has always been considered more of a means to kill time than anything else. There is no respect for those who are passionate about gaming. People who are gamers often get laughed at and are considered to be wasting their life. It’s been labelled as the hobby of a child who cannot play Galli cricket.

(2)There’s a lack of knowledge about the field, as not a lot of gamers actually have the nerve to come forward and try it as a viable career.

(3) When compared to the US market, the hardware in India is costly. This is because there are only a few hardware manufacturing in India. All the computer hardware is imported from foreign countries and being sold. Imported goods contain Import duty and appropriate taxes, which causes an increase in the price of computer hardware in India. If you are a PC gamer In India, it’s gonna burn a hole in your pocket. You need to have at least a good system which costs you at least around Rs.50,000 to play a game even in Medium Settings.

Publishers help in opening an advanced experience frontier for gamers in India. Major game publishers in India include Gamezone, Video_Game_Publisher, Gameguru, Express Computer Online, Nexus-nettech, Nazara, etc. Publishers have a high impact on the gaming industry in India. Like the arena of software, publishers have started moving towards casual online gaming. This in turn is expected to boost India’s gaming market.

However, there is a serious lack of publishers in the Indian esports ecosystem. Event organizers in India need a license from international publishers for tournaments, making them a pricey endeavour for most.

On the plus side, we are growing. To cite a study conducted by KPMG, the number of game development companies in India today stands at around 275. This number was a mere 25 in 2010. Celebrity and persona-based games have witnessed a huge success over the last few years. This is also expected to significantly boost gaming content consumption in the country. But this is still not enough.

What seems to be the problem? Well, as Nimish – India Lead at Fnatic – puts it on the Kreeda Talks podcast, “Investors are not quite ready to put in huge amounts towards making flagship game which may cost millions to develop. Creating these games is difficult, expensive and a lack of funds plays a major role in developing and publishing games in the subcontinent.”

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces people to stay indoors, consumption on digital media platforms has increased.

Not just streaming platforms, gaming platforms have also seen a surge of users and an increase in the amount of time spent by consumers on such platforms. A recent Nielsen report shows that Indians’ use of their smartphones has increased 9% to around 3 hours 40 minutes daily compared to pre-lockdown times. Consequently, there has been a mad rush among social networking sites, OTT streaming platforms and online chat applications to get a share of this surge. Karan Khairajani – co-founder of Firescore Interactive – talks about hypercasual gaming becoming a force to be reckoned with in India – be it while travelling in trains to kill time, to being cooped up at home and bored, and boy, have people been bored during the lockdowns. The rise in digital consumption numbers proves his point.

Today, gaming platforms seem to be the clear winners as time spent on them has increased from 22% to 30% even as the share of social networking sites has remained flat during this period. Interestingly, the report states that there has been a greater increase (55%) in the times spent on gaming platforms by older women as compared to the average smartphone user (49%) in the last 5-6 weeks.

We can conclude that there is an upward trend for esports in India, but we still have a long way to go. Right now, mobile gaming is booming. People coming on board with more games like PUBG – playing and creating both – for competitive esports will be the next logical step. On a global scale, India has just started out as an esports entity and has already shown the potential to be a big, big market for the same. As it stands, the Indian gaming industry is shaping up to become one of – if not the biggest market – for digital gaming. With the introduction of esports in India, gaming is not just an avenue for entertainment anymore, but a viable career option for virtual athletes and gamers. A veritable KO even.

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