Indian mobile game developers pivot to eSports for next big break

Indian mobile game developers pivot to eSports for next big break
Photo Credit: Pexels
12 Dec, 2021

Mohan Doss, co-founder of Chennai Games is excited that his mobile racing game, Mr Racer, will soon have an electronic sports (eSports) mode that will allow players to participate in and conduct tournaments. The Tamil Nadu-based game development firm is one of the first adopters of unicorn gaming startup, Mobile Premier League (MPL’s) new eSports software development kit (SDK) that was released last month for all mobile game developers.

Chennai Games is just an example. Following the post-pandemic boom, an increasing number of gaming firms in India are pivoting or redesigning their games to incorporate eSports, once dismissed as an industry that had no future in India. 

Rajendran PR, co-founder and CEO of Nextwave Multimedia, a subsidiary of Nazara Technologies, developer and publisher of a game called World Cricket Championship 3 (WCC 3), ran a few small tournaments with a proprietary eSports mode that was launched in April, followed by a larger tournament sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull. 

Rajendran said that once he saw interest from gamers, the company scaled up that module and built more tools to appeal to large tournament operators. These tools not only allow more players to compete, but also offers features like changing camera angles in real-time while streaming a match online.

Nextwave is now planning to tap into MPL's eSports SDK. “MPL’s eSports SDK is under final stages of production and testing. There are certain eSports related customisations that we wanted in our game and the SDK enables that. This was also an opportunity to work alongside a big player and create more tournament opportunities for our fans. We think it will help us scale our audience,” he said.

The Indian gaming industry currently generates $1.5 billion in revenue, which is expected to triple by 2025, according to a November 25 report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Mobile gaming accounts for 86% of the Indian gaming market, the report noted. And with games like PUBG Mobile etc. raking in crores in the form of tournament prize money, the interest in eSports is growing too.

To be sure, much of the eSports action revolves around a handful of international imports right now, such as battle-royale games PUBG and Garena Free Fire. MPL’s eSports SDK and other such offerings are looking to change that. Also, Indian gamers do not indulge as much in large format PC Games like Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) etc.

But the industry is big enough for big ticket eSports teams from around the world, like Team SoloMind (better known as TSM) and Fnatic, to setup India-specific teams to recruit local players and compete in regional tournaments. 

In a June blog post, Ashish Pherwani, Partner, Media and Entertainment Advisory Services, EY India, wrote that the eSports market size in India “has quickly scaled” to Rs. 3 billion in FY2021, and is expected to reach Rs. 11 billion by FY2025. “However, the sport has much larger economic impact: we expect it to generate economic value of around Rs. 100 billion between now and FY2025,” he added. BCG also noted that eSports is in the nascent stages but pegged its value at $100 million and growing fast.

“With mobile gaming continuing to scale and grow rapidly, we see a massive opportunity for mobile eSports and what it offers to both developers and players. We spotted a gap in the tools available today to organise mobile eSports at scale,” said Vibhav Viswanathan, Vice President, Product Development at MPL.

In games, eSports drives engagement, and higher engagement leads to higher retention and conversion. It also increases the lifespan of games, since a competitive tournament can run for 5-10 years, which keeps players interested in a game for long even if a new version isn’t created fast.

Availability of eSports in casual but popular games like WCC also lowers the entry barrier and encourages more casual gamers to participate in eSports. “Typically eSports tournaments are conducted by dedicated eSports tournament operators and they are invite-only in most cases. A large part of users who want to compete in eSports is left out. We wanted to enable anybody to conduct and participate in small tournaments,” added Rajendran.

Satish Meena, eSports analyst and co-founder of Sutradhar, a short story platform, said, “eSports is picking up across the world, including India, and it makes sense for Indian companies to head in that direction to capture more audience. This will also give them more monetisation options. Going forward, you will see more investment in eSports gaming and streaming in India.”

Experts feel mobile eSports will benefit all stakeholders in the ecosystem, including gamers, game publishers as well as platform providers like MPL. More casual gamers are expected to transition to serious gaming, generating more professional gamers from India, and more revenues for all involved.