Zeyan Shafiq, a 19-year-old gamer turned eSports entrepreneur, who founded an eSports company called Stalwart eSports in 2020, hails from Anantnag--a small town in Kashmir. Zaid Afsar, another youngster from Pratapgarh district in UP, was a member of one of the 12 teams that recently made it to the India finals of the World eSports Cup 2021. He started gaming casually in 2018 and became a professional gamer only recently.
Shafiq and Afsar are just a couple of examples of the hundreds of youngsters who are coming from small towns and villages, and making the leap from casual gaming to professional gaming or taking up other career opportunities in gaming, such as coaching, shoutcasting, managing eSports teams, or even setting up their own small companies.
“Around 75% of the gamers now come from tier 2 and tier 3 cities, from places like eastern Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh or West Bengal," Abhishek Aggarwal, co-founder and chief executive officer of Trinity gaming, a gaming talent management company, said.
Shafiq, on his part, was a gamer earlier. "I started my eSports organization in 2020 to provide a platform and resources to my friends and players who wanted to pursue professional gaming as a career. Most of the players now come from small towns,” Shafiq said.
His organization has rosters in PUBG Mobile for the South Asia and UAE regions. For India, he has rosters for Battlegrounds Mobile India, which was acquired by TSM India in March 2021. Following the ban on PUBG Mobile in India in 2020 over alleged security concerns, Krafton had to launch an India only version of the game called Battlegrounds Mobile India.
Interest in gaming in smaller towns has skyrocketed, especially after the pandemic. A January report by Mobile Premier League (MPL), an eSports and skill gaming company, said tier 3 cities of India such as Muzaffarpur (Bihar), Dhanbad (Jharkhand) Ganganagar (Rajasthan) and Baimanagoi (Chattisgarh) have seen 100% to 200% increase in new gamers in 2021.
“The pandemic has added a significant boost to the gaming industry across the world and India is no exception. Internet penetration, affordable PCs and smartphones and a growing young and tech-savvy population has further fueled this growth,” said Vinay Sinha, Managing Director, Sales, AMD India. “The gaming community in India is dynamic, connected, and highly engaged with the ecosystem and the market. This has helped to expand the reach of gaming to tier 2 and tier 3 cities,” Sinha added.
Large technology companies, such as chipmaker AMD and gaming laptop and device manufacturer Asus, have also been actively working with gamers in India. In January 2021, Asus launched a virtual Republic of Gamers (ROG) Academy in India to nurture local talent. According to Sinha, AMD is also supporting and sponsoring various gaming tournaments across the country for amateur gamers.
Though millennials from small towns are taking gaming more seriously, Aggarwal rues that resources and opportunities are still limited and after a point in their career, they have to move to larger cities.
Trinity Gaming currently manages more than 250 top content creators in India such as Dynamo, Shreeman Legend, Antaryami, Jonathan & Alpha Clasher, who specialize as influencers for the gaming ecosystem. “We work from multiple angles. We have a social media team that guides them on recent trends. We have an editing studio that helps them with graphics. There are multiple more aspects such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). We also scout for new opportunities that help the creators diversify the monetisation opportunities,” Aggarwal added.
The emergence of pro-gamers from smaller towns and villages can also be attributed to the changing perception of gaming.
Shafiq, for instance, points out to the huge shift in mindset as many parents now reach out to explore the career opportunities in eSports for their children. “Until a couple of years ago, it was hard to convince players or even their parents to consider gaming as a career. Things are changing,” Shafiq said.
According to Aggarwal, eSports becoming a medal sport has also given a sort of validation to the gaming industry and has changed how parents and the older generation perceive gaming.
Money is another attraction. A tier-one professional gamer who plays for one of the top teams, as an example, can earn anything between Rs 60,000 and Rs 500,000, according to Shafiq. They can also monetise through brand endorsements and exclusive streaming deals.
The eSports industry in India is expected to quadruple in the coming years. According to a June 2021 report by EY, the eSports industry in India is expected to grow to Rs 1,100 crore by 2025 from Rs 250 crore in 2021 at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46%. The prize pool is expected to cross the Rs 100 crore mark. All these factors will only help more youth from small towns and cities become professional esport gamers and entrepreneurs.