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Gaming industry gears up for Asian Games but challenges remain

Gaming industry gears up for Asian Games but challenges remain
Photo Credit: 123RF.com
13 Mar, 2022
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Thirty-year-old professional gamer Ankur Diwakar has been taking time out of his usual practice schedule over the past few months, to focus on mental and physical well-being. He says he exercises and meditates more regularly now and focuses on keeping control over his nerves. Why? Because Diwakar is preparing for the upcoming Asian Games 2022, where e-sports will be a medal event for the first time ever.

Diwakar is one of the many e-sports athletes who have started preparing for the September event in China’s Hangzhou. Players from across Asia will be competing for medals across eight popular gaming titles. “I am making sure that I am playing only two days a week and the remaining five days are dedicated to practising,” he added.

The admission of e-sports as a medal event has come as a shot in the arm for the gaming industry in India. Other than gamers, some large companies and industry bodies have also stepped in to speed up preparations. For instance, Asus set up its Republic of Gamers (ROG) Academy in 2021, and is working with gamers to help in preparations.

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Further, the Esports Federation of India (ESFI), which has been entrusted with holding the qualifiers for the Asian Games in India, is working to ensure the shortlisted players have access to top-class coaching, mentorship, and infrastructure. ESFI is recognized by the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF), which is recognized by the Olympic Council of Asia.

“Our biggest challenge is to manage anxiety. If you look at e-sports, most of the players are very young. We are in the process of getting mentors on board who will provide mentorship to shortlisted players to overcome the psychological challenge of playing at such a large event,” claimed Lokesh Suji, director of ESFI and vice president of AESF.
Suji said the Federation is planning to host some online matches with neighbouring countries. The regional qualifiers could also help players overcome the mental barrier of playing at such a large event, since most Indian gamers are otherwise used to playing in local tournaments.

ESFI has also partnered with movie theatre company INOX to use movie theatres across the country to conduct qualification tournaments for the Games, along with training sessions for players.

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However, despite increasing efforts, there are still challenges. According to Diwakar, representing the country in the Games is a “different psychological experience” and there is more pressure. He said that though gamers in India are better off financially now, especially after a gaming boom since the pandemic, right mentorship and good quality coaching is often missing.

Suji, too, rued the shortage of coaches in e-sports as the industry is still in its nascent stages. Getting international coaches from other markets can be expensive and difficult for players due to language barriers etc.

According to a June 2021 report by EY on the media and entertainment industry, the market size of the Indian e-sports industry was ₹3 billion in FY 2021 and is expected to reach ₹11 billion by FY 2025.
Arnold Su, business head, consumer and gaming PC at Asus India, said, “E-sports is a rapidly growing industry in India. There is a lot of enthusiasm around it, but the right kind of infrastructure, formal recognition, academics, and policies are challenges that remain.”

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Another challenge that players are facing is the lack of clarity on certain games, such as Arena of Valor (AOV) and PUBG Mobile, which were banned in India as part of the government’s crackdown on Chinese apps and games. Both games are part of the eight titles at the Asian Games.

The ban on some of these games has also kept some organizations from investing in Indian players. A case in point is Stalwart eSports, an Indian esports organization, which has signed a lineup of players in Mongolia for the Asian Games.

“There was no clarity and we couldn’t risk things. PUBG Mobile is a discipline in Asian Games that has been banned in India. The lineup we have signed is one of the strongest in Mongolia,” said Zeyan Shafiq, founder of Stalwart Esports.

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India was one of the biggest markets for PUBG Mobile before it was banned in September 2021, leaving millions of players in lurch. Though new games in the PUBG series were launched in India by South Korean owners Krafton, those are not part of the Asian Games discipline.

The Indian contingent for the Asian games will be selected through open qualifiers called the National Esports Championship organized by ESFI. The qualifiers will be open to both professional and casual gamers. The last date for the submission of the Indian team entries is April 15, 2022.