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Indian e-sports gamers turn into athletes as Asian Games approach

Indian e-sports gamers turn into athletes as Asian Games approach
Photo Credit: 123RF.com
10 May, 2022
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For Moin Ejaz and Mayank Prajapati, 2022 has been a big year so far. For the past decade, players like them have made money by playing local and state level gaming tournaments held in India from time to time. But they’re taking on their biggest challenge this year, going up against gamers they’ve never met before.

The two professional electronics sports (e-sports) gamers are part of an 18-member Indian contingent that will play games competitively at the upcoming Asian Games. The global multi-sport event has for the first time accepted e-sports as a medal sport, which is seen as a big boost for the industry as a whole.

Moin Ejaz, Team India DOTA Captain and Mayank Prajapati, Street Fighter V

Ejaz, who is a 29-year-old Kolkata-based player, specializes in a game called Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2), while Prajapati plays a game called Street Fighter V. They both beat about 200 other gamers (spread across multiple categories) who entered the national qualifiers for the Asian Games, held by e-sports governing body the Electronic Sports Federation of India (ESFI) last month.

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Last week, the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) and the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee postponed the games due to a resurgence in covid-19 cases in the country. Unlike many, Ejaz sees this as a positive development. “I’m going to get more time to practice,” he exclaimed.

He leads a team of five who will enter the games for India, and all of them need to improve coordination and communication, and develop new strategies to play at the games.

For both Ejaz and Prajapati, the problem has been to get enough practice ahead of the games. Interest in competitive online gaming has been soaring in India over the past few years. But while eSports alone is expected to grow fourfold in the next three years, according to a June 2021 report by EY, it’s still a comparatively smaller industry.

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Both Prajapati and Ejaz said they played against gamers they were familiar with at the qualifiers, and hence knew their strengths and weaknesses. The global market, which is much more advanced, is a whole new challenge.

According to EY’s report, India’s eSports industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 46% from 250 crore in 2021 to Rs. 1,100 crore in 2025. In comparison, the global market is valued at $1.08 billion, according to data-tracking website Statista. Which makes the Asian Games appearance even more important for these gamers.

“A lot of online tournaments appeared (after the pandemic), but it was not enough for me to make a living. To support my gaming career I had to do freelance work as an interior designer.” said Prajapati. With the Asian Games, he hopes the industry will mature to a point where it can become a full-time career.

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Ejaz also added that his income from gaming hasn’t been the same as it was before the pandemic. 

Playing as a professional gamer in India has changed a lot, said Prajapati. Many gamers are getting support from their parents. According to industry estimates, a top eSports gamer can make somewhere around Rs 60,000 to Rs 500,000 per month. However, the focus for most parties involved is mobile games, which pale in terms of both skill and scope of earnings as compared to large PC games, like Dota 2.

Ejaz pointed out that German eSports firm, ESL, stopped hosting the Dota 2 events in India as there were not many viewers here. The company is among the oldest and largest operational eSports firms in the world. Its entry in India in 2016, was seen as a big boost for the industry at the time.

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“There are very few players left in India who play professionally. Many don't understand how Dota 2 works because of its mechanics,” said Ejaz.

Prajapati said he has been struggling to find a coach to guide him for Street Fighter V. He also has to continue juggling work and practice till the Asian Games.

On its part, the ESFI, has asked athletes to seek help from the body for things they require. Prajapati, who is seeking help from international coaches, said EFSI will help him financially for the same. US-based recruitment firm Ziprecruiter lists annual salaries for eSports coaches in the range of $40,000 per annum.

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The winners of the National Qualifiers will participate in the Asian Esports Federation’s (AESF) Road to Asian Games — Regional Qualifiers, which will be held later this year, and will seed players for the main event in China. The dates for this too will change now, since the Asiad has been postponed.

Till then, Ejaz and company plan to continue entering more tournaments, and watching international matches to learn as much as they can.