Mumbai-based Naman Mathur, 25, an eSports player who goes by the name Soul Mortal, is gung ho about the future of eSports in India. When Mathur and his friends began their careers five years ago, they struggled to explain what they did to family and friends. In the past year or so, the situation has changed dramatically.
Although the popularity of gaming has grown by leaps and bounds, it is still restricted to the web-savvy, young audience. But now, with Nodwin Gaming and Star Sports joining hands to telecast a mega eSports event, Battlegrounds Mobile India Masters Series, for the first time in India, the gaming industry is expected to witness the next level of growth.
“The entry of eSports into mainstream media is significant because it builds a place for the players, and for the space to grow more and more,” said Mathur, adding that such initiatives will help reach out to new audiences, and increase the earning opportunities for career gamers.
So far, eSports events were streamed on online platforms such as SonyLIV, Hotstar and YouTube. The BGMI Masters Series is a tournament where gamers are competing for ₹1.5 crore prize money.
In another first for India, last October, Nodwin had tied up with PVR Cinemas to live stream eSports events in theatres across Gurugram, Hyderabad, Indore and Mumbai.
Kamal Gianchandani, chief of strategy at PVR, had said back then that PVR wants to make it an annual affair to help it grow “along the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL)”.
“Think of this as the IPL of e-Sports in India. Think of theatres as the venues, akin to stadiums, for games to be played," Gianchandani had said.
Multiplex chain INOX has also partnered eSports Federation of India (ESFI) in February to telecast Road to Asian Games, an event organized to finalise the team representing India at the Asian Games, after the games’ committee’s decision to recognize eSports as a medal event for the first time.
To be sure, eSports in India still has a long way to go, but revenues from the industry are on the rise. According to a March report by EY-FICCI, while the number of players grew from 300,000 in 2020 to 600,000 in 2021, the industry’s revenues grew 29% from ₹7.5 billion to ₹9.7 billion in the period.
Experts said smaller cities could contribute to a large part of eSports’ target audience, who typically consumes content on TV, instead of subscribing to OTT platforms, and tie-ups with TV channels will widen the reach of eSports in far-flung areas of India.
Lokesh Suji, director, ESFI and vice president of the Asian Esports Federation, said that eSports is still misunderstood by people in India, and TV will make more people realize that it is a competitive sport where gamers use their physical and mental abilities to compete in certain genres of video games.
“This will bring eSports into the mainstream and give it the credibility, legitimacy and fandom mostly associated with traditional sports. People can enjoy eSports through a television set and DTH service, very much like cricket or football,” said Akshat Rathee, NODWIN Gaming’s managing director and co-founder.
Access to TV and other traditional media outlets could drive foreign investments and open up new advertising and branding options, said experts. “Unlike digital viewing, television viewing does not interrupt a crucial moment with an ad blocker, and who would not want that,” Suji added.
Animesh Agarwal, founder and chief executive, 8bit Creatives, a gaming talent management agency, said mainstream media coverage will also help accelerate eSports infrastructure. Nodwin, for instance, has built a studio specifically for large-scale eSports events.
Perhaps most importantly though, gamers and industry executives said this will help bring parental and societal acceptance as gamers see more brand endorsement opportunities. “For brands, practically it's about numbers and engagement. At the end of the day, if mainstream coverage increases these numbers, brand endorsements might see a rise too,” said Agarwal.