A ban on Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) will severely impact India’s fledgling eSports industry given the strong popularity of the game which has more than 100 million registered users in the country.
Devdeep Dhar, also known as Soul Zeref in the gaming community, is worried that a ban might lead to yet another disruption in the eSports industry and hit the viewership of gamers who earn by streaming BGMI gaming sessions.
For Indian eSports, BGMI is the biggest game currently, accounting for all major tournaments, said Dhar. He said that even among game streamers, there are many who have grown their audiences from BGMI. “They don’t know what to do. Some of them have millions of subscribers. They are concerned about their viewership,” he added.
Though the government has yet to make an official announcement on banning BGMI, the app was taken down from Google Play and Apple App Store last week under Section 69A of the IT Act, sparking concerns that it is headed down the same road as PUBG Mobile.
PUBG Mobile was banned in September 2020 along with hundreds of apps and games with Chinese links over security concerns. BGMI is a rebranded version of the game with Indian content and is being distributed by the game’s original publisher Krafton, a South Korean company. The game was launched in July 2021 after Krafton severed ties with China’s Tencent, which was distributing PUBG Mobile in India and was accused by the government of sending user data to China.
Though Krafton said it is in talks with the government to resolve the current imbroglio, many feel that if the stalemate continues, it will disrupt the gaming and eSports industry, given BGMI’s huge following.
“The BGMI ban will definitely be a setback for all major stakeholders like tournament organizations, eSports teams, support staff, and most importantly the athletes,” said Rohit Jagasia, founder and chief executive of Revenant eSports.
Rohit Agarwal, founder and director of influencer marketing firm Alpha Zegus pointed out, "If BGMI is banned, tournament sponsorship volumes may decrease, and the size of prize pools may take a dip until the industry figures out a resolution."
He added that when PUBG Mobile was banned, the viewership among content creators fell by nearly 70% since the alternate titles did not have the same popularity and pull.
To note BGMI’s popularity, the recently-concluded BGMI Masters Series 2022, the first eSports tournament to be broadcast live on TV, generated 12.3 million views in just the first eight days, according to organizer, Nodwin Gaming, an eSports company.
BGMI Masters Series which had a prize money of ₹1.5 crore is one of many eSports tournaments that revolve around the game. Krafton’s four official BGMI tournaments for 2022 have a total prize pool of ₹ 6 crores.
Another tournament, the BGMI Esports Premier League Season 2 LAN Finals, where ₹ 1 crore is at stake, is scheduled in the first week of August. The large prize money is an indication of the BGMI’s popularity among gamers and fans.
According to Dhar, Valorant is the second-biggest eSports game in India, but its yearly prize pool is not even 15% of BGMI.
Agarwal at Alpha Zegus said that currently, the online gaming space has shifted from being dependent on one big title to being “centered around the sport itself.”
Though gamers would prefer BGMI, Agarwal feels that they would eventually move to a different title, such as PUBG New State, for their streams and tournaments.
Though the ban will be a setback for sponsors of gaming tournaments, it’s all about the eyeballs. Agarwal said that online gaming now is commercially lucrative to be ignored due to the ban on one game.
Sameer Barde, chief executive of the E-Gaming Federation agreed that for gamers and the industry, there will be an impact on the industry given BGMI’s popularity. But he is optimistic that the industry will find a way to move towards an alternative like they did after the ban on PUBG Mobile.
“Industry as a whole should not be halted for one game,” he added.
Gamers such as Dhar also said that currently, there is no option but to try out other games such as PUBG New State, another version of PUBG that was launched by Krafton last November.