In today’s digital age, several of our cultural experiences have undergone an online metamorphosis. With the internet becoming such an indispensable element of our social fabric, almost every facet of our communal lifestyle has been revamped to its online equivalent. This progress has spurred the evolution of our traditional ideas into exciting and innovative forms, and Esports embodies just that. In fact, India is making waves in this field like you wouldn’t believe.
For The Noobs
For the uninitiated, Esports or Electronic Sports is professional competitive video gaming. Often held in the form of competitions, these sporting events test the talent and skills of the participants in varied games such as Overwatch, Call of Duty, League of Legends, StarCraft II and more.
Sadly, Esports often gets watered down to “simply playing games on a screen”. If you happen to be a victim of this confusion, know well that Esports is far more professional, nuanced and refined when compared to the casual gaming fraternity. Much like any sport, Esports demands dedication, time and skill. Far from the nerdy stereotype they are perceived to be, a professional gamer sincerely pours in hours of hard work and zeal to hone their skills, sharpen their strategies, analyse their games and strengthen their teams.
Over the years, Esports has matured well beyond a catchy buzzword and a passionate subculture. The global eSports market size was $906 million in 2018 and is forecasted to reach $1.65 billion by 2020. Competitions such as Call of Duty World League and League of Legends World Championship are grand events held on a global stage. Fortnite World Cup, one of 2019’s most anticipated Esports event, has a prize pool of whopping $100 million.
So, where does India stand in all of this?
Checkpoints So Far
India is already one of the top five countries for mobile gaming. According to Forbes, the country now has more than 250 game development companies compared to the mere 25 back in 2010. India’s mobile games market is estimated to be worth $1.1 billion by 2020. A survey reveals that mobile gaming is part of daily life of more than one-third Indians, with 40% men and 35% women playing mobile games at least five days a week. All of this makes sense – India, which is on its way to becoming the world’s youngest country by 2020, is finally equipped with highly accessible internet facilities along with a rise of smartphone users. While phenomena like PUBG has taken the country by storm and has raised awareness about gaming culture, it hasn’t necessarily translated into competitive professional gaming.
Last year, 24-year-old Tirth Mehta from Gujrat created history by winning the country’s first ever esports medal at Asian Games 2018, coming third and winning bronze in the collectible card-based video game tournament called Hearthstone. Sadly, the bronze medal he won wasn’t added to India’s tally, for esports was a demonstration event at Asian Games. Despite being showered with praise and appreciation by family, loved ones and even the Chief Minister of Gujrat, Tirth can’t help but reflect on the poignant reality of esports in India as he humbly tells us, “There are Indian players who are better than me. Sadly, I know so many players who weren’t allowed to participate just because their parents didn’t consider gaming a serious thing. That seems crazy to me. Fortunately, I had the support of my parents. I hope my medal inspires people from our country. Parents should support and motivate their kids and people need to realize the significance of this industry.”
You don’t even have to be a fan of gaming to see the prospects of potentially a fully-fledged and profitable industry. The gaming viewership on platforms like YouTube and Twitch alone skyrocket as the years progress, so you clearly have a loyal growing audience. This ensures that this following can be mobilized to create revenue models and job opportunities. Meet Zerah ‘Angela’ Gonsalves, a gamer who has maximised her love for esports. As professional shout-caster (a gaming commentator and analyst) and an esports personality, she elaborates on the varied job prospects this industry has to offer, “There’s so much to do than just being a professional gamer. You can be a game designer, a caster, a streamer. You can write content about gaming; you can organise events. Within that there’s sales, advertising, promotion, products. The possibilities are endless.”
It’s no surprise that someone like Ronnie Screwvala, the entertainment media entrepreneur, launched UCypher, India’s first big multi-platform, multi-game eSports championship. NODWIN Gaming, India’s largest gaming solutions and esports company, has played a pivotal role in developing the Indian esports scene in the country by popularizing competitive gaming through its exclusive license partnerships with Electronic Sports League (ESL) and Electronic Sports Work Convention (ESWC). NODWIN Gaming works actively to run other marquee esports IPs such as the Mountain Dew Arena, The CII India Gaming Show among others, all strengthening India’s passionate Esports culture. Akshat Rathee, NODWIN Gaming’s MD tells us, “You know which sport had the most viewership on Hotstar after Cricket and Kabaddi? Esports. There are several government initiatives supporting this industry as well. So, there’s no doubt that the future’s looking optimistic.”
Respawning The Culture
It’s fairly evident that the future of Esports in India is quite promising. Despite having certain setbacks – like occasional cheating scandals, its affiliation with possible gambling, along with skewed representation with regards to gender ratios – Esports has mostly positive things to offer to India’s culture and economy. Unlike traditional sports, you only need a console and internet connection to start, which further tears down any socio-economic barriers and makes it all the more inclusive. There hasn’t been a better time to foster and promote homegrown talent.
As optimistic as everything sounds, India has always been a victim of archaic norms and traditions that hinders the growth of sports in general. Over the years, there have been countless stories of athletes who never got the right opportunities to shine or were immediately forgotten after their moment of glory. This lack of support from the society and the government leads to isolating sports as a viable career option and thus further handicaps any potential growth in the future. And esports is already a victim of this. Lokesh Suji, the director of Esports Federation League of India (ESFI), a body working relentlessly to get Esports recognized as a formal sport in India, tells us the sombre reality, “The awareness about Esports is seriously lacking. Younger players still don’t get their parents’ approval. Parents of the players who qualified to participate in Asian Games 2018 were shocked and reached out to us to confirm if that was true and were pleasantly surprised that esports is now considered as a sport.” But he remains hopeful as he further adds, “Esports in India cannot be ignored. While it won’t transform overnight, infrastructure is needed to ensure its growth. We need to organize more events and cultivate more talent. Esports will have its own Sachin or Virat.”
The spark of hope remains bright and strong. Young athletes across India are working tirelessly to strengthen their skills and maybe someday represent the country on a global stage without having to worry about the shackles of societal pressure or industrial inefficiency. Slowly, many aspiring gamers are giving Esports a serious thought with the hope to turn it into a viable career option. 22-year-old Aditya Dube from Mumbai is pursuing his animation degree while simultaneously playing professionally for Vector Sports India and liv-streaming his personal games as a hobby. This new bloodline of Indian gaming fraternity concludes it best by saying, “I think the future of esports in India looks promising. The industry is growing very quickly and more and more people are getting exposed to it. There are many players who are professional gamers and are doing well. As for me, I did think about it, but to have it considered as the only career you have to be extremely good and put in a lot of hard work and time and have a lot of opportunities to be able to put your name out there. Maybe someday Esports in India will grow to a point where many people can consider it as their main career.”
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