Are You Game for the Esports Boom in India? While online gaming and real money gaming startups and enthusiasts are facing a setback with 28 per cent GST, Esports, on the other hand, esports is thriving with positive policies and announcements by the government
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In a country where cricket is worshiped in every sense, one virtual sport is rising rapidly to captivate the young and upcoming generations. A new breed of athletes is emerging—esports athletes. And esports is no longer limited to niche-elite crowds with high-tech gadgets and settings, a simpleton boy of 15 years with a penchant for gaming can become a big-time esports player with the opportunities presented by esports start-ups in the country.
While online gaming and real money gaming startups and enthusiasts are facing a setback with 28 per cent GST, Esports, on the other hand, esports is thriving with positive policies and announcements by the government.
The three tend to be confused with each other. Online gaming refers to interacting with video games at an informal level, real money gaming (RMG) are online games which requires users to make a deposit in cash or kind with expectations of earning winnings. On the other hand, esports refers to skilled athletes competing, individually or in teams, in tournaments for prize and recognition. While all esports are online video games, not all online video games are esports. Some of the popular esports games include Counter-Strike, Fortnite and Valorant.
INDIA AND ESPORTS:
In December 2022, the Government of India officially recognized e-sports in the country and declared that it will now be part of the "multisports event" category in the country. Bifurcating on the basis of platforms, esports is categorized into PC-based, console-based and mobile and tablets, of which the latter two have dominance.
THE COMPETITIVE PLATFORM:
Esports will be making its debut at the Asian Games 2022 (postponed due to Covid-19) and will have eight titles under it- Arena of Valor, Asian Games version; Dota 2; Dream Three Kingdoms 2; EA Sports FIFA branded soccer games; HearthStone; League of Legends; PUBG Mobile, Asian Games version, and Street Fighter V. A 15-member contingent team is representing India in four events at the Hangzhou Asian Games. It was inducted as a pilot event at the 2022 Birmingham Games and had three titles in open and women categories- Rocket League, eFootball, and Dota2. India bagged a bronze in the Dota2 Open category. The International is an annual esports world championship for the video game Dota 2 and its 2021 edition had the largest prize pool worth USD 40.02 billion.
The opportunity is not only at the international level but is prominent in the gaming scene in the country. Some of the most notable leagues and tournaments include the Skyesports Championship, ESL India Premiership, Dreamhack Hyderabad, ESL One Mumbai, Battlegrounds Mobile India Series 2021, and Valorant Conquerors Championship.
THE MARKET OPPORTUNITY:
Grand View Research, a market research firm, valued the global esports market at USD 1.88 billion in 2022. Meanwhile, the India Esports market size was valued at USD 165.7 Million in 2022.
START-UPS IN THE RACE:
According to data provided by Tracxn, a market research firm, the massive opportunity provided by esports in the country has led to the rise of 326 Esports start-ups in the country. Some of the start-ups that have received interest from investors include WinZO, Rooter, Gamerji, MPL, FanClash, Revenant Esports, STAN, Adda52, and PlayerzPotz. Typically, the primary target audience age bracket is 13-35 for start-ups.
According to Soham Thacker, his Esports start-up Gamerji has developed a technology to automate tournaments and level matchmaking, "It is helping us scale to more than 2000 tournaments daily. Currently, most of the esports tournaments are conducted manually, limiting the offering for instantaneous tournament experience," says Thacker who has been an avid gamer for over 20 years and when he realized that except for the top tier, the rest didn't get rewarded for their skills or a chance to elevate their gaming aspirations, he founded Gamerji.
"While working on my previous startup, Ewar, we had a vertical dedicated to esports. I noticed an unmet demand for certain features, which led me to pursue this venture. Creators like Jonathan and Mortal had a massive fan following, but there were no means for them to connect with their fans, and vice versa," shares Parth Chadha, CEO and Co-founder, STAN. At present, the start-up works in three segments- connecting fans and creators, helping creators monetize, and partnering with multiple brands and games.
"Since the Government of India's recognition of Esports as a part of multi-sports events, we have seen a 43% growth in content generation on the platform, even as watch hours have grown by 14% since the BGMI un-ban and the organization of esports tournaments around the game," shares Piyush Kumar, founder and CEO, Rooter, an esports and gaming platform. NODWIN is working towards nurturing the dynamic gaming and esports ecosystem in India and abroad. Founded in 2014 by Gautam Virk and Akshat Rathee, NODWIN also hosts some of the most popular esports tournaments in the country including ESL India Premiership, Dreamhack India, and Mumbai Esports Cup. There are over 350 million gamers in India and esports encouragement can lead to a good fraction of them turning into professionals. "Projections even suggest we could see a whopping 1.5 million athletes by 2027. That's proof that esports isn't just a dream; it's a legitimate career choice for many," shares Rishabh Bhansali, Co-founder, FanClash.
KPMG reports that India has over 400 gaming companies along with 420 million online gamers, second to China.
ESPORTS AS PROFESSION:
As per reports, there were 600,000 esports players in 2022 and is expected to reach 1,500,000 by 2027. Some of the notable esports players in the country are Naman Sandeep Mathur aka Mortal, Tanmay Singh aka ScoutOP, Payal Dhare aka PayalGaming, and Jonathan Jude Amaral.
"The Esports industry in India is witnessing exciting growth and recognition currently. Additionally, the return of popular titles like BGMI and Free Fire has sparked momentum, leading to more tournaments with higher prize pools for players," shares Tanmay Singh aka ScoutOP for young-budding esports players. The esports personality has over 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube. Gaming is not by large associated with girls. "If you have a passion for gaming, there are numerous opportunities to explore within the industry. The inclusion and recognition of women players can greatly benefit the gaming world," shares Payal Dhare aka PayalGaming. STAN's demographic breakdown of players is 80 per cent male and 20 per cent female.
According to Bhansali, the esports ecosystem is evolving, providing not just playing careers but also coaching gigs, content creation opportunities, and streaming gigs. "With more financial support and fans joining the party, gamers now have a real shot at turning their passion into a full-time gig," adds Bhansali.
In August this year, KRAFTON, the developer of BGMI, announced its decision to invest USD 150 million in the Indian market. Recently, Reliance Digital announced "Digital Level Up", an Esports event aiming to give budding gamers an opportunity to showcase their skills and win INR 20 Lakh prize pool. "Digital level up is one of the many initiatives that Reliance Digital has taken to establish its leadership and assert itself as the one-stop-shop for gamers in India. We offer the latest gaming laptops, gaming consoles, gaming phones, and accessories. There is even a dedicated gaming experience zone in some of its flagship stores where enthusiasts are free to walk in and experience the thrill of playing their favorite game," shared Brian Bade, Chief Executive, Reliance Digital.
The Singapore-based gaming ecosystem, Ampverse recently announced its partnership with DMI Finance to co-develop esports intellectual properties for the Indian market. The partnership was kickstarted with the launch of 'College Rivals', an IP to foster the esports thrill in college communities. "College Rivals focuses on the college students of India and serves as a talent hunt platform to find the next big Esports player from colleges. We are targeting gamers in the age bracket of 18 to 22 years across 5 Tier 1 cities in India - Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad and across 25 Tier 1 colleges," shares Ashwin Haryani, Country Head, Ampverse India. He previously founded GamingMonk, now acquired by MPL.
"With improving Esports infrastructure, growth in teams and players and the recent revival of two flagship mid-core titles like BGMI and FreeFire, we expect there to be increased interest from advertisers and brands alike for esports given the young demographic reach. In terms of investment return, alongside investment in publishers, Lumikai has invested in digital platforms on account of their ability to galvanize gaming adoption in terms of scale, impact and reach," shares Salone Sehgal, Founding General Partner, Lumikai.
Compared to global counterparts, India's esports ecosystem is still at its nascence and is largely a mobilebased market against other PC/controller heavy markets. To become a PC-intensive market, India will take its time as there is still limited penetration of high-end gaming infrastructure in non-metro cities. Brand sponsorships, advertising and media rights sales are a big part of the gaming and esports ecosystem in the West. However, in India, this is a more recent development. More eyeballs equals more sponsorship deals and more income sources for competitive esports athletes. However, not many are clear on the differentiation between RMG and Esports, but awareness is underway. Haryani shares that the path towards becoming an Esports athlete is not well-defined and that like every new industry, Esports will have regulatory issues and will need systems in place to grow.
The International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group (IMARC Group) reported that the market is expected to reach USD 522.6 Million by 2028 at a CAGR of 21.1 per cent. According to Chadha, STAN aims to clock in 21 million monthly active users by 2027, clocking in a revenue of USD 100 million. "For a market as diverse as India, the biggest opportunity lies in its youthful demographic, its consumption potential, and its future spending power. With concentrated efforts from esports ecosystem partners and effective grassroots development, India can be a leading mobile gaming and esports market," shares Kumar. Animesh Agarwal's startup 8Bit Creatives is nurturing talent in the country, "Over the next five years, we anticipate an unprecedented surge in gaming in India, driving the digital revolution forward. Notable milestones, such as India winning a bronze medal in DOTA 2 at the Commonwealth Esports Championships and the country's participation in four different titles at the upcoming Asian Games 2022, are signs of what's to come."
"The Esports wave isn't just hitting the big cities. It's spreading like wildfire to non-metro areas, making sure everyone gets a slice of the action," concludes Bhansali.