Esports is a form of sport competition using video games which is often organized into multiplayer video games, particularly between professional players, individually or as team. Esports has managed to take over the market in India mainly because of the growth and promotion done on online streaming platform such as Youtube and Twitch. The word “esports” is getting increasingly popular by the day thanks to the multiplayer online games like PUBG and Fortnite.
The masses still don’t know that the esports industry is more than a decade old and has just shot up in India in the past few years with more developers and investors jumping into the sector. The most common video game genre of esports are multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), first person shooter (FPS), fighting, card games, battle royale and real time strategy (RTS). The popular franchises include League of Legends, Dota and Counter strike.
Although the legitimacy of esports as a true sporting competition remains in question, they have been features alongside traditional sports in events such as Asian games, while even the International Olympic Committee are also discussing their inclusion into the future of Olympic events. In India esports accounted for around 4% of all online gaming users and 9.13% of aggregate revenue out of the overall online gaming market in FY20. The growth in esports prize money pool by 123.3% during 2016-2018 has attracted gaming enthusiasts to become professionals
Esports in India
According to Forbes, India ranks 16th, with a total revenue of $1.17 billion (8,000 crore approx.). Comparatively to, North America is estimated to generate revenues of almost $409 million in the next four years while China known to have largest gaming market in the world, with a total revenue of $37.9 billion (Rs 26.11 lakh crore approx.) in 2018, followed by US, Japan and Korea. This shows there is huge potential in the esports market and India needs to tap into that space.
In 2010, India only had 25 game developers whereas now we have 250 more joining the list every year. Corporate giants like Paytm, Alibaba, Tencent and even Nazara have been investing heavily in the Indian gaming market, which is currently one of the top 5 countries in terms of mobile gaming. Most of the revenue generated in esports is sponsored by companies like Asus, Oppo which have been funding to organize and promote esports competitions in India.
Apart from the local tournaments like PUBG Mobile India Series 2019, for the first time, Mumbai is set to play host to one of the biggest esports gaming event, ESL (Electronic Sports League) which will see Dota 2 players from across the globe compete in the two-day tournament. According to a Forbes report, as of October 31st 2019, 285 players from India had earned $216,761.38 (Rs 1.49 crore) in various esports tournaments and games, ranking India at number 64.
Esports market during Covid -19
The paradigm shift in the way Indians consume content and the way people socialize online has acted as a catalyst for man attention economy sectors including online gaming. According to a report by Barc and Nielson the number of smartphone game users per week grew from 60% in pre Covid times to 68% during the lockdown. Similarly the mobile games per user spent went from 151 minutes before covid 19 to 218 minutes after the lockdown.
Esports has a huge potential in the Indian market because of the high youth population. The esport segment has online gaming has witnessed significant growth in India in the past few thanks to proliferation of high end smartphone at affordable prices, as well as the rise of mobile games such as PUBG mobile, Free Fire, Clash of Legends, call of duty Mobile among PC and Console games.
Along with deeper penetration for high speed 4G internet and a rise in the number of online gamers the esports market has all the ingredients for growth. The aggregate revenue of esports startups and companies in India reached $68 Million in FY2020 and is projected to grow by CAGR 36% in the next 3 years, as per Inc42 Plus analysis of 36 companies including Jetsynthesys, Nazara technologies, Usports, Gamerji among others.
Role of the stakeholders
From e-commerce platforms like Flipkart to Asus, high end gaming hardware manufacture s like Asus as each platform play a major role in making sure that budding gamers and professional get the required accessory or hardware. According to Leon Yu, Regional Head for India and South Asia, ASUS, “most gamers these days demand LCDs, mobility of hardware and mostly importantly performance. We have also ensured that affordability and performance is catered to with our new series of ROG gaming laptops, which start at Rs 50,000.”
In terms of affordability and availability, ecommerce platform like flipkart and amazon make sure that customers get the products at a cheaper price. Looking at the market opportunity, even unicorns such as Paytm and Hike have doubled down on games. While Paytm launched Paytm First Games as a multi-game platform, Hike-backed WinZO has also been growing rapidly and has raised plenty of funding in the recent months.
Connectivity is quintessential for the growth of the gaming industry and telecom providers too have been working around the clock to not only provide users with affordable data plans, but also work towards make high-speed data accessible across India. According to Anurag Khurana, Head of Esports, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, “In terms of data availability, Reliance Jio has setup 3,00,000 mobile towers and spread around 3.5 million km of high-speed broadband cables across India in order to improve the connectivity because I feel low latency is key for online gaming.”
Esports as a career option
Currently there is not much scope for professional gamers in India as the infrastructure and the ecosystem is not ready to support a lucrative livelihood for many. According to Akshat Rathee, “choosing to be a gamer is a risky proposition in India as there is not much scope. However, there are other avenues one can explore in the gaming industry. People can choose a career in game commentary, choose to be an influencer where they can play games and talk about it, or a coder who can write code to build AI for games.”
Data handlers are also a good option where they can track data issues and then the biggest avenue is voice-over artistes as many developers will look to localize game content for Indian gamers. A career in esports or gaming in India can easily earn you anywhere from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh in a month. Since esports doesn’t require any extreme physical strength, it is a gender neutral space. Sasha Hostyn is one of the most successful women in professional esports and recently won the Intel Extreme Masters 2018 tournament, taking home $50,000 (Rs 34.45 lakh).
Rise in Esport Prize Money Pool
As indicated earlier, esports has seen rising participation from Indian players as the prize money across esports tournaments has been on an upward trajectory since 2016. The entry of PUBG Mobile in India was game changing moment as it provided gamers a career option. As per sensor tower data for July 2020, out of PUBG Mobile 734 Mn downloads globally, India was the ranked top in terms of downloads, with 175 Mn installs or 24% market share.
Of course, much of this growth has been in recent years, whereas esports is already a multi-billion dollar business in the US and China. So relatively speaking, India has a long way to go in terms of revenue and income for players, despite outpacing China and the US in terms of downloads. To put in perspective, in 2019, esports tournaments in the US offered over $40 Mn in prize money, while India’s largest tournaments the PUBG Mobile India Series 2020 offered Rs 50 Lakh as total prize money.
Aside from the internet penetration and demographic fit, esports market in India has been driven by the proliferation of high performance smartphones and increasing presence of gaming related. The number of smartphone users in India grew at a CAGR of 15% during 2015 to 2020. The growing demand for digital services for information, entertainment and communication through apps such as Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube have led to matured segment like esports.
Emergence of Esports Café
Esport cafes are not only a way for people to play games without owning the requisite hardware, but this is where the competitive mentality is built through amateur tournaments. India is home to an estimated 350-plus such esports cafes with PC hardware giant NVIDIA announcing plans to expand its gaming footprint in India by adding 100 more cafes. Nemesis Gaming, League of Extraordinary Gamers (LXG) and Circle Gaming are few major esports cafe startups in India.
Rise in Startup Investments
The demand for competitive gaming rises in India, the esports and gaming segment is attracting adequate investor interests. Between 2014 and H1 2020, the total venture capital funding in Indian gaming startups was $448 Mn, according to Inc42 Plus. Among the gaming startups, the top-funded startups are Dream11 with $100 Mn in total funding, followed by Smaaash Entertainment with $82.6 Mn in funding and Nazara Technologies with $79 Mn.