Like any other promising industry, the Indian Gaming Industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Whether it be investments in mobile gaming companies, experiments with new game genres, game publishing or even an upcoming IPO, it’s come a long way. This growth has organically segwayed into the rise of eSports in India.

eSports, also known as electronic sports, is a form of organised, multiplayer video game competition, usually between professional players. Esports dates back to 1972 when the first video game contest was hosted at Stanford University for the game Spacewar. Students were invited to an ‘Intergalactic spacewar Olympics’ to win a year’s subscription for the Rolling Stone magazine.

eSPORTS in India

eSports Startups & Audience Growth

eSports has recently  witnessed new companies and partnerships along with content distribution deals focused on making eSports mainstream in India.

2018 began with India’s first ever televised eSports event christened ‘U-Cypher’ that was aired simultaneously on media giants such as MTV, YouTube and Twitch. The show was organised by ‘U-Sports’, a niche sports company that also dabbles in pro-kabaddi and motorsports. U-Cyphers’ first season included teams competing over four popular games: DOTA2, CounterStrike, Real Cricket17 and Tekken7. U-Sports has also reportedly approached the Sports Minister, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, in a bid to create an entity representing Indian gamers at the world stage. Given the extensive publicity ‘Khelo India’ received, many hope that the Sports Minister will bless this ‘sport’ as well.

U-Sports however, is not the only party in town promoting eSports. ESL – the world’s largest eSports company hosts regular leagues and tournaments across the world with prize pools worth  millions of dollars. In India, they host their tournaments in partnership with NODWIN gaming, a pioneer in the Indian eSports arena. CobX is another eSports company that has held successful tournaments in India and is looking to up the ante in professional gaming through bigger prize pools.

eSPORTS in India

Make no mistake, eSport is a spectator sport and that means that in addition to professional gamers, there is a need for  massive audience interest as well. Frost & Sullivan estimates the Indian gaming viewership is around 2 million. Additionally, according to the Esports Federation of India, there are about 10 million serious gamers in India. This number bodes well for viewership as gamers also tend to be serious viewers of eSports. Market Analyst Newzoo predicts that the viewership is expected to grow five-fold by 2021. Viewership numbers also  give an interesting insight on games that are better received than others. For example, games such as ‘Counter Strike – Global Offensive’, ‘League of legends’, ‘Overwatch’ and ‘DOTA2’ command the lion’s share in terms of Global audience. However, which games work with the local audience, is still a work-in-progress as evidenced by U-Cypher introducing both mobile and PC games in their first season.

Player Winnings and Prize Pools

eSPORTS in India

If ever in doubt about the professional scope of eSports, look no further than international eSports champion Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn. While participating in a Starcraft 2 tournament held in Korea, Sasha won Rs. 32 Lakhs as first prize. Considered by many to be the most successful female eSports player in the world, her overall career prize money stands at over Rs.1.3 Crores. Her winnings are indicative of the revenue opportunity in the world of eSports. In 2017, there were around 600 major eSports events that generated a whopping Rs.384 Crs in ticket sales. The cherry on the cake  was that the total prize money of all eSports events held in 2017 was north of Rs. 650 Crores! This uptake in revenue brings good tidings for professional gamers all around the globe. While Indian gamers competing in local tournaments might not be making the same as their international counterparts, this hasn’t stopped the local eSports organisers from investing in the space. For instance, U-Cypher doled out Rs.51 Lakhs as the prize pool for season 1. The team in first place won Rs.21 Lakhs for their efforts. Cobx Gaming too, is offering up to Rs 1 Crore for their ‘South East Asian tournament’. NODWIN gaming announced at the recent India Gaming Show held in Bengaluru (also covered by the team at GameCast India) that the overall prize pool for their tournament would be around Rs 1 Crore. Much like in any other sport, a lucrative prize pool acts as a good incentive for professional gamers to take the sport more seriously and eSports companies are doing their best to up the ante in order to attract the best talent. Player prize pools are expected to be in excess of Rs.6 Crores in 2018, signalling a huge boost in pro-gamer earnings.

eSPORTS in India

Investments & Partnerships

Investments and partnerships are strong indicators of growth in early industries. While still considered a nascent industry, eSports has seen a slew of early investments and partnerships in India which in turn has potentially opened the floodgates for many more to follow. Early this year, ESL (eSports League) expanded its global footprint by acquiring a minority stake in mobile game dev shop and publisher – Nazara Technologies who in turn, recently acquired NODWIN gaming, a eSports startup. The current investment with Nazara gives NODWIN gaming a licensing agreement to organise and operate ESL competitions in India for at least the next 5 years along with media distribution rights of ESL global content. Nazara has also announced that it would be investing close to $25 million in eSports in the next few years and it seems that their investment in NODWIN is just the beginning. Major companies are also seeing the potential in the distribution space. Discovery Communications owned D-Sport signed a broadcast deal with NODWIN gaming to show the ESL India premiership last year and MTV partnered with U-Cypher for the first televised show on eSports. It would be fair to assume that the investment community along with game developers and publishers are soon to follow, if the trend in eSports investments fall in line with short and long-term growth objectives.

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