The increasing popularity among Indians for eSport has stimulated the gaming industry, especially in the backdrop of the Covid induced pandemic. Inspired by this new wave, Animesh Agarwal, an eSport professional, decided to move from just playing games to becoming an entrepreneur. The 25 year old, who recently launched a gaming talent agency, now spends time between his gaming talent agency and attending invitation-only eSport tournaments globally.
Much like athletic sporting events, eSport is a form of organised multiplayer video game competition, particularly between professional players who either play individually or as part of teams. The game is broadcast live for interested audiences and is enjoyed globally.
Talking about the rise of eSport, Agrawal said, “Covid-19 really helped the gaming industry a lot because the only form of leisure apart from OTT platforms was gaming. We saw a huge surge of people following us across YouTube, Instagram, Loco. Since we are very optimistic about how 2021 would be for gaming, we are going heavy with investments that we are putting into our company.”
Agarwal’s rise from a professional player to an entrepreneur over the last three years indicates the increasing popularity of eSport in India, where viewership doubled to 17 million in 2020. At the same time, the prize pool for eSport grew about 25-30%, according to industry estimates.
Global gaming firms, such as Activision, Garena, and Supercell, which publish Call of Duty, Free Fire, and Clash of Fans, plan to invest in India’s eSport ecosystem after PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) had to exit late last year in the wake of the Indian government’s clampdown on Chinese or China-associated apps. Consumer and electronic brands are enhancing budgets in order to sponsor these tournaments, according to industry executives who estimate that the highest prize pool in India was Rs1.5 crore and lowest has been Rs 1,000.
Anirudh Pandita, Founder, Pocket Aces, the owners of Loco, a game-streaming platform, said, “We are at most a couple of years behind (the US and China), PUBG had really set up the market. Now other publishers have seen that and that is why you see companies like Activision invest. They are looking at the market and saying there is real potential here.”
Talking about the surge in the growth of eSport, Girish Menon, Partner and Head-Media and Entertainment, KPMG India, observed, “In the aftermath of the pandemic, mobile eSport and streaming witnessed a significant surge in user base as people had more time on hand. In order to cater to this audience, multi-gaming platforms, streaming players and telcos have started to invest in eSport tournaments to capture or engage their users.”
Lokesh Suji, Director, Esports Federation of India, says there could be over 200 million eSport enthusiasts in the country. “eSport is the only sport that can outrun cricket easily. We need government support to recognise it as a sport and not mix it with online gambling.”
Anticipating big growth in the near term, Sai Srinivas, Co-founder and CEO at Mobile Premier League (MPL), estimates that “in the next 5-6 years, an incredible number of digital athletes will emerge from India and win medals. As data becomes cheaper and devices become more accessible, the best way to enable physical sports is through digital sport.”