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2019 has been a breakout year for Indian esports in more ways than one, and while rising prize pools and the entry of new players is one thing, the country is finally waking up to understand what it means to be an esports nation. With this realization, however, it’s important, or actually in this case, crucial to understand what’s going on, how the Indian market is different, and what sorts of trends the country is expected to follow.
India offers one of the largest consumer markets in the world and offers massive potential to players who are able to capture the market. Many companies, both local and international understand this, which is interesting because, in the current scenario, companies and industries are trying to be as creative and as bold as ever while vying for the attention of the Indian audiences. Esports especially is a new player on the Indian scene but it is rapidly becoming a marketing avenue for brands despite its complexity in the eyes of the traditional marketer.
Indian Esports – A Radical Shift in 2019
In terms of esports in the country, a handful of tournament organizers (TOs) are active currently but new ones are slowly beginning to enter the market in an attempt to grab a piece of the pie. In 2017, roughly about $288.3K USD was paid out in terms of prize money spread across various titles and tournaments in India. In 2018, this number increased by nearly 86% as $535K was the estimated prize money that tournaments in India were offering. The lion’s share of this prize pool was distributed among Dota 2 and (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) CS:GO, which were the two leading titles in the market then. In fact, over 61% of the total prize money was spread between these two titles.
However, 2019 has been different in more ways than one. With four months left to go in the calendar year, over $1.1M has been announced via tournaments taking place in India. But unlike the previous years, in 2019, nearly 30% of this comes from tournaments featuring PUBG Mobile, a game that has taken Indian markets by storm. In fact, the numbers for 2019 would look very different if we were to exclude $ 300K from ESL One: Mumbai, a tournament which isn’t by an Indian TO or a tournament specifically for Indian teams. If we were to ignore this number, PUBG Mobile would make up 40% of the total prize money for 2019 while Dota 2 and CS:GO combined would sit at roughly about 52%.
This year, India saw two international tournaments in the country which followed a trend set by DreamHack, who became the first TO to host an international LAN in India. The COBX Masters, was a LAN event featuring Dota 2 and CS:GO, operated by Indian TO COBX Gaming and featured a $200K prize pool. ESL also brought one of its flagship tournaments to the subcontinent, ESL One: Mumbai, a $300K LAN event in the country.
However, despite two sizeable international tournaments, mobile esports and mobile gaming have dominated the markets so far and TOs who were previously focusing on Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) can no longer ignore this emerging opportunity. Participation and viewership for mobile esports, specifically PUBG Mobile, is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. The ESL India Premiership, which is widely regarded as the Indian gamer’s gateway to the professional scene, was one of the significant contributors towards the overall prize pool in previous years. But now, in the face of the gargantuan amounts up for grabs through PUBG Mobile tournaments, and even international PC gaming events such as ESL One: Mumbai, its contribution to the total has been significantly overshadowed. It has also added a second mobile title in Brawlstars to its existing roster of Dota 2, CS:GO, and Clash Royale, which can be seen as a clear indicator of the direction in which the Indian esports space is headed.
The PUBG Mobile Boom
What PUBG Mobile has done to Indian gaming is an interesting case study in itself and unsurprisingly it has had significant impacts on the esports scene as well. The game itself has a higher player base than any PC title in India and 11,000 teams were reported to have registered for the PUBG Mobile Summer Split Indian Qualifiers or the PMCO, a number which is astonishing, especially when pitted against the hundreds of Indian teams who sign up for PC titles. Even globally, India is recognized as a significant market for PUBG Mobile, and the rising popularity of streamers and content creators around the title has resulted in an unprecedented boom.
Pro players, content creators, and streamers in other titles were not even close in terms of popularity when it comes to the kind of numbers which top PUBG Mobile personalities command. Names such as Dynamo Gaming and MortaL have become household names with massive YouTube subscriber bases. Dynamo Gaming is just short of 5 million subscribers while MortaL, who recently decided to quit competitive gaming to focus on full-time streaming is sitting at 2.7 million. But it isn’t just these two; the popularity of PUBG Mobile can be attributed to a number of streamers and content creators, many of whom are now able to consider full-time careers because of how popular their channels are.
All things considered, the popularity of PUBG Mobile over PC titles is the least bit surprising, especially if you consider the demographics and economics of India. The number of smartphone users in the country is expected to reach over 800M by 2022 and these are some of the more conservative numbers we could find. With easier access to the internet, mobile gaming can only go one way.
Indian TOs – Different Approaches, Different Results
As of now, Indian TOs have had different approaches based on their own unique understanding of esports and how to engage the audience. NODWIN Gaming’s involvement with tournaments has resulted in roughly $ 658K being given out in prize money, which as on date is the highest in the country. This figure involves tournaments that are fully organized by NODWIN Gaming as well as tournaments it organizes for clients as white-label services. Purely in terms of prize money, COBX Gaming is the next big organizer, but its portfolio has only one name which is of any significance: the COBX Masters 2019.
On the other hand, Tesseract Esports is a relatively new player in the industry who will be organizing the PUBG Mobile India Tour or PMIT and the tournament could very well be a make or break affair for them, as it is expected to be one of the biggest PUBG Mobile events in the country. Playtonia as well, has been around for a bit longer and have opted for a different approach, choosing to host an Asia level LAN in Malaysia which has a prize pool of $ 70K. It is also the third season for LXG’s (League of Extraordinary Gamers) Indian League Gaming or ILG, a round-the-year tournament, which sees 8 titles across multiple platforms. The total prize money offered by ILG is around $ 150K, but this is not only split among multiple titles but into various stages as well.
TOs have also been experimenting with platforms to air their tournaments, and with Indian audiences not having the most seamless experience on Twitch, YouTube has proven to be a major player. TOs such as NODWIN Gaming are also tied to OTT (over the top media services) platforms such as Hotstar for a few of their IPs such as the Premiership and Dew Arena. The numbers on these platforms are not as easy to obtain, but it’s hard to imagine that they have the reach and visibility of YouTube.
Esports in India is at a crucial stage as TOs experiment and tweak their IPs to find the right match. For sponsors and non-endemic brands as well, it will be a good litmus test if they are able to find the results they want by tying up with esports. However, big money and big names such as Reliance Jio are yet to announce what their plans are, and their position and influence will be crucial as the Indian esports industry finds itself trying to define what esports means to organizers, sponsors, and viewers in the country.
Editor’s note: Tournaments that have been used for calculating relevant data have been selected using the following criteria:
- Tournaments with a prize pool of $ 2.5K and above are considered.
- Tournaments cannot have a participation/entry fee.
Disclosure: NODWIN Gaming is a minority investor in and a client of AFK Gaming.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.