Home » The Rise and Rise of Esports: Smartphones emerge as a key enabler

The Rise and Rise of Esports: Smartphones emerge as a key enabler

Esports

The rise of mobile gaming has democratized esports to a huge extent, and will continue to do so in the near future. While PC and other forms of gaming will continue to hold their own respective grounds, mobile gaming – which is already dominating the Indian gaming market – can definitely play a bigger role and become a key enabler and catalyst behind the promising future of esports in India, with constant innovations and concerted and collaborative efforts from all stakeholders.

Although it’s not new to India, esports (or say electronic sports) wasn’t taken as seriously as it is now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which acted as a catalyst for the esports industry in India, when the entire nation was under lockdown and social distancing was a must, source of entertainment was limited and time was in abundance. Esports flourished during the pandemic and is still on the same growth trajectory.

It’s a medal sport today and has been recognized as a professional sport by countries like the USA, China, Germany, South Korea, and even our neighbours like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. But, it’s still a far cry in India. Thankfully, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has decided to officially recognize esports in the country. The electronics sports have finally got the attention of policy makers and will soon have an official governing body for the game. The announcement also grants legitimacy to the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) as the nodal governing body of esports.

Experts believe that the Indian esports industry has quickly scaled to Rs 3 billion in FY2021 and is expected to reach Rs 11 billion by FY2025. Consulting firm Ernst & Young in a recent report titled “Esports in India” has captured various manifestations of esports and determined its future potential. The report stated that the industry is expected to grow at 46 per cent CAGR which is over four-fold, from Rs 2.5 billion in 2021 to Rs 11 billion by 2025.

Ashish Pherwani, partner and media and entertainment leader, EY India, said, “Esports in India tells a great growth story. As a game of skill accessible indoors and on the ubiquitous mobile phone, it has gained popularity during the lockdowns witnessed in 2020 and 2021. Consequently, it has become an attractive option for brands to connect with young and empowered audiences.”

“Esports in India tells a great growth story. As a game of skill accessible indoors and on the ubiquitous mobile phone, it has gained popularity during the lockdowns witnessed in 2020 and 2021. Consequently, it has become an attractive option for brands to connect with young and empowered audiences” Ashish Pherwani, Partner and Media and Entertainment Leader, EY India

Unprecedented craze

Since the gaming sector is mostly dependent on youths who have a craze for video games, esports gives them an opportunity to take such games as a feasible career option. The gaming industry has grown manifolds in the last few years –it was a billion-dollar industry in 2019, and the rest is history, if we look at the current figure of Rs 3 billion in FY2021 (mentioned above) in a span of just two years.

Thanks to the youth population, India has now become a large market for esports companies that can reach the gamers and the audience to drive the industry like never before.

Such is the craze of esports catching up that during the lockdowns, students interacted over games like PUBG, Call of Duty, Free Fire, Mini Militia, to name a few. There are plenty of instances where an individual took to esports as a hobby but after sometime, it developed into a passion to make gaming a viable career option. The ban on PUBG in India due to security reasons, in the wake of last year’s border standoff with China, invited a widespread criticism from youths, which clearly shows how deep esports has established in the country.

The recent much-awaited entry of PUBG’s Indian avatar Battlegrounds Mobile India, which is in line with the Indian security laws, has brought cheers to not only the gaming aficionados but also the industry. As per experts, BGMI (from the house of South Korean publisher/developer Krafton) will give a similar boost as PUBG to in-app revenues in India.

According to Tarun Gupta, Founder, Ultimate Battle, an esports platform, “With BGMI’s popularity and massive player base, the overall revenue generation from in-app purchases (IAP) will see a steep rise. Top in-game purchases like skins and Battle Pass not only add to the flavour of gaming but also add to the overall gamification of macro activities done by players in the game.”

“Esports events are growing substantially worldwide. Indian esports is at its nascent stage but it’s growing and will eventually be at par with traditional sports in terms of viewership and popularity” Tarun Gupta, Founder, Ultimate Battle

Numbers game

As per the EY report, esports industry is expected to surpass the biggest sport franchise in India in terms of prize money by offering a total prize pool of Rs 1 billion by FY2025.IPL, an Indian sports league with the highest prize pool in the country, offered Rs 250 million in its prize pool for the tournament. Esports came second at Rs 150 million.

Today, it is estimated that India has 150,000 players and around 60,000 teams. Over 90 per cent esports players participate in online mobile esports tournaments. As esports becomes a viable profession for the youth, the number of players playing esports is expected to reach 1.5 million by FY2025, says the report.

What’s more, four per cent of mobile games on the Play Store are from Indian publishers. As Indian game developers transition from developing social games to multiplayer games, they are expected to create games that are better suited for esports tournaments. The numbers of Indian gaming studios have grown 5x since 2015, find the study.

There were over 14 esports broadcast platforms in 2020 which are expected to cross 20 platforms by 2025. While current viewership is 17 million, over 85 million unique viewers will watch esports tournaments in the country by 2025. This will comprise around 10 per cent of global esports viewership. The viewership across multiple streaming platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and other OTT platforms will collectively measure much higher.

As esports tournaments grow more competitive, they draw more viewership and support from players and the audience. For instance, the PUBG Mobile World League 2020 East was the last big tournament of the Asian continent. The Hindi-language broadcast of the same attracted 449,000 peak viewers, which has been the highest record so far.

The report further says that over 50 brands, including prominent national players like Airtel, Bookmyshow.com, Flipkart, Monster Energy Drinks, Asus, Redbull and Yes Bank have forayed into the esports industry over the past few years. While it is still at a nascent stage, its constantly growing audience base makes esports a growing favourite amongst brands and advertisers.

Streaming platforms will generate the largest chunk of esport revenues. As esports grows popular amongst youth and the affluent, advertisers and agencies are expected to increasingly use esports tournament viewership to gain reach and engagement with the audience, growing over by 4x which is Rs 6.5 billion by FY25. Eventually, the industry could explore subscription revenue models.

“It has generated new employment in the form of software developers, game designers, testers, etc. and the process has only proved to be a boon for the content creators to build their significance among other professions” Abhishek Aggarwal, Co-Founder and CEO, Trinity Gaming

Tournament sponsorship and syndication revenue would likely quadruple to more than Rs 3.5 billion CAGR growing at a CAGR of 45 per cent, according to Ernst & Young. The prize money/prize pool would likely contribute over 10 per cent to the esports economy and reach an estimated Rs 1 billion by FY2025. About 85 per cent of the prize money will be for mobile esports tournaments.

Insights and trends

According to the EY study, this growth in the industry will be driven by increased smartphone penetration in India – nearly one billion smartphones will be in use in the country by FY2025. Consequently, internet users would cross one billion, reaching over 80 per cent of India’s population by CY2025.Over 10 per cent of handsets sold in the country will have capabilities to support professional-grade esports. Nearly 50 per cent of the Indian population, being younger than 24 years of age, will drive overall gaming growth. Fortunately, the Make in India and Digital India push by the government is boosting less expensive made in India handsets and affordable broadband availability.

From 16 per cent of 150,000 players to nearly 30 per cent of 1.5 million esports players, esports is expected to grow popular amongst women. As women take center-stage in physical sports globally, it is propelling more women to join all forms of sports, including esports. This trend will continue in the future, find the study.

The rise of mobile gaming has democratized esports to a huge extent, and will continue to do so in the near future. While PC and other forms of gaming will continue to hold their own respective grounds, mobile gaming – which is already dominating the Indian gaming market – can definitely play a bigger role and become a key enabler and catalyst behind the promising future of esports in India, with constant innovations and concerted and collaborative efforts from all stakeholders.

The Indian Cellular and Electronics Association in a joint report with consulting firm KPMG, finds that by 2022, India’s smartphone base will reach 820 million active users.This clearly highlights the ability of mobile gaming to push a wider audience from India’s still untapped markets towards esports, which could be the next big thing, especially in rural India, where most youngsters have a smartphone. India has emerged as the hotspot for mobile esports in the past couple of years. India’s rising penetration of smartphones will take esports to another level altogether. The next wave of esports penetration in India will also fly with high bandwidth capabilities of 5G enabled wireless networking coupled with cloud gaming.

Opportunity to encash

Vishwalok Nath, Director, Esports Premier League, says that to promote esports and make it widely acceptable in the mainstream, “we have come up with the ESPL 2021.” It is one of the first franchise-based properties in the esports industry.  “For the first edition, we are working with Garena, the maker of Free Fire, the world’s most downloaded Battle Royale smartphone game as per App Annie. Our goal is to make esports a viable and lucrative option for Indians so that even parents can encourage their kids to follow the route of becoming professional esports athletes. We want to serve the gamers with ESPL 2021 and its future iterations,” says Nath.

“Our goal is to make esports a viable and lucrative option for Indians so that even parents can encourage their kids to follow the route of becoming professional esports athletes. We want to serve the gamers with ESPL 2021 and its future iterations” –  Vishwalok Nath, Director, Esports Premier League

The wider acceptance for the industry will help push the major stakeholders to set up the funding and infrastructure required to take esports to the next level. However, it is a long journey and ESPL is just the start that would help the industry maximize upcoming business opportunities, adds Nath.

Abhishek Aggarwal, Co-Founder and CEO, Trinity Gaming, a gaming talent management company, says, “In recent years, we have seen the esports industry evolving and becoming mainstream. Each financial year has seen positive growth, developers are shifting their focus to cater to their diverse audience and increasing interest from investors is supporting the system to flourish. It has generated new employment in the form of software developers, game designers, testers, etc. and the process has only proved to be a boon for the content creators to build their significance among other professions.”

These creators are constantly working to offer their followers a high-quality experience while keeping them entertained, informed, or educated about these engaging virtual formats. “A mass-scale audience has generated over the years, especially with the pandemic boosting it further, has opened new prospects of career options. The creators chose a topic about which they are passionate and comfortable expressing, which helps them establish a large-scale audience. The new industry is a great lookout to set businesses,” states Aggarwal.

Globally, esports events have already broken records for traditional sports in terms of viewership and massive prize pools. The League of Legends World Championship brought in more than 100 million viewers, including a peak of 44 million concurrent viewers, during the competition’s final round on November 10, 2019. “Not only there is surge in spectators, the prize pools are setting world records, The International – 9 (TI9) had a prize pool of $34 million and overall more than $226 million was given as prize money in 2019. Even, pro players are making millions of dollars in salaries,” notes Lokesh Suji, Director, Esports Federation of India and Vice President, Asian Esports Federation (AESF).

“Esports has seen a decent growth over a few years, and we have also seen Indian gamers set their footprints on the global esport scene. We have witnessed the numbers increase dramatically and gaming is now being considered as a viable career option by the gaming enthusiasts. The viewership on just YouTube and Facebook has significantly increased over time. It’s a spectator sport now with more than 500 million esports fans in 152 countries that watch these competitions online through various streaming platforms like YouTube, Facebook and our Indian homegrown platforms like Loco etc,” elucidates Suji.

“We have witnessed the numbers increase dramatically and gaming is now being considered as a viable career option by the gaming enthusiasts. The viewership on just YouTube and Facebook has significantly increased over time” Lokesh Suji, Director, ESFI and Vice President, AESF

Echoing Suji’s opinion, Tarun Gupta ofUltimate Battle, says, “Esports events are growing substantially worldwide. Indian esports is at its nascent stage but it’s growing and will eventually be at par with traditional sports in terms of viewership and popularity.”

Since esports has substantially evolved into a spectator sport, brands are now seeing the gaming events as a medium to communicate with their target audience. “Branding the event not only provides substantial exposure to the title sponsor in terms of viewership but also marks their presence and effort towards the growth of the gamer’s ecosystem. Branding opportunities do not lie solely with naming rights but there are multiple properties that an event organizer can create to blend multiple brands and provide quality exposure,” opines Gupta.

Looking forward

With the popularity of esports, brands’ interest, new investment and so on, it is expected that with the support of Indian government, the esports sector has the potential to scale higher at a global level. The esports community want electronic sports to be recognized by the government as a sport in India, to gain the benefits at par with other professional sports and athletes, in terms of training, wellbeing, job security (sports quota) etc. Esports is growing, and we need to establish a wider wireframe to support the ecosystem so that new skilled esports athletes can grow from all over India and we can win gold medals for the country. This will also have a massive positive impact on the economy besides creating direct and indirect jobs, consequently broadening the smartphone / PC ecosystem with gaming-centric innovations like never before.

PM appeals for games based on Indian culture and folk tales

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently called for the exploration of possibilities in virtual, digital and online gaming in India. He called upon the young innovators and start-ups to be mindful of their responsibility of projecting the true picture of India’s capabilities and ideas to the world. The Prime Minister rued the fact that most of the online and digital games available in the market are not based on Indian concepts and many such games promote violence and cause mental stress. He also emphasised that “India should tap the huge potential in this area, and lead the international digital gaming sector by developing games that are inspired from Indian culture and folk tales.”

Ramesh Kumar Raja
Ramesh has over 10 years of experience in different departments of journalism. Having a strong nose for news, he has worked with The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Delhi Press, News Wire Service and Governance Today in different capacities. He is a Delhi University graduate and an alumnus of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Delhi, and St. Xavier's School, Muzaffarpur. He loves writing over issues of social relevance. His craving for smart technology brought him to My Mobile where he has grown up to be a tech journo.