Although it’s a more than a decade old industry, esports has witnessed significant growth in India in the recent past, thanks to the proliferation of high-end smartphones at affordable prices as well as the rise of online multiplayer games which took the world by storm following the COVID-19 outbreak forcing people to remain indoors. To discuss this emerging trend, future prospects and challenges, Ramesh Kumar Raja caught up with Lokesh Suji, Director, Esports Federation of India (ESFI), a sports body that plays the same role which BCCI does in Cricket. ESFI brings together all the stakeholders of the esports ecosystem cohesively and gives opportunities to the budding talents to work at the ESFI’s events to train and provide experience to them. Excerpts:
How do you look at the emerging trend of esports in India, especially in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown?
Sports during lockdown were a fairy tale. With empty stadia and athletes stuck without training facilities, people turned to online gaming for the entertainment and competition aspect. Budding streamers across the country have taken advantage of the lockdown by setting up YouTube channels and Twitch streams to gain popularity, entertain audiences and hopefully enter the big leagues of online gaming.
Esports shares its similarities and differences with physical sports. Though one needs not to train physically, honing skills and practicing combos for 5-6 hours every day is a different challenge that competitive esports gamers face. Tournaments hosted by games of the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Area) genre often host them in huge arenas with a soaring crowd that encourages competition in real-time.
Can you please tell us about the whole business of esports, its market size and opportunities in India?
Esports revolves around largely two things: Video Game and the esports athletes who play that video game, rest other things are built around these two core pillars – Game developers, publishers, broadcasting/streaming, leagues/championships, sponsorships, ticketing, esports teams.
As per our estimates, there are around 200 million esports enthusiasts in India; Opportunities are immense as esports is still in a very nascent stage. Esports is a new industry, just like sports you can look at becoming a pro esports athlete, a live streamer, caster, analyst, coach, esports arena, academies, team owner, technologies for esports, event operator and so on.
How is esports different from Fantasy Gaming and RMG? Where are they moving now?
Esports is a sport, it is competitive video game playing, coordinated by different leagues, where players participate in group gaming competitions. Viewers can watch professional gamers compete against each other in a variety of games. We are a sport because the physicality of responses of our participants leads to the result of a winner. And, esports is essentially a speed competition. The business model of esports depends majorly on three aspects – media rights, sponsorship and merchandising. There is no space for gambling or betting involvement in esports sector. Mostly esports companies never charge their players to play their tournaments; instead they give them prize money on winning the tournament.
These factors clearly embed esports as a professional sport, even the level of luck involved is no different from the traditional sports. While gambling or “real money gaming” depends largely on luck and very little to no skill involved, pairing the two together is in a way disgracing and resenting to acknowledge the skill of these pro esports athletes.
Fantasy gaming: In online fantasy (sportsbooks), players bet on sports from their homes or on their mobile devices, online bookmakers as an easy way to get access to sports betting around the clock. Fantasy has a major element of betting which comes in when you pay money to register your virtual team for a contest with other virtual teams. Here the winners gain money from the losers, with the platform taking a cut. Courts have so far ruled that picking a fantasy team involves strategy, and so it doesn’t come under the purview of gambling, like in a card game or roulette that’s based more on chance.
Real-money gaming: It means the offering, distribution, advertising, promotion and sale of any type of game played via online media in which real money is wagered on the outcome of the game.
What role does ESFI play in this regard and what are the key responsibilities of this organization?
ESFI is the sports federation and plays the same role which BCCI plays in Cricket. Our core objective is to grow esports like any other sport. ESFI brings together all the stakeholders of the esports ecosystem cohesively.
We give opportunities to the budding talents to work at the ESFI’s events to train and provide experience to them.
We had got the Bronze medal during Asian Games 2018 (where esports was a demonstration sport).
Esports is not yet recognized in India, ESFI is in talks with the relevant authorities and aggressively working to get the esports recognized just like any other sport.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently routed for #AtmanirbharBharat in the gaming sector. How prepared is India for the same?
While the stress is to become “Atmanirbhar”, I believe this is a great opportunity for the government and the Ministry of Sports to also recognize esports as a medal-prospect sporting opportunity. The gaming community which is fragmented currently can also benefit if government recognition is given to the sport.
|“While the stress is to become “Atmanirbhar”, I believe this is a great opportunity for the government and the Ministry of Sports to also recognize esports as a medal-prospect sporting opportunity. The gaming community which is fragmented currently can also benefit if government recognition is given to the sport”|
What have been the major achievements of ESFI?
Esports Federation of India (ESFI)’s year began with Indian team qualifying from South Asia for the e-Masters Esports Championship for PES, Arena of Valor and Warcraft III after defeating teams from Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka etc. Team India consisted of Moinuddin Aamdani (PES), Arun Mozhi Varman (Warcraft) and Sonukaran J M (Captain), Shinil R, Aditya Katoch, Manmohan Singh and Aakash Chadalavada, Dwayne Fernandes (Substitute) (Arena of Valor) e-Masters in the Asian Championship organized by the Asian Esports Federation (AESF), the regional qualifiers of which were held in January 20 in Thailand for PES, where Moin was representing India, unfortunately Moin lost a very close match against Team Malaysia. Nevertheless, Team India (AOV & Warcraft) will play at the main event of e-Masters 2020.
National Esports Championship (NESC 2020) was organized in September 20 online due to COVID-19 and Moinuddin Amdani, Abhinav Tejan and Team Random came out victorious and bagged the National Titles and secured their slot in Team India for the 12th Esports World Championship organized by International Esports Federation (IESF), the Global Finals of which are to be scheduled in February 21 in Eilat, Israel. Tejan and Moin (Tekken & PES) maintained their winning streak to win the online South Asian Qualifiers of 12th ESWC and will represent India at the Global Finals.
The festive month of October 20 brought new opportunities for the Indian esports community as ESFI started with the daily national ranking scrims for game titles like Call of Duty-Mobile, Valorant and in the month of December ESFI also included Free Fire and will be adding more games. This is a great chance for the top and underdog team to get themselves recognized and ranked; this will give them bigger visibility, which at times they lose out on. The November months Top 10 Ranked Teams for CODM are:
Blind Esports, Force One, Enigma Gaming, Heroes Official, Xpendables, Complexity Gaming, Underdog Arena, Resilience Esports, Hex Esports, Dragon knights.
ESFI also announced Community Cup for CODM & Valorant.
Esports has redefined online gaming like never before. Where is it moving now?
Esports – the world of competitive and organized video gaming emerged as some sort of an unbeatable champion in the International sporting arena in the recent past. Given the current situation the sports industry itself is in, the chance for a reinvention is ripe to open the jar of opportunities through innovation and, allow the industry to flourish with a few leaps and bounces, along the way.
How has the model of gaming on cloud been one of the biggest boons of the industry which has helped handle the sudden upsurge?
Cloud Gaming will help the casual gamers not the esports athletes, as it adds to the lag/latency.
|“The Indian gaming industry has enough wherewithal and can’t be termed dependent on one game. This is a great opportunity for Indian video game developers to build innovative online multiplayer games. Games like HitWicket, WCC or mythology-based games like Raji which are all homegrown products and now have the great opportunity to encash their presence”|
What are the challenges you see from a gaming point of view in India?
In the competitive realm, players require hardware that allows them to run games seamlessly at the highest performance output settings.
However, given the degree of technological finesse involved, high-performance hardware come priced at steep rates, and is not easy to acquire by competitors in time.
The industry thereby loses out on much higher participation and audiences who want to play, but have to draw a line at the pricing of the systems.
Unfortunately, there are also some infamous stereotypes that surround the players and the industry, such as obsessive hours of playing, and anti-social behaviour.
How do you look at the future of esports in India, especially after the ban on many gaming apps from China?
There is no need to panic, the Indian gaming industry has enough wherewithal and can’t be termed dependent on one game. This is a great opportunity for Indian video game developers to build innovative online multiplayer games. Games like HitWicket, WCC or mythology-based games like Raji which are all homegrown products and now have the great opportunity to encash their presence.