The Opportunities, Careers and Challenges of Esports in India

The word “esports” is being thrown around a lot lately thanks to the popularity of multiplayer online games like PUBG and Fortnite.

Little do people know that the esports industry is more than a decade old and has just shot up in India in the past couple of years with more developers and investors jumping into this sector.

Many people are taking notice about esports as a lucrative career option in India with hardware manufacturers also weaving their R&D in a way to make India-compatible and affordable gaming hardware.

But what exactly is esports and how does is shape the Indian gaming industry today? What are the challenges in this form of sport and who are the key stakeholders here who can help redefine the definition of esports in India?

We caught up with a few key stakeholders at a panel discussion organised by Intel India to answer some of these questions.

Esports Vs Gaming

Comparing esports to gaming is like comparing Apples and Oranges. These are two separate things.

Esports requires a certain set of skills and training and is a professional sport which involves salaries and a specific pool of prize money.

Gaming is considered more of a casual activity which is primarily for entertainment. Though esports is also entertainment, there is a lot of hard work and dedication that an esport athlete puts in to become a professional.

An esports gamer practices and hones his skills for hours in-order to perfect his movements on the keyboard while simultaneously coordinating with team mates.

"In a typical esports game, a gamer clicks the mouse approximately 80-400 times and presses around 9 keys on the keyboard with his left hand 400 times in a minute. He is in an environment where his total responses are over 1,000 times a minute. The physical performance required from an esports athlete is not doable by any casual gamer. " - Akshath Rathee, Managing Director, Nodwin Gaming

Esports has gained recognition in international sporting events like the Asian Games as well where last year in September, India won bronze in esports.

A 23-year old gamer from Gujarat, Tirth Mehta won the country’s first ever e-sports medal, though it wasn’t added to the countries medal tally and was moreover introduced on a trial basis.

This form of sport could also be considered to be featured in the Olympics in times to come. It’s that serious!

Esports in India

According to a Forbes India report in 2018, China has the largest gaming market in the world, with a total revenue of $37.9 billion (Rs 26.11 lakh crore approx) in 2018, followed by US, Japan and Korea.

India ranks 16th, with a total revenue of $1.17 billion (8,000 crore approx.).

According to a report by Newzoo, North America is estimated to generate revenues of almost $409 million in the next four years while China is expected to generate revenues of $210.3 million in 2019, just by esports.

This shows there is huge potential in the esports market and India needs to tap into that space.

In 2010, India had only 25 game developers and that number today has swollen up to 250 with more joining this list every year.

Corporate giants like Paytm, Alibaba, Tencent and even Nazara have been investing heavily in the Indian gaming market, which is currently one of the top 5 countries in terms of mobile gaming.

Most of the revenue generated in esports is by sponsorship, which is why companies like Asus, Oppo and even beverage maker Mountain Dew have been pouring in the money to organise and promote esports competitions in India.

Apart from the local tournaments like PUBG Mobile India Series 2019, for the first time, Mumbai is set to play host to one of the biggest esports gaming event, ESL (Electronic Sports League) which will see Dota 2 players from across the globe compete in the two-day tournament.

According to a Forbes report, as of October 31 last year, 285 players from India had earned $216,761.38 (Rs 1.49 crore approx.) in various esports tournaments and games, ranking India at number 64.

“The market is doubling every year and is expected to speed up even more,” says Akshath Rathee, managing director, Nodwin Gaming.

This is a start to bigger things in store.

Role of the Stakeholders

Esports is not a seasonal sport and hence runs all around the year. There are various industries and stakeholders who are responsible for the smooth functioning of this ecosystem.

Apart from the mental exercises and skill training that’s required by esports athletes, they also need the right kind of hardware to give them an upper edge over the others.

From e-commerce platforms like Flipkart to high-end gaming hardware manufacturers like Asus, each plays a vital role in making sure that budding gamers and professional get the required accessory or hardware.

"Most gamers these days demand LCDs, mobility of hardware and mostly importantly performance and that’s something we have been able to offer with our ROG gaming series. We have also ensured that affordability is catered to with our new series of ROG gaming laptops, which start at Rs 50,000." - Leon Yu, Regional Head for India and South Asia, ASUS

In terms of affordability and availability, e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon also make sure that customers get the products at an cheaper price than offline markets and it’s made available to them across different parts of India.

Connectivity is quintessential for the growth of the gaming industry and telecom providers too have been working around the clock to not only provide users with affordable data plans, but also work towards make high-speed data accessible across India.

"In terms of data availability, Reliance Jio has setup 3,00,000 mobile towers and spread around 3.5 million kilometres of high-speed broadband cables across India in order to improve the connectivity because I feel low latency is key for online gaming." - Anurag Khurana, Head of Esports, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited

Speaking to The Quint, Prakash Mallya, VP & Managing Director, Sales & Marketing, Intel India said he believes India needs a strong infrastructure for the industry to grow.

" “It’s the confluence of most of these stakeholders and a strong infrastructure that will ensure that the esports industry in India has a constant growth.”" - Prakash Mallya, VP & Managing Director, Sales & Marketing, Intel India

Esports as a Career Option

Parents in India might support their child to pick a career in sports like cricket, hockey or even football, but would be weary if he/she is looking to dive into esports.

Currently there is not much scope for professional gamers in India as the infrastructure and the ecosystem is not ready to support a lucrative livelihood for many.

Though, there are a lot of job opportunities that the gaming industry can provide if one is looking for it.

According to Akshath Rathee, choosing to be a gamer is a risky proposition in India as there is not much scope. However, there are other avenues one can explore in the gaming industry.

People can choose a career in game commentary, choose to be an influencer where they can play games and talk about it, they can be a coder who can write great code to build AI for games.

Data handlers are also a good option where they can track latency and data issues and then the biggest avenue that experts feel is voice-over artistes as many developers will look to localise game content for Indian gamers.

"A career in esports or gaming in India can easily earn you anywhere from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh in a month." - Akshath Rathee, Managing Director, Nodwin Gaming

It is the responsibility of the parents as well to spot the potential in the child and help them develop their skills as well, keeping a strong check that gaming doesn’t become an addiction for the child.

Since esports doesn’t require any extreme physical strength, it is a gender neutral space.

Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn is one of the most successful women in professional esports and recently won the Intel Extreme Masters 2018 tournament, taking home $50,000 (Rs 34.45 lakh).

Challenges For Esport in India

The esports industry in India faces a lot of challenges in terms of not only community building, but also the infrastructure.

Right now the Indian gaming ecosystem is not mature. Except Tencent there is no other big publisher that locally has a presence in India and that is exactly what we are lacking, says Anurag Khurana from Reliance Jio.

Also, just like any other sport, esports also needs to have academies to help budding gamers develop their skills.

"If we have a cricket academy, if we have a basketball academy, why don’t we have a esports academy? Someone has to be teaching the people how to become a pro." - Akshath Rathee, Managing Director, Nodwin Gaming

There currently isn’t s single esports training academy in India although Rathee says that not less than three will be setup in India in the coming two years.

Since the gaming industry in India is around four years old there is still a lot of catching up for it compared to nations like China and North America. Though, 5G is in the pipeline, the process needs to be accelerated as fast internet is the backbone of the esports industry.

These are some of the challenges that haunt the current esports scenario in India.

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