The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 2


The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 2 (Graphic: The Next Level)

Yesterday’s “The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 1” looked at the history over the past few years and the recent investment explosion.

In Part 2 today, I speak with Akshat Rathee (Founder and CEO of NODWIN Gaming) and Lokesh Suji (Founder and Chief Gamer of eGamers Arena) to get their perspective on Indian eSports in 2017, the opportunities and the obstacles.


[TNL] While eSports has been around for over a decade, it seemed as if 2016 was Year Zero for eSports going mainstream in the US. Will 2017 be Year Zero for India?

[AR] 2016 witnessed a stark increase in the number of eSports tournaments in India (from 2 a year to over 12) and ~$150,000 in prize money.

Indian gamers now can look forward to creating a successful career just by playing games.

Approximately 75,000 individuals attended our LAN/ Convention events and over 10,000 gamers took part in the different game categories. Another prominent event from the previous year, the Mountain Dew Arena took place in 20 cities and for 2017 the plan is for over 300 cities.

Among the Non-Endemic Brands, 2016 we worked with Mountain Dew and in 2017 look to partner with Suzuki, Honda, Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Thums Up (Indian Soda Brand)

[LS] eSports is not new to India and 5 years ago we had eSports championships like WCG and BYOC. After WCG collapsed, the scene was limited with smaller tournaments and limited prize pools.

One brand that definitely deserves credit for the kind of boost we saw in 2016 is Mountain. Dew. When a Non-Endemic Brand like Mountain Dew jumps in, it surely attracts lot of attention.

500% agree with you, 2017 will be the Year Zero for Indian eSports. Brands which earlier were talking about Mobile Gaming, have now started talking specifically about. The confidence of the Indian Gaming community also got a boost and they now have something which they can show their parents as approval is still a big bottleneck.


[TNL] I’ve been going back to India since I was a kid and seeing a console 10-20 years ago was like seeing a unicorn. Has the Indian console industry seen growth and what does this mean for eSports?

[AR] India has definitely come a long way. A report by NASSCOM (The Indian Gaming Market Review) mentioned that India has 4M+ console owners. You can add another 4M who have access to consoles one through local gaming cafes.

For instance, the Mountain Dew Arena featured a truck specially fitted with consoles. Which set out on a road-trip tournament over three months. Over 75,000 individuals took part in this event.

We can expect a rise in console usage as Microsoft is integrating the XBOX line with its Windows 10 OS, which may result in lower console prices. We have no clue if Sony has bought into Indian eSports.

[LS] Consoles still have a lot of catching up to do as they’re still considered a luxury product. Parents are happy to buy a high end PC / Laptop for their kids but a console may be a No.

Unfortunately consoles in India are being positioned as a "high end device" - not a Gaming Device - which you have to show off to your relatives and friends.

We would be very happy if console usage catches up to PC, as certain eSports games like Call of Duty and FIFA which are more popular on Console.


[TNL] India has 250M+ Smartphone users – yet the penetration rate is still only ~30% of the total population. Does this provide a runway for Indian Mobile eSports?

[AR] I would like to assume that of these 250M+ smartphone users, at least 50% have played some form of mobile game. It could be something as simple as Candy Crush or more complicated like Asphalt 8.

Another factor to take into account is the steady growth of internet connectivity in the country. These two factors definitely clear the runway for take-off in terms of online mobile gaming in the country but mobile eSports is still in the grey area.

I believe that mobile eSports will be a big hit in India but the key question is which game will it be? [Edit: I’ll put my chip on Clash Royale]

Mobile will be a great competitive platform and NOT an eSports one. But, Indian Poker and Rummy might prove me wrong and become eSports.

[LS] Well numbers and percentages are always relative, we have the second highest number of Smartphone users in the world.

Runway for mobile eSports is there, but it’s still too early for “playing” but here for “spectating”


[TNL] India has a population of 1.2B+ and the Indian Premier League for Cricket was seen by more than 50% of the Pay TV audience. Is there a place for Indian eSports on TV?

[AR] Compared to other nations, India watches a LOT of television. In fact, this is the main source of information for the majority of the population.

Yes, eSports on television is definitely the right way to go. However, will it be broadcast on a sports channel or a general entertainment channel? This decision will definitely play a role in how the idea of eSports is constructed in the country.

A perfect fit would be to feature eSports on sports channels and the amplification or conversations around it on youth channels. Television would definitely play a vital role in “marketing” eSports and function as a gateway to drive viewership to the more lengthy long-form broadcasts on streaming or social networks.

I think it would be unfair to compare eSports with cricket or other traditional sports they have undergone decades of evolution.

[LS] Yes, however it all depends on how it’s positioned.

The choice of games can be easily understood and create local Hero’s for eSports and win some International tournaments.

The good thing is that eSports the audience the most engaged audience among all sports.


[TNL] Two part question: Akshat, NODWIN Gaming signed a deal with ESL to form the Premiership last year What’s the future for ESL/NODWIN Gaming?

Lokesh, What’s the future for Indian League Gaming and eGamers Arena?

For both of you, with the recent investment explosion ($15M into Ucypher, $20M into ) any concern or does the tide lift all boats?

[AR] This year the partnership between NODWIN Gaming and ESL will see an increased prize pool as well changes to tournament format.  We will also be hosting the qualifiers for the Electronic Sports World Championship as well as for ESL One. There are a few more properties which will be revealed over the next 40 days.

NODWIN Gaming is currently working on three exclusive properties as well as two potential TV shows.

Ucypher is definitely going to be a phenomenal event for India. However, I am a bit worried as it shouldn’t turn into the Championship Gaming Series (CGS), where players are signed on exclusively for 2 seasons. Each season comprises of a 30-day boot camp coupled with a 45-day tournament. In the end, with 150 days locked out, players will not be able to play in other tournaments. UCypher will encourage other broadcasters to create or invest in eSports.

[LS] I’ve said from Day One “Everyone who wants to be part of the Indian eSports eco-system has to work together and extend all the help to each other to build this wonderful sport/industry in India".

As eGamers Arena/Indian League Gaming, we are focused on building an eSports tournament platform launching later this year.


What do you predict for Indian eSports in 2017?

[AR] 2017 will definitely be the Year Zero for Indian eSports. Several major Events are planned, we will see eSports on TV and more Non-Endemic Brands will invest.

With the arrival of Entity eSports, India has a found a formidable DOTA 2 team that can potentially vie for a spot at The International.

Along with the growth,  there are several equally important factors that need to be pondered.  My first worry is whether India has a worthy and broad player base in order sustain this growth. The popular eSports games in India are mainly Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. Riot recently hired an Indian head and plan to launch operations in India, but it is highly possible that it will be a closed system.

We need eSports to be considered as a SPORT and the entertainment alongside it should not feel forced.

[LS] We will see eSports on TV.

There will be more players joining, more leagues, more investments, and the eSports teams will get more serious and professional.

The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 1


The Indian eSports Opportunity (Graphic: The Next Level)

TNL TAKE: When I was a kid, I heard what became one of my favorite quotes:

"If you're one in a billion in China, there's a thousand people like you"

It didn't just mean that there were a lot of people in that country; you had to fight for a chance to stand out from the crowd.

You can say the same thing about India today.

With a population of 1.25 billion people currently, India is expected to surpass China by 2022 and hit 1.50 billion people by 2030. 

That's a lot of people....and wallets.

As eSports is like any industry with future potential, it will continually seek out new opportunities for growth. $63 million has been earmarked for eSports funding or prize pools in 2017 alone.

Here's a brief history of eSports in India over the past few years including the most recent investments.


ESL India Premiership with NODWIN Gaming (Photo: ESL)

ESL in conjunction with NODWIN Gaming launched the ESL India Premiership eSports league in May of 2016. The ESL IP will hold 6 online cups and 3 events in the first year with a prize pool of $64,000.

The league will feature 4 titles: Dota 2, Counter-Strike, Hearthstone - and most interesting - will also include Just Dance, which is a rhythm dancing game.

NODWIN Gaming has several Brand partnerships with the usual suspects but also a Non-Endemic that hasn't yet invested in the US: Sprite.

NODWIN is also not new to eSports having hosted the regional portion for the Paris based ESWC tournament in 2015.

[The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 2 will feature an interview with NODWIN Gaming CEO Akshat Rathee]



Flipkart Gaming Online Championship (Photo: Flipkart)

Flipkart is basically India's Amazon - until Amazon landed a few years ago and is currently ruling the market.

In June of 2016, Flipkart launched the Flipkart Gaming Online Championship (FGOC), which was a month long tournament across the country.  FGOC featured 4 games: FIFA, Counter Strike, League of Legends, and DotA 2 - while ironically being live streamed on Amazon-owned Twitch.

This makes complete sense for Flipkart as they see gaming as still a niche but a fast evolving segment and particularly in large cities. Flipkart garnered 50% growth in the Gaming category in the first 6 months of 2016.



eGamers Arena and World Cyber Arena Partnership (Photo: WCA)

This is a perfect example of how quickly eSports has grown over the past year.

ESL's $64,000 Prize Pool for the Indian Premiership was massively dwarfed by the January agreement between India's eGamers Arena and China's World Cyber Arena to the tune of $28 million.

There will be championships held across the country and feature the expected games like DOTA2, League of Legends, CS:GO, but will also include Overwatch.

eGamer Arena's deal gives them the exclusive rights to host the national WCA qualifiers in India and the winners will be able to participate in WCA region qualifications. The qualifiers will also take place on eGamer Arena's eSports Tournament platform.

In addition to this deal, eGamers Arena also runs the Indian Gaming League.

[The Indian eSports Opportunity Part 2 will also feature an interview with eGamers Arena Founder and Chief Gamer Lokesh Suji]



Indian eSports League UCypher (Photo: UCypher)

American billionaires aren't the only ones jumping into the eSports pool.

Indian businessman Ronnie Screwvala, who's net worth is just over $1 billion, will invest $15M into UCypher, another Indian eSports League. Screwvala owns a slew of companies including USports, which will broadcast the league to international audiences as well.

The key thing to note here is that UCypher is being developed for the TV audience - not live streaming. If anyone knows how to pull this off it's Screwvala who owns U Mumba, a Pro Kabaddi Sports team - I'm not even going to try to explain what it is, just watch this.

While that may look crazy, the inaugural season drew 435M viewers across India.  

Even taking Screwvala's expertise across sports, leagues, and broadcasting, it will be interesting to see the market appetite for Indian eSports outside of its home.

With the huge untapped mobile gaming audience, you can see a game like Clash Royale being included in UCypher.



Manish Agarwal, CEO of Nazara Games (Photo: Nazara Games)

Starting to see a trend?

In a twist to the slew of eSports investments and potentially the first sign of a new market for the audience, Indian mobile game publisher Nazara Games plans to invest $20M over the next 5 years to develop a national eSports league.

Nazara games eSports strategy focuses on 3 main areas: league, content platform, and a Pro Teams "supported by the community and Nazara" - which I'm curious to hear more about.

The league will have 6 teams playing in 2 seasons of which only Valve titles have been confirmed so far: Counter-Strike and Dota 2. 

A lot of activity within Indian eSports in 2017.

That's where Indian eSports has progressed over the past few years but where is it going next? Tomorrow in Part 2, Ill look at the opportunities and challenges by speaking with Indian eSports Founder's from NODWIN Gaming and eSports Arena