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.

eSports Doesn't Work In The Olympics Today


(Photo: Getty)

(Photo: Getty)

TNL Take: We are in the midst of the biennial, 2-week long commercial otherwise called the Olympics.

Trying to connect anything to eSports now is completely normal so the slew of “eSports and Olympics” stories have already begun.

In The Next Level 006 back in May, I talked about the challenges of eSports in the Olympics and the limited Brand ROI that M&C Saatchi could provide for their Rio eGames partnership.


I'll expand on it further.


/01 It's A Simple Supply Problem

(Photo: EHOME)

(Photo: EHOME)

There are 200 countries being represented at Rio 2016. We would be lucky if 10% of those countries could support legitimate eSports teams today.

While eSports is a popular global activity engaged by millions, the top Athletes skew heavily towards a few countries (Not in rank order): 

China, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, UK, United States, Brazil and throw in a few others and we have 10 total countries.

Golf is being played for the first time since 1904 in this year's Olympics and you have 40+ countries participating. Of course participation doesn't automatically equal Olympic level quality as we've seen with a few divers.

The issue is being addressed with the the announcement of a $3.7M Tournament by the new World Electronic Sports Games. The Shanghai based competition features 24 national teams for Counter-Strike, Hearthstone, DOTA and SC2.

However, here's the catch: Any team looking to participate has to feature a roster from one nation.

The tournament is funded primarily by Alisports, the sporting initiative of Alibaba, which also recently plunged the massive $150M investment into the International eSports Federation (IeSF).

OK China, I get it --I’ll have an update on my analysis of Tencent and eSports shortly.

In the official release, Executive Stepan Shulga stated that the reason for implementing the rule is that it "could help eSports to be recognized as official sports and potentially included in the Olympic Games."


/02 Game and Publisher Support

The term eSports is very easy as it's short  but provides a double-edged sword comparison to traditional Sports where it's not even in the same ballpark.

Just saying eSports itself takes away from the individual games that make up the current ecosystem.

While it's safe to say that Track and Field will more than likely be in the 2020 Olympics, which eSports game or games gets picked?

There isn't a "Publisher" for Olympics Swimming but if you want League of Legends in Tokyo 2020 you better have Riot on board.


/03 Popularity

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

(Photo: Activision-Blizzard)

If the IOC decided 4 years ago to add an eSports event, you could make a safe guess that League of Legends may have been the obvious choice.

But what about Overwatch?

Overwatch would only have been mentioned if it was this Canadian short movie.

It's going to be difficult to predict the popularity of what eSports titles will be popular 4 years out and we still don't have a breakout Mobile eSports game yet - c'mon Clash Royale.


/04 Brand ROI

(Photo: eGames)

(Photo: eGames)

As I also said in The Next Level 006, the Brand ROI that M&C Saatchi could bring would also be difficult. The Olympics have already started and we still don't have an update on eGames.

[Update: Oh good old timing. This morning, a Press Release announced that the eGames pop-up event would feature the top Brazilian Smite players and a smattering of other nationalities and games represented.

Thank God there's no Sponsor involved.]



It's not like these are impossible challenges to overcome and we will make progress over time.

We're just not ready for eSports in the Olympics in 2016.

There was one very intriguing metric from Rio 2016 so far. Over the weekend, there was more Bandwidth traffic generated via Twitch than for Olympic content.

(Photo: Sandvine)

(Photo: Sandvine)