By Vikas Goel – CEO & Co-founder, EsportsXO
The mobile-first revolution is setting the pace for esports in India. The country may be lagging behind mature markets like the United States and Japan, but smartphone penetration, a digital-forward culture, and an ever-growing community of gamers are pushing the Indian esports sector to a whole new level.
More than just video games
Multiplayer games across categories like first-person shooter, real-time strategy and battle royale attract casual gamers and professional players alike. Whether you play individually or in teams, the new generation of mobile-first games is sophisticated enough to match the PC feel. And thanks to the availability of powerful smartphones at affordable price points, users are experiencing this first-hand. Never before has gaming been so accessible.
But the games themselves represent one part of the picture. Another part that’s just as important is the market potential, and India offers lucrative opportunities for businesses within the esports sector. Let’s explore why!
Esports is where the customers are: Young Indians are online playing games and watching esports events. Millennials already have spending power, Gen Z is getting there, and brands simply want a cut from both their spending. Early entrants to the esports arena include a range of big-name businesses, not just Pepsi and Red Bull but also Flipkart, Yes Bank, and Mercedes-Benz.
As more brands collaborate with esports platforms and competitions, the reason for their pivot is clear. Traditional channels such as TV and newspaper ads do not reach younger consumers. But esports could open up new lines of communication with that segment. No wonder brands have increased their esports ad spending by 30% to 50% in the past two years.
The numbers are promising: Revenues from esports put India in 16th place on the global scale, but significant growth is on the cards. Esports in India could swell to a Rs 1,100-crore industry by 2025, said a report by the Federation of Electronic Sports Associations of India (FEAI).
Here’s another important figure: In 2021, the number of people viewing esports in India rose to 17 million, nearly doubling the count for 2019. By 2025, that number could balloon to 85 million, making India one of the fastest-growing markets in terms of esports viewership.
Live streaming is on the rise: Mainstream OTT platforms like Voot, SonyLIV, and Hotstar have begun streaming major esports tournaments. Earlier this year, mainline TV channel Star Sports got going too by running live telecasts of the Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) Masters Series. The number of esports broadcasting platforms could grow to 20 by the year 2025, resulting in more viewers, more ad space, and more collaborations.
Also worth watching is the rise of vernacular content. For example, the Hindi stream of PUBG Mobile World League 2020 East drew 4,49,000 viewers, more than 12 times the numbers drawn by the English stream. Meanwhile, esports company Loco has been broadcasting tournaments in Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Telugu, alongside English.
Gaming offers viable career options: Prominent gaming companies are popularising esports in India by organising tournaments and multiplayer gaming events. Some of these contests feature high prize pools to attract professional players.
But apart from the players themselves, the gaming industry requires a range of skilled professionals—game developers and designers, writers and animators, voice-over artists, influencers, casters, event organizers, and marketing professionals, among many others.
Expansion of the industry will drive new hiring within esports businesses, from game brands and publishers to tournament organisers. Educational institutions are stepping up to the plate. They are developing new esports curricula and courses to train the next generation of gaming professionals.
What lies ahead for esports in India?
Slow load times, battery issues, and unreliable connectivity have long been pain points for the industry. But gaming-ready smartphones, the rollout of 5G, and software optimisations could ensure better multiplayer experiences all around.
Greater accessibility is also likely to bring more players from Tier 3 and Tier 4 regions into the mix. This could drive up viewership and gameplay in under-served areas within the hinterland as well.
Meanwhile, advanced tech is creating more immersive gaming experiences. Gamers love new technology, which is why virtual reality headsets and other wearables are likely to be hit with the esports crowd. Augmented reality, mixed reality, and ultra-HD technologies will add further sophistication to esports.
An important milestone arrives this year with esports debuting as a medal event at the Asian Games and a pilot event at the Commonwealth Games. Such high-stakes events are likely to raise the profile of the sport, its players, and the industry as a whole. Government recognition of esports as an actual sport would give the Indian esports industry a further boost, helping push up investments and drive growth.