Chennai: “It’s not a sport — it’s a competition. Mostly, I’m interested in doing real sports,” John Skipper, the then president of ESPN, had proclaimed in 2014 while commenting on Amazon’s $1 billion deal to buy videogame streaming site, Twitch, only to watch his American-based television channel embrace the world of competitive gaming — eSports -— within a year after his statement.
Such has been the growth of eSports across the world in recent years that the Olympic Council of Asia has even added video gaming as a medal sport for the 2022 Asian Games to be held in China. And as a prelude, eSports will feature as a demo event in the 2018 Games in Indonesia in a few months.
Armed with latest gadgets, the internet-streaming generation has changed the gaming industry dramatically in the last couple of years. While the US, China and South Korea are some of the significant players in the gaming market, India is not far behind thanks to the introduction of high-speed fibre optics connectivity and affordable mobile internet.
Esports has grown significantly in the country with an estimated figure of 120 million online gamers. Esports Federation of India (ESFI), the governing body in the country, has been actively facilitating events in various cities.
Lokesh Suji, director of ESFI, says India will have 310million online gamers by 2021. “With high-speed internet and affordable gaming devices becoming easily available, eSports is accessible from homes, which earlier was available only at gaming cafes. Also, with increased penetration of smartphones, esports is accessible anytime anywhere,” he added.
The biggest challenge eSports facing is the perception. Lokesh says the inclusion in the Asian Games programme is a huge step towards mainstream acceptance.
“The Asiad boost will definitely help change it. It’s just not gaming today, it’s a sport. I think the taboo that had associated with gaming is gone; as a gamer you will not be called a ‘Nerd’ but an ‘eSports athlete’,” said Lokesh, who is also a board member of Asian Esports Federation.
“India team were placed No.6 for Tekken 7 and our overall rank jumped to 20th in the esports World Championship 2017 in Korea.
"The fraternity is hoping to see an Indian esports athlete landing a medal in the 2022 Asian Games. Our team’s performance in IESF World Championship has boosted our confidence,” added Lokesh.
Contrary to perceptions, scientific studies have proved that playing video games boosts memory, increases coordination and is good for cognitive health.
“It sharpens your decision-making, it reduces stress and depression; even the doctors recommend playing games as a therapy for chronic illness like autism, depression, and Parkinson’s,” continued Lokesh.
Esports athletes have their own physical fitness programmes and are told to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “It’s just that all of this happens behind the scenes. Some of the Esports pro-athletes have massive fan following and we want to create more role models,” Lokesh added.
Playing video games is not encouraged by the parents as they don’t see a career path for their children and merely look at it as a pastime.
“Now, that will not be the case,” said Lokesh. “There are schools and universities in US, Sweden, Malaysia, Korea and China who run eSports curriculums apart from providing scholarships.
"Famous clubs such as Manchester City, Philadelphia 76ers and Roma have their eSports teams. Some of the global eSport teams are valued more than $100 million. The same trend is emerging in India,” he said.
Lokesh also stressed the importance of creating job opportunities for eSports commentators, coaches, event managers, lawyers and even journalists.
“There are organisations who own teams (Signify, Entity, RoG, Titans) and paying them monthly salaries ranging from `30,000-50,000. Commentators Ranjit Patel and Sudhen Wahengbam are making decent money. Gamers have not only started earning by playing professionally, but also by creating content and live streaming their games,” Lokesh added.
Globally, pro-gamers are making anything between $1-2million in sponsorships. Last year’s winning team for The International (World Championship for video game DOTA2) took home $10 million and the overall prize pool was $25 million.
There are a lot of Indian-origin esports athletes who are doing well. US-based Saahil Arora represents one of the best esports teams in the world and has already made $3million.
Esports whose demography is predominately youth presents brands and advertisers a great platform to attract their target consumers.
“Creation of an altogether new industry of esports will lead to larger investments flowing in. Both endemic and non-endemic brands will start getting involved on a serious note. Esports is the best way to engage with the hard to reach millenials,” explained Lokesh.
Increasing the participation of girls is another area esports fraternity has been consciously working on. “We are trying to include a separate category to encourage more participation from girls,” Lokesh added....