Last weekend, more than 20,000 Mumbai residents gathered at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stadium over three days to attend an event, which was so popular that the police had to erect barricades to prevent more fans from getting in.
This wasn’t a concert featuring Bollywood stars or a stand-up gig. Instead, it was a first of its kind e-gaming streaming event by gaming major Krafton. The event was the grand finale of the popular BGMI (Battleground Mobile India) series.
Gaming companies such as Krafton, Nodwin Gaming and Jio Games along with brands such as iQOO, Lenovo and Red Bull are investing large sums of money in offline streaming of popular esports leagues in physical arenas across India. The sponsors are encouraged by the large footfalls in these tournaments in a single day, which they believe can help attract a wider audience of potential players and viewers.
For instance, BGMI’s finale saw celebrity athlete Neeraj Chopra distribute a prize pool of Rs 2 crore to the winners, one of the highest sums paid in South Asian esports.
“We were overwhelmed by the unexpected response that Mumbai showed us,” said Karan Pathak, head of esports at Krafton. “We wanted to fulfil the dreams of these 16 teams and 82 players coming from India’s grassroots and being staged at this massive pedestal.”
Pathak told ET that Krafton wishes to make BGMI a global game and therefore, will announce another series this month with a total prize pool of Rs 2.5 crore, besides inviting participation from Korean teams.
According to a report by FICCI-EY, esports tournaments are set to gather a total prize money of Rs 30 crore in 2023. However, the mark has already been surpassed in October, industry executives say.
“Tournaments are no longer confined to just online platforms; they are now being held in stadiums and broadcast on mainstream sports networks like Star Sports or Jio Cinema,” said Animesh Agarwal alias 8Bit Thug, founder and chief executive officer at marketing management firm 8Bit Creatives. “This integration with traditional sports broadcasting and the opportunity to connect with the widespread gaming audience is what brands are eager to tap into.”
Tiger Global-backed Australian gaming studio Behaviol made its India debut last week with its flagship game META11, having a prize pool of $100,000.
Krishan Deegalla, CEO, Behaviol said India is slowly inching towards global prize pools. “The escalating size of prize pools is a testament to the increasing commercial interest and recognition of esports. The primary drivers for this expansion are brand sponsorships, media rights sales, and in-app purchases. Brands understand the value of the esports audience, which is young, digitally-savvy, and engaged.”
India has hosted three of the largest prize pool e-gaming tournaments to date–the BGMI Masters Series Season 2 (2023) hosted by Nodwin Gaming (Rs 2.1 crore), BGMI Series 2023 by Krafton (Rs 2 crore), and the Skyesports Masters by JetSyntheses (Rs 2 crore).
“Small scale LAN (local area network) events have been a phenomenon in India for a while, but KRAFTON has taken it to a different scale with this sort of investment,” said a top company executive.
JioGames, known for prize money of up to Rs 20 lakh, is hosting a LAN Event this week at Seawood Grand Central Mall in Navi Mumbai with prize money of Rs 1 lakh.
“I am sure, many others will follow suit to host BGMI tournaments because of the sheer popularity of the game itself. India being a mobile-first country, PC and console games like DOTA2, CS:GO may remain on the lower edge,” the executive cited above said, adding that mobile games may find strong popularity in the country.
Meanwhile, esports athlete Harsh Paudwal alias SOUL Goblin said India needs to catch up with the bigger international prize money in the near future. “High-profile tournaments like The International in DOTA 2 or the League of Legends World Championship have multi-million-dollar prize pools, something which we are yet to see in the Indian Esports ecosystem.”
In terms of challenges, experts believe that the government’s ban on certain games is stalling the representation of India’s rising esports players on global platforms. For instance, India competed in only four out of seven esports tournaments at Asian Games 2022 because the other three were banned in India.
Bans on games like PUBG and Free Fire was also the reason the total prize money dropped to Rs 15 crore from Rs 22 crore in 2021, they say.
According to the report cited above, esports players touched the 1 million mark in 2022 and is expected to reach 2.5 million this year. The number of esports teams is estimated to grow from 110,000 last year to 125,000 in 2023.
Source: The Economic Times