More than 120 million people are playing video games in India now, and the country’s fast-expanding technology sector is also giving rise to an interest in Esports. When you consider only three times that number of gamers (400 million) tune in to watch the India national team play cricket, it won’t take much longer for Esports to become as widespread as their national sport. The country’s U Cypher Championship became India’s first televised Esports tournament, which is operated by U Sports, a corporation that owns and runs a professional kabaddi team. The U Cypher Championship sees six Indian Esports teams do battle on three gaming platforms: desktop PC, games console and mobile. The games played are Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Tekken 7 and ironically, Real Cricket 17, with teams playing against each other in a round-robin format.
Competitive gaming is becoming a hugely profitable career for the elite Esports players. Check out the leaderboard for Esports Champions by Unibet to discover the average tournament winnings at professional Esports events in recent years. It’s worth comparing Esports prize money to what’s on offer in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Following 47 days of grueling Twenty20 action, the Mumbai Indians picked up $2.4 million in prize money each. Wind the clock forward two months and an Esports team founded in the Netherlands was winning $10.86 million following an 11-day Dota 2 Esports tournament titled “The International.”
Optimism surrounds the opportunities for Esports to scale in India like it has done in China, the USA and South Korea. The Director of the Esports Federation of India (ESFI), Lokesh Suji, told ESPN that the future is bright for Indian Esports. Mr. Suji believes the number of online gamers in India will break the 300-million barrier by 2021, with PC and console gaming concentrated largely in metropolitan and smaller cities. Meanwhile, mobile gaming performs best across all other towns and cities where internet connectivity is not so important.
Given that India has the biggest youth population on the planet, Suji believes Esports will naturally become “culturally more relevant to current and upcoming generations.” The suggestion of setting up Esports cafes is a good one, creating communities of like-minded gamers prepared to design winning strategies and solve problems together. Even the parents of teenagers in India are beginning to recognize the opportunities of becoming a professional gamer. The ESFI is in liaison with schools and colleges to try and get Esports featured as part of pupils’ sports and cultural activities. If that proves successful, there’s no limit to what Esports could achieve in all four corners of India.