ESports: The Next Big Frontier for Sporting Glory

As mass online gaming shifts to mobile, youth from urban, semi-urban, and even rural areas are discovering a whole new world of sport and entertainment


Even up until 5 years ago, if someone told you that eSports could be a medal event at major sporting tournaments like the Olympics or the Asian Games, it would have seemed a far-fetched idea.

However, today, it is happening. In the 2018 Asian Games, eSports was introduced for the first time and even though it was a demonstration sport (where medals are not added to countries’ tallys), it attracted a lot of attention. Enough, in fact, for it to be announced as a full medal event for the 2022 Asian Games that will be held in Hangzhou, China.

This global recognition opens up a world of possibilities for the eSports sector in India, which is already on an upward trajectory. In fact, India won a Bronze Medal in the 2018 Asian Games eSports event, thus announcing itself at the global stage as one of the leaders in eSports.

A lot has taken place in the global as well as the Indian eSports industry since 2018. As mobile internet continued to become more affordable and faster, and smartphones became better at lower prices, the rise in mobile gaming has fuelled the Indian eSports industry, taking it truly to the masses and beyond the metro cities. The sheer visible popularity of gaming titles such as FreeFire, CS GO etc -- and their appeal to gamers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and beyond -- heralded a new, exciting era in the Indian eSports industry.

According to a 2020 report on the media and entertainment sector in India by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY), the online gaming segment is expected to hit a massive Rs 187 billion in 2022, at a compound annual growth rate of 43 percent.

A salient feature of the booming eSports and online gaming segment in India is that the growth is across categories of games and isn’t just confined to one. For example, the same FICCI-EY report notes that the casual gaming segment on mobile phones alone grew by 20 percent.

Fuelled by the rise in the number of online gamers across the country, the growth that this industry is seeing in India is sustained and will continue to be, if the numbers are any indication. The FICCI-EY report further states that the number of online gamers in India is pegged to reach 440 million by 2022, up from 365 million in 2019.

What is interesting in particular about the way eSports is growing in India is the unearthing of talent from all over the country. As mass online gaming shifts to mobile, youth from urban, semi-urban, and even rural areas are discovering a whole new world of sport and entertainment. Geography is truly becoming history, when it comes to mobile gaming and eSports- someone based in a town in India can now compete in an online eSports tournament against the best in the country and even globally.

To give you an example, Mobile Premier League (MPL), a gaming platform with over 6 crore users in India, is present in more than 5,200 cities and towns across the country. Not just that, for one popular eSports title on its platform in 2020, 83 per cent of the gamers who played the title came from Tier 2 cities and beyond.

The way forward to help Indian youth reap the benefits of the boom in the eSports industry is to unearth talent- find the ones who can go on to represent the country in international eSports tournaments. One way of doing this is to organise large scale eSports tournaments across the country, where people can come together and compete irrespective of where they are. MPL managed to do this on scale with the first edition of the College Premier League in November-December 2020, where 13,000+ gamers from over 100 colleges and universities all over India competed for prizes and scholarships worth Rs 1 crore.

More such tournaments being organised at a much larger scale are the need of the hour. The Prime Minister himself has called attention to this industry by saying that India should lead the digital gaming sector. The eSports industry is hopeful that lawmakers and regulators at the Central and State level will encourage the sector by recognising and helping develop its potential.

The author is Sai Srinivas, Co-founder and CEO, Mobile Premier League(MPL) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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