Mumbai: Ben Varghese, all of 19, is every parent’s worst nightmare come true. He doesn’t go to college and isn’t interested in the correspondence course in which he has enrolled. The only thing he’s interested in is gaming, which is all what he and his four closest friends do when they hang out at cybercafes, the only places in India where multi-player gaming is possible.
That’s a dead-end as a career, right? Not really, for Varghese and his friends, Ritesh Shah, Mikhail Mehra, Hasnain Sayed and Amar Ratnam, who together call themselves ATE, have just been signed on by Games2Win, an India-based online gaming company. Each of them will receive a monthly salary and expenses from Games2Win; the gamers refused to give details of the financial arrangement.
In return, they will represent Games2Win in competitions, endorse the company’s games, and keep playing the game where they have become experts, Counter-Strike, arguably the most popular online action game where a counter-terrorist team takes on terrorists.
When contacted, Games2Win admitted that it had signed on some gamers but refused to share any details of the financial terms. The company also refused to comment on what it hopes to gain from the arrangement.
Gaming in India has grown rapidly, but chaotically, and is still perceived as a hobby rather than a professional sport. ATE, however, will represent Games2Win as sportsmen.
“It’s like cricket or football,” says Varghese, who believes that with corporate backing, Indian gamers could soon become as good as anyone elsewhere in the world.
“We look forward to playing abroad and winning there,” adds Varghese. “Just winning in India doesn’t make sense.” Professional gamers in countries with a developed gaming market earn over $3,000 (Rs1.32 lakh) a month, plus perks. Abroad, Ratnam says, players achieve an iconic status. “They get their own online show; their own clothing line.”
The members of ATE are likely to get much less.
Rajshekhar Bhatt, the India head of sales for ATI, the computer graphics card firm, says the Indian gaming industry’s potential has scarcely been recognized. Pearl Research, the San Francisco consulting firm that tracks the worldwide games market, forecasts that the Indian online gaming market will be worth more than $200 million by 2010.
Gamers in India say that while some organizers have come forward to put competitions together, they do not understand how things work in the rest of the world.
The rules, some claim, are non-standard, and players are often asked to pay for net usage at the cybercafes where the competitions are usually organised. Then there is the matter of prize money or the lack of it.
Last year’s Electronic Sports World Cup, held in Paris, offered $400,000 in prize money. Early in January, the prize at a major Mumbai competition was a crate of Red Bull energy drink, but no money.