New Delhi: Sakriya Puri, 16, is preparing for his medical entrance examinations. In his free time, he plays a mobile game with his friends called Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The objective of a player in this hugely popular battle royale game is to become the last person, or team, standing.

Puri and his friends are not professional gamers. They play PUBG on their phones only during their spare time. While it is typical of Indian parents to dismiss video games as a waste of time, consider this: Puri and three of his friends—they call their team Terrifying Nightmares—won 15 lakh in the PUBG Mobile Campus Championship. The event had 250,000 registrations from over 1,000 colleges. Of these, 40,000 players competed in teams of four.

The championship demonstrates that PUBG has become a phenomenon in the country, evoking a lot of passion. Shouvik Das, a Mumbai resident, relates one such incident. He was once rudely woken up by his flatmate. “It was 4am. I and my other flatmate rushed down thinking the house has been robbed, but my flatmate was yelling only because he had just died in PUBG."

The game originally gained fame among more advanced gamers through its console and PC versions. PUBG became so popular that its owner, South Korea-based Bluehole, formed a subsidiary called the PUBG Corp. to focus on the game. The mobile version was launched this March, in partnership with China’s Tencent Corp. In the last eight months, PUBG has been installed more than 100 million times on Android phones worldwide.

An October 2018 report by Sensor Tower said PUBG was the most downloaded game on Apple’s App Store in the first quarter of this year. It is among the top five most downloaded games on Android in India right now, according to Google Play rankings.

In India, people are playing the game mostly on their phones. While Puri plays PUBG on a OnePlus phone, Akash Kargupta, a fraud analyst with a multinational firm, plays it on his iPhone. Another player, Agnibh Mudi, plays on a much cheaper, Xiaomi Redmi 4 smartphone.

In a country where full-fledged online gaming events have often been hamstrung due to the low prize money, the total prize pool for the PUBG tournament was a whopping 50 lakh. According to players, PUBG’s simplicity keeps them engaged. The game doesn’t require you to spend hours on it. A half-an-hour session is about all it takes to finish a round and you don’t have to play every day, something Fortnite (a PUBG competitor) requires, according to Puri.

Most players whom Mint spoke to said they play during breaks, metro rides and whenever they are free. Mudi, a head chef at a restaurant in Delhi, says he often finds his staff members slacking off because they’re playing PUBG. Another player, Shrey Pacheco says he gets calls at 10pm from friends, who want to form a crew and play PUBG. Kargupta says he and his colleagues play the game during breaks. “Each session runs for about half an hour, so we end up taking a lot of half-hour breaks," he said.

As per the Sensor Tower report, PUBG was downloaded more in the first quarter of 2018 than apps such as YouTube, Netflix and Snapchat. With the game gathering momentum in India, the numbers are only set to rise.

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