Home / Sports / Sports News /  ESports industry shifts to new turf after BGMI, PUBG bans

NEW DELHI : India’s eSports industry has turned its focus towards a new roster of games to continue its operations after the government’s ban on popular gaming titles for phones.

The government had banned South Korean publisher Krafton Inc’s PUBG Mobile and Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) in September 2020 and July 2022, respectively. It had also banned a competing title called Garena Freefire in February this year.

At the time of the bans, the three games were drawing crores of rupees every year through in-app purchases for users, tournament sponsorships from brands and tournament prize money. This is now shifting towards games like Valorant, Pokemon Unite and Call of Duty Mobile. Indian titles like World Cricket Championship (WCC) and Real Cricket are also gaining interest, said industry experts.

Prior to the ban in July, BGMI was the biggest gaming title in eSports in India with prize pools of as high as 1.5 crore for a single tournament. “BGMI has had a significant impact on the pace of growth for eSports in India. The size of the game’s ecosystem was massive enough for organizers to ditch every other title and still be profitable," Abhishek Joshi, co-founder at tournament organizer CriticalX Esports, said.

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Joshi said the gaming industry has started to feel that it has stunted its growth by relying a lot on a single game. “We, as tournament organizers, have started pivoting to the rest of the competitive titles and they’re working out well for us," he added.

Last week, eSports organizer Galaxy Racer held a Valorant India Invitational tournament in Hyderabad with a prize pool of $100,000 (about 81 lakhs). This is despite the fact that Valorant, which is built by American game publisher Riot Games, is a PC gaming title and India has largely been a mobile gaming market.

Similarly, a tournament called Pokemon Unite India Open was announced this week, with a prize pool of 22 lakh. Pokemon Unite is made by The Pokemon Company, which in turn is owned by Japanese gaming firm Nintendo. The tournament is being organized by Chennai-based Skyesports, which is owned by Indian gaming firm Jetsynthesys. Anurag Khurana, chief executive officer of Penta Esports, said Pokemon Unite tournaments usually have a prize pool of 1-2 lakhs, and this is a big leap from that. Other titles raking in the cash include US-based Activision’s Call of Duty Mobile, a key reason for the company’s ongoing acquisition by Microsoft.

“The gaming industry has also evolved and more gamers are playing on PC. Some of the Valorant tournaments in India are now rivalling the viewership that BGMI and PUBG used to get," said Rushindra Sinha, CEO of Global Esports, which owns its own eSports teams. He said PUBG and BGMI were the gateway games for many people in India, and gamers have started to look for other games to fill the void.

Industry experts also said that having a multi-game strategy is good for the long-term growth of the industry. Penta Esports’ Khurana pointed out every game has a life cycle and companies shouldn’t depend on a single title, irrespective of bans.

Penta itself is considering games like Japanese Capcom’s Street Fighter and some racing games for its next eSports tournaments. “Even some indigenous titles like WCC and Real Cricket are doing very well in mobile eSports,“ added Khurana. WCC and Real Cricket are made by Indian gaming firms NextWave Multimedia and Nautilus, respectively. NextWave Media is owned by Nazara Inc., while Nautilus is owned by Jetsynthesys.

Animesh Agarwal, founder and CEO of gaming marketing consultancy 8bit Creatives, concurred with Khurana, adding that the industry has been exploring newer eSports titles to develop and sustain revenue growth for Indian gaming.

To be sure, the BGMI and PUBG Tournaments had hit tens of crores at their peak, and there’s still a wide gap against current titles. This is, however, starting to narrow. The Indian eSports industry is expected to see more tournaments featuring multiple games.

In April, Riot Games launched a model internationally where gaming teams would become similar to IPL franchises. It will allow teams to buy, loan and transfer gamers among teams, generating more revenue streams and partnership models. The model is expected to come to India soon, said Sinha, whose Global Esports is participating in its international edition.

Rohit Jagasia, founder and CEO of Revenant Esports, pointed out that the inclusion of more franchises will, in turn, increase viewership of eSports as well, allowing more brands to advertize, and hence expand the industry.


Abhijit Ahaskar

Abhijit writes on tech policy, gaming, security, AI, robotics, electronics and startups. He has been in the media industry for over 12 years.
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