New Delhi: Abhishek Gagnani, 19, plays Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CS:GO), an online computer action game, with his friends in Vadodara. Gagnani has been playing online games for about two years now.

Gagnani is one of hundreds of thousands of gamers and enthusiasts emerging from small towns and cities in India who are playing CS:GO, PUBG, Dota 2, Apex Legends, Fortnite and FIFA, online games that are popular in metros and larger cities.

With rising internet access, cheap data plans and falling prices of gaming products, the popularity of online gaming is spreading to smaller towns and cities.

“When I look at the participants at our events and visitors on our portal, many tier II and III cities are among the top 10 today. They wouldn’t even be on the list some years ago," said Abhay Sharma, founder of GamingMonk Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, an e-sports company that organizes tournaments in India. E-sports is about competitive gaming.

Growth in tier II and III audience started right after Reliance Jio introduced cheap data plans in September 2016, triggering a tariff war.

Although the online gaming industry is still at an early stage of development in India, it has seen a spurt in growth over the past few years and is expected to reach $1 billion by 2021, according to a joint report by KPMG and Google. Unsurprisingly, companies are vying for a share of the pie.

On his part, Harsh Kothari, co-founder of Neon Gaming Studios, has started gaming dens in non-metro cities in India. Kothari says he has seen lots of participants in gaming events from smaller towns and thinks this initiative will help gamers in these places gain more exposure.

Further, these cities are also contributing significantly to the growth of gaming equipment sales in the country. According to Arnold Su, business head of personal computers and Republic of Gamers (ROG) at Asus India, the company’s ROG store in Bhubaneswar—one of only three in India—performs very well, even when compared to the ones in Bengaluru and Kolkata. ROG is Asus’s gaming-centric brand.

The contribution of tier II and III cities to the company’s gaming segment is between 30% and 60% today, said Anurag Arora, category head of personal systems at HP.

Dell also claimed that it had seen unprecedented interest from tier II, III and IV cities. “We ran GamerConnect in Guwahati, Jaipur, Mangaluru and other tier III, IV cities. We expected 500-odd people from each city, but got 2,000 or more in each," said P. Krishnakumar, senior vice-president and general manager of Asia Pacific and Japan at Dell.