It was the year 2000 when the IT world survived the Y2K fiasco and strode forwards into a brave new world. Computers slowly but surely started becoming a common sight in offices across the world. Soon, Indians began building desktops for their personal use. Around this time, people got introduced to games like Doom, Dave, Age of Empires, and Road Rash. For the common-man newly introduced to the digital world, these titles were addictive, and soon, they were hooked to the games like a cat to catnip, or a druglord to cocaine. With time, this generation of players grew older, got into college, and discovered the magic of LAN via games like DOTA, FIFA, and Counter-Strike.
Those were the years that laid the foundation of Esports in India.
Suddenly, the internet became cheap and people started going to cyber cafés to hang out with their friends and play these titles. They started consuming YouTube videos to learn walkthroughs, indulge in discussions, and soon, a gaming community was formed.
Around the same time, gaming YouTubers like PewDiePie started influencing kids to start playing games competitively. Thus, esports came into existence. However, there were very few people who were able to make a name for themselves through Esports, and even fewer who were from tier-2 cities.
A lot of them started playing games and uploading their videos on YouTube in their mother tongue, and that’s when a creed of Indian gamers entered into the burgeoning world of Esports and began taking it seriously.
A 23-year-old gamer from Gujarat, Tirth Mehta, who hails from a city named Bhuj won India’s first Esport medal in the Asian Games, becoming India first esports champion.
This was the first clue to the world at large, that perhaps, the country’s real esports talent lies in its hinterlands. In its far-flung roots.
Tier two cities like Kota, Pune, Kanpur, have a huge student population. In fact, Kota is considered to be the Mecca for IIT aspirants, bringing in around 2 lakh students into the city every year. On the other hand, cities like Pune (also known as Oxford of the East) have around 5 lakh college students coming from all over the country. These freshmen have all the necessary skills and these cities have all the right amenities required to develop an Esports athlete. All they need is a platform and people with a keen eye for spotting talent, scouts if you will, for developing these diamonds in the rough.
Every college organizes competitive games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Counterstrike GO, FIFA, & PUBG in their college fests, all vying to become the local esports champion. Until now, these competitions were played ‘just for fun’, or for bragging rights. But in the era of esports, these could become the breeding ground for future athletes.
Every new venture requires time to develop but Covid-19 has disrupted the Indian Esports market and accelerated its growth by suspending the world of live sports. What has been the kiss of death for many sports has been the panacea for the Esports market.
Companies like Nodwin gaming, Skyesports, Paytm organizes Esports competitions such as the ESL on a national level, where people from all around the country participate. These events are broadcasted on apps like Hotstar and sites like YouTube and generate large viewership numbers, leading to revenue generation in the form of ticketing, brand sponsorships and advertisements. Often, the numbers far surpass their wildest expectations.
When Paytm announced their first Esports competition, they not only had to increase the limit for the number of registrations due to the overwhelming response they received but also had to close those a week in advance, because they were unable to accommodate the number of players registering for their event. The key takeaway from the event though? That most squads which participated and made it into the finals were from tier two cities.
Take the example of the PUBG PMPML South Asia finals where an underdog team named “Celtz” lifted the cup. Guess what? Majority of these players came from tier 2 cities.
SO, WHAT MADE THESE TIER 2 CITIES AN IDEAL BREEDING GROUND FOR ESPORTS?
For starters, high internet penetration in the age of Jio and a significant reduction in the price of computer hardware has made gaming more accessible for people with lower incomes. Further, in the digital age, parents are more supportive of their children as they try to pursue offbeat careers.
The online gaming platform is probably the most age-neutral and gender-neutral ground among all the sports around the world.
Additionally, there are income streams which revolve separately from competitions too. For example, Shagufta “XYAA” Iqbal who is a female streamer not only earns money from live streams but also has deals signed with brands like Logitech. She also comes from a tier 2 city and now resides in Bangalore.
To add to that, even though the price of hardware has come down significantly, most players cannot afford a decent machine that runs games on 1080P – much less on 4K – which is a huge hurdle when it comes to games where the slightest dip in frame rate can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
To expound on this, an average Esport athlete needs to press 9 keys on the keyboard 400 times in a minute with the left hand while simultaneously having to make around 1000 decisions per minute during a battle in LOL (League of Legends). These are the things that separate casual gamers from an Esport athlete, and why they need the best specs to be competitive. And to become an esports champion, you need to be at the top of this already selective pile.
That is where the cyber café and gaming parlours come into the picture, where teenagers can blood themselves by fighting the world on higher spec. machines.
In fact, for a lot of these players, these gaming parlours are their first sponsors as well.
Due to good internet connectivity, most players also Livestream their gameplay sessions on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, etc. However, India is yet to see exceptional players in DOTA 2, LOL, World of Warcraft (WOW), etc. These are the games where you mint the most money because these titles offer the biggest gaming prizes around the world. If our tier 2 cities keep up their pace of producing talented players, then the day isn’t far when we compete for – and conquer – the biggest throne in the world of Esports, and produce the next global esports champion.