While it is without a doubt that cricket is the most popular sport in India by far, there is a growing interest in esports.
Esports is the name given to competitive video game competitions. This may not sound like much to the uninitiated, but the esports industry has grown dramatically in recent years. Competitions attract thousands of players and major sponsors, and they even have spectator figures in the hundreds of thousands and sometimes even millions.
Esports is big business, with many of the leading video game publishers launching their own leagues. For example, the Call of Duty League is organized by the game’s publisher, Activision. It hosts events in 11 different American and European cities, with teams engaging in 5-on-5 games to decide who is the best.
Fans can pay for tickets to watch the event in person or follow along with the coverage broadcast over the internet, just like at any other sporting event.
Real-life sports leagues are getting involved too. The National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States launched its NBA 2K league in 2018, linking real-life teams with esports teams in a league that saw games played on the official NBA 2K video game. Formula 1 has also launched its own esports league too, with the third season of the F1 Esports Series taking place in 2020. The league has sponsorship from global companies like DHL and Fanatec, and all of Formula 1’s teams take part.
Many European football clubs are also getting involved in esports, creating their own teams that enter into both football-related competitions and others like League of Legends, Dota2, and Fortnite. This is part of their strategy to attract a younger demographic of fans. The costs for them to do this are much lower than other ways to engage with younger adults. This is because esports is arguably the most open and accessible form of sport in the world.
Many tournaments, big and small, even allow ways for members of the public to take part. This is sometimes through public competitions, which professionals take part in, as is regularly seen in poker, and by holding qualification rounds, as has been used by the NBA and Formula 1, that gives the public a chance to take part in main tournaments.
The state of esports in India
Esports is big in India. With a population of 1.3 billion, it is an attractive market for brands who want to use esports to develop more recognition in the country.
The Asian Games is a multi-sport event similar to the Olympics but for Asian countries. In 2018, it included an esports category, a first for any major sporting event. Esports was given a huge boost in India during the event when Tirth Mehta, a 24-year-old from Bhuj picked up a bronze medal in the Hearthstone event.
Hearthstone is a digital card video game and was just one of six different games played at the Asian Games. The others were Arena of Valor, Clash Royale, League of Legends, Pro Evolution Soccer, and StarCraft II. India qualified for all but two of the competitions, but finished last in the medal table, behind countries like China, Hong Kong, and South Korea.
This didn’t matter. Mehta was a star and is a role model for many more Indians wanting to take part in esports competitions. The market has grown to more than $800 million and is expected to surpass the $1 billion mark by 2023.
More than two million people in India now regularly watch esports competitions, with a further two million describing themselves as “occasional viewers”. Of course, this doesn’t come close to the approximately 700 million that watch cricket in India every year, but esports has not been around anywhere near as long.
It’s also been enough to attract the organizers of major esports events. Acer, the biggest player in the Indian PC gaming market has begun organizing the “Acer Predator Gaming League” in the country, which is the biggest esports tournament in Asia.
Other major brands, including the Chinese giant Tencent Games and Yoozoo Games, have also set up operations in the country, investing millions in an attempt to attract some of the country’s 120 million online gamers.
Being a country with such a large population, esports in India is likely to receive a lot of investment and growth. It has already proved that it can compete on the global stage, and it has begun attracting large amounts of investment from major players in the esports and gaming industries.
With the work of the Esports Federation of India, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing a lot of the country in tournaments in the coming years.