The government recently banned Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) under Section 69A of the IT Act, the same provision used to bar PUBG Mobile. The recent ban on BGMI, which was launched just a year ago has triggered questions about the future of e-Sports in India.
The Indian e-Sports industry is at an early stage of growth compared to the market in the countries like US and Japan. But as per the experts, this industry has seen huge growth in recent years.
The country is far behind China, the US, and South Korea in terms of e-Sports revenue earnings, coming in at number 16.
It is understood that while gaming fans are constantly looking for new ways to improve their skills and demonstrate their competence, the e-Sports industry in India has the scope to grow in the coming years.
Growth so far
Yash Pariani, Founder of the House of Gaming told News18 that in terms of both spectators and prize pool distribution, e-Sports in India has grown rapidly in recent years.
“In the past 5 years, e-Sports has experienced over 200% growth in terms of viewers along with its prize pool soon being able to compete with the biggest sporting leagues in India,” he noted.
Similarly, Kowshik Komandur, AVP with one of the leading mobile entertainment companies, also mentioned the ascending growth chart of this sector.
He said that by 2025, there will be approximately 85 million viewers, generating an estimated industry income of approximately 1100 crore while referring to the Federation of Electronic Sports Associations India (FEAI), the governing body for e-Sports in the country.
According to Komandur, “As the consumption of live stream content is rising, gamers are targeting audiences via such live streaming platforms. Brands have also increased their ad spends in the space by at least 30% in the past 2 years.”
“For marketers, e-Sports is the focus area to target millennial and GenZ audience,” he added.
Valay Patel, CTO of Gamerji, a leading e-Sports tournament platform in India, told News18 that currently, the country is home to 430 billion mobile gamers and the figures are going to increase in the coming years.
He said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, high profile sporting events and tournaments like IPL, Pro Kabbadi League Hockey Pro-league games, National Games, etc were either cancelled or delayed for long periods. Students moved to online schooling and these factors presented an organic opportunity for the e-Sports industry to emerge in a big way as everyone was indoors and was looking to engage in activities where a team may or may not be needed.”
Patel further noted that the availability of smartphones, as well as affordable and fast internet service adoption and upgrades in India, have also played a major role in this growth.
However, Asutosh from Esportslive said: “The growth that we see is concentrated with very few teams or companies. The rest of the ecosystem doesn’t have any visibility or chances for growth.”
He explained that there are a few elite teams that are well-known throughout the country and are asked to play in every tournament. However, promising teams are not given enough opportunities to perform on the big stage.
“In my opinion, if India wants to perform well on the large stage then the players need to get the chance,” he stated.
Asutosh called the ban a “nightmare for every BGMI gamer and e-Sports company”.
He said: “Players, companies, and streamers are going all in for BGMI and suddenly the game is shut down. It breaks the morale of aspiring e-Sports athletes, organisers, etc.”
Asutosh believes that this type of prohibition may be a significant letdown for those who see e-Sports as a potential career choice.
While explaining the impact he said for an aspiring young talent between the ages of 17 and 24 who wishes to build a name for himself in e-Sports, the first step is to persuade their parents to allow them to pursue e-Sports as a career.
But, according to Asutosh, sudden bans like BGMI leave these young people vulnerable and make it tough for them to choose a career in this sector.
From the industry perspective, Patel and Komandur both highlighted the negative impact of this ban.
Patel said: “As we are at a critical juncture in the e-Sports growth in India, banning of popular sports can lead to adverse impact on the Indian e-Sports ecosystem in terms of viewership and player base.”
As per Komandur, the industry believes that this will have a huge impact on all stakeholders who have relied extensively on these games.
He said: “Such sudden bans could impact the funding sentiments. The ban will also mean that the sponsorship volumes may decrease and a significant reduction in the prize pools.”
“When PUBG was banned the viewership fell by 70% as there was no other game that had the same pull or popularity at that time,” he added.
However, House of Gaming’s Pariani said: “BGMI was the biggest e-Sport in India and its ban will impede the growth of the gaming industry. But we’ll have to wait for the further announcement by the officials if the game will be back soon or will have to hope that some other games fill in BGMI’s shoes.”
Another industry insider, Kuldeep Lather, founder and CEO at Villager Esports, stated that the ban is likely to have socioeconomic consequences, and authorities must grasp that just prohibiting games is not the best method to address any issue or problem.
“This ban might come across as a blessing in disguise and could very well encourage the stakeholders to explore sections that have long been ignored by gaming companies and developers in the country,” he said and added that this could lead to the comprehensive development of India’s e-Sports, allowing the sector to show outstanding growth rates in the future.
However, Gamerji’s Patel, based on previous experiences has highlighted when one game is outlawed, players will switch to another option.
“Being a tournament platform, we make sure that our dependency on one game is not very high and hence situations like these don’t leave a big impact on our tournament business,” he noted.
Future of e-Sports
Patel believes that the future of online gaming, particularly e-Sports, appears to be bright.
“As e-Sports continues to grow and enjoy support from investors and gamers, the other stakeholders too will buy into the promise of making India a global e-sports hub because in terms of talent, designing games and training amateur gamers into pros, the e-sports gaming companies are working to meet all the key hurdles and we believe that the industry will see massive growth in the next few years” he added.
But as per Patel, there is still an underlying concern about the lack of a regulatory organisation controlling the industry, GST compliance, and others.
Additionally, House of Gaming’s Pariani has noted the lack of clarity in terms of e-Sports-related rules and regulations and said that unclear regulations are the primary cause of the games for a variety of concerns such as untimely bans and tax issues.
He believes: “Setting clear regulations will add impetus to the growth of e-Sports in India.”
Highlighting the need of the hour, Komandur said: “The government needs to set proper guidelines that the industry toe in line to allow developers to get a clearer idea of the limitations they must adhere to when creating a game, thereby reducing the risk of sudden bans and the subsequent negative impact on the gaming industry.”
While echoing similar suggestions, Asutosh from Esportslive stated that there is a need for stable government-provided guidelines for the games to operate in the e-Sports sector in the country.
However, he also believes in the potential of this industry and expected to see more participation from the larger brands in e-Sports tournaments to leverage the audience.
“We can create a huge e-Sports talent who can compete on the International stage,” he said while adding that “safe gaming practices need to evolve and players need to train in mental fitness as well”.
As per Asutosh, e-Sports is also believed to have an impact on NFT and Web3, but how it will be integrated is still unknown.
Villager Esports’s Lather said that the e-Sports market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.13% between 2022 and 2027, but it will face certain distinct hurdles before reaching its full potential.
Along with the regulatory concerns he also highlighted that the development expenditures are fairly high, and keeping talent is also proving to be a difficult problem for e-Sports organisations.
“To address all these challenges, the industry must strive to establish a self-sustaining ecosystem that, in turn, would prove helpful in creating a win-win situation for all stakeholders involved in the category,” he suggested.