Mobile gaming firms in India are turning to professional gaming, or e-sports, to increase the country’s share in the space.
India does not have much of a presence in the professional gaming industry though e-sports has existed in India for years. However, India has emerged as a go-to nation for mobile gaming, ranking at the top of most reports. This trend will lead Indian gamers towards professional gaming, according to experts.
“Someone starts off as a casual gamer, then becomes a mid-core gamer, and eventually looks at how they can become a professional gamer,” said Rajan Navani, co-founder of JetSynthesys, one of the largest gaming companies in India. JetSynthesys acquired Chennai-based Skyesports last week and now plans a push into grassroots markets where e-sports have been picking up.
JetSynthesys had also partnered with Japanese gaming giant Square Enix earlier this year for a mobile game called Ludo Zenith. It also has cricket-based games such as Sachin Saga and Real Cricket and plans to increase the complexity in those games to add that professional element.
“We are building that into a truly representative e-sports kind of game that can go out of India,” Navani said. “It requires significant investment and a very good understanding of how players will compete. You have to make sure that the fair play piece is strong in the game and enough strategy and technique is required to be better than others.”
Keerti Singh, co-founder and vice-president of growth at Hitwicket, a popular mobile game, agreed. The company’s first game was tailored to casual gaming and it launched a new one called Hitwicket Superstars in 2021, which is meant for more professional gamers. The game also won the Prime Minister’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge last year and has partnered with New York-headquartered gaming firm Tilting Point for acquiring users overseas.
The company has been speaking to e-sports players, Singh said. More of these strategy and skill-based games have been topping the charts in terms of downloads, she said. The company plans to hold its first online tournament this year and an offline event in 2022, with bigger ones in 2023. Product decisions the company is taking today are driven by these goals, Singh said.
The casual gaming market in India has 420 million users, according to a June 2021 report by KPMG. Of this, 94% is accounted for by mobile users, while personal computer and console gamers account for 9% and 4%, respectively. Ad revenues were ₹36.2 billion in 2021, while in-app purchases were ₹24.1 billion this year. The report projected these numbers to grow to ₹98.9 billion and ₹69.7 billion, respectively, by 2025.
Further, mobile game downloads grew from 1.8 billion in the first quarter of 2020 to 2.9 billion in the third quarter. Indians downloaded mobile games almost 5 billion times during the first half of 2021 alone, ranking the country as the top market for mobile game downloads, ahead of the US, Brazil, Indonesia and Russia, according to a report by mobile analytics firm App Annie this month.
“Right now, just mobile games are rolling the Indian market,” said Ankur Diwakar, a professional gamer who has represented India in global tournaments. However, Diwakar noted that the industry is driven by battle royale games such as Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), Call of Duty: Mobile and more, where the prize money is often in seven figures.
However, new games are making inroads, Diwakar noted. “If I was organizing an event today, mobile games would get say 1 lakh sign-ups, whereas a proper PC or console game will probably get 500,” he said.
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