Economic Times: How do you foresee esports evolving in India in the future?
Upmanyu Misra (UM): Esports, like any sports, will need heroes if it has to find its due space in India. Much like Dhyanchand, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Mary Kom, Viswanathan Anand, and so many more made their respective sport grow at a grassroots level.
We need to understand that India is at a fork where it has stood on several occasions. We can go the Cricket way, or the Rugby way. The biggest hurdle is to bulldoze through the stigma attached to gaming. Parents, who are the gatekeepers, must be made to realize that this space is no different from any other sport or
art (singing, acting, painting). And most importantly, the ensuing rewards from a pro-level career are similar, if not better.
To achieve this, we need to develop the regulation, infrastructure, and sheer will to pursue eSports as a career. Countries such as Korea, US, Scandinavia that set up early support structures have already experienced socioeconomic benefits from this sector. India too has several factors going for it – high internet connectivity, digital acceptance, and cheap hardware. I would like to call out to our government, corporates, schools and parents for their full support.
Fortunately, India is not short of imminent showcasing opportunities. A big one is the upcoming Asian Games in China. There are eight medal events scheduled and victories will matter.
ET: Considering stiff global competition, how do you see Indian e-gaming players performing against their peers?
UM: There are always promising individuals here and there. But our teams are still not organized, equipped and trained to make consistent global impact. Furthermore, competitive games come and go, and an individual (with no organizational support) could get disillusioned. To top that, there are not enough brand sponsorships, marquee events, advertising deals etc. to reasonably sustain, leave alone evolve, a player.
To be clear, this can turn on a dime with foresight and planning. That is if the players and tournaments get visibility and encouragement on a regular basis.
ET: Although postponed, for the first time, Asian games will also have esports as part of the tournament? How do you see India’s prospects in these games?
UM: In 2018, Esports was made a demonstration event. One of the boys won a bronze there. I would say this time we will be even more skilled and prepared. Problem is, so would the others.
At last count, India is sending 18 players spread over 5 events. Each of the events has a superstar player lineup and it will be amazing if we can squeeze in a couple of podium finishes. This will boost awareness at a national level.
ET: What govt initiatives are required to push the e-gaming sector to the next level?
UM: This needs to be an iterative process. The first step is to clearly define roles and responsibilities within the Government.
Currently, there is Esports Federation of India (ESFI) that loosely exists as a governing body. However, based on my chats with teams and players, it has not done much beyond organizing qualifier events. Admittedly, I am not aware of every function being performed by this body. Nevertheless, such bodies need to be government regulated and run under a KPI-based model, much like wrestling, boxing etc. There also needs to be state and district level units that scout and nourish talent. Such a structure will need infrastructural funding and can only crystalize over time.
ET: You recently joined the Galaxy Racer team. Tell us about your association with the team.
UM: I am leading M&A and finance strategy. We touched nine-figure value in early 2022, and it is always exciting to drive a Soonicorn. There is also quite a bit of learning as it is my foray into the operational side of things. Earlier, I have contributed to the space as an investor, gamer and game programmer.
Paul, the founder and long-time friend, has a vision that could be truly unique and decisively impactful. GXR begins with the staple stuff – games, gamers, influencers, teams and competitions. However, it very quickly evolves into pushing boundaries of player growth, revenue streams, IP generation, digital advertising, and Web3 technologies. GXR is a genuine contender in the new race for people’s time and loyalty. Importantly, GXR comes loaded with a super energetic and dedicated group of people that makes work a lot of fun.
ET: As a serial investor, what are your other plans in this space?
UM: As a VC, I have always looked for new-age technology (play where the puck is going to be – strategy). That made me invest early in cybersecurity, fintech, foodtech, and blockchain/Web3. I am now focused on building an amazing Web3 enterprise which is partnered with GXR. Blockchain, community, and sustainability will be clubbed to generate real-world impact. The synergies between the two businesses are immense.
To balance my operationally intensive work, I have taken a sabbatical from institutional VC. Nevertheless, I will continue to be an angel and a mentor to about half a dozen startups that truly excite me.
From later this year, I am honored and excited to begin working on a couple of government committees to help shape the eSports and Blockchain space in India. Discussions with our country’s leaders and bureaucrats have felt fresh and determined.