One could say that esports is in the right place at the right time. Cheap data services, high-speed 4G connectivity, and the availability of affordable smartphones are nudging the segment onto the next stage.
With 658 million internet users, India is home to the second-largest population of internet consumers in the world. Many of these users are young, digitally savvy, and open to new forms of entertainment such as mobile gaming. More than 20% of iOS and Android apps are games, and those numbers are set to rise.
Gen Z and younger millennials are the primary target audience for esports businesses. But virtual gaming is no longer an expensive hobby for young urbanites who can afford it. The interest in esports is expanding beyond the metros to cover Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. With better internet penetration, growing smartphone access, and the rise of vernacular content, viewership is likely to increase in the hinterlands.
Gaming in India currently draws revenues of $1.5 billion. As the user base grows, that figure could more than triple to $5 billion by 2025.
Esports in India is just starting to hit its stride. Although virtual games have been around for over a decade, most Indian users only discovered their appeal during COVID lockdowns. Today, Gen Z looks to gaming for 25% of their personal entertainment.
Live-streaming esports tournaments attract viewers in much the same way as soccer, cricket, and tennis matches. People who shelled out on tickets to a movie or an IPL match are now just as enthusiastic about spending on esports.
Free-to-play games won’t be going anywhere. But the rise of professional gaming is leading even casual players to take esports more seriously. As a consequence, users today are embracing pay-to-play formats and in-game purchases with open arms.
Adding to the excitement are gaming influencers on social media. A mix of gaming pros and enthusiasts, these influencers provide followers with game reviews and updates while encouraging more playtime.
The increasing viewership is bringing attention and investment from major brands. Big names like Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Dell, Logitech, and Oppo have already joined the action by sponsoring esports tournaments and professional teams. All of this interest benefits everyone in the esports ecosystem. If things continue in this vein, the prize pool for pro gamers could hit Rs 1 billion by 2025.
Also interesting is the scope for esports as India’s biggest betting market. Effective regulatory measures that support fantasy league games could generate health revenues for the sector.
Esports is a tech-driven segment, and there is some talk of using new-age securities such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs). By converting virtual avatars, in-game rewards, and streaks into NFTs, businesses could build lucrative revenue streams and drive user retention.
The Indian gaming industry currently employs around 40,000 people. That number could jump to two lakhs by the year 2024. Also, a good thing for gaming jobs is gaining traction in the mainstream. Having an esports feature in the Asian Games and the Olympics has fuelled more interest in jobs connected to gaming.
As the sector keeps growing, virtual gaming events will become frequent. More events would mean more jobs for gamers, techies, designers, and content creators. The esports segment also offers roles for data handlers, event organisers, and game commentators.
Besides, working in esports does not limit you to gaming jobs. For example, a gamer designer could also seek employment in graphic design, special effects, or animation firms.
The road ahead
The esports segment is growing rapidly, but it remains highly unorganised. A close-knit gaming community could be one solution here.
By 2025, professional esports players could swell to 1.5 million, and esports viewership could increase to 85 million. This is a rapidly developing segment with impacts on entertainment, jobs, and the economy. As digital users switch their attention from traditional sporting events to virtual ones, the dynamics change, and esports will be the space to watch.
The writer is CBO & Co-Founder, EsportsXO,
a community of gamers, professional esports players, tournament organisers and esports fans. EsportsXO is building a SaaS platform connecting brands and gamers by making it easy to organize esports tournaments.
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