Esports in India had been a slow and steady climb until PUBG Mobile entered the fray. The survival shooter changed the face of Indian esports and grabbed the attention of the nation. Every statistic points towards the near-complete ingestion of the game by India with every other street chaotically screaming ‘Drop in Pochinki!’. The game only shows signs of growing larger by the passing minute. But, the games that have facilitated the esport to manifest itself in this glamour are now feeling the heat.
The impeccable mark left by the growth of Dota 2 and CS:GO can also be seen in the infrastructure and production in PUBG Mobile with NODWIN Gaming, the contractors for PMCO Fall 2019, having their roots in them. The exposure such tournament organizers (TOs) have had in conducting tournaments in these two games for various brands are now being pooled massively to facilitate the growth of PUBG Mobile.
The grandeur of PUBG Mobile India Tour.
Esport organizations such as Entity Gaming and Global Esports flourished with Dota 2 and CS:GO too. They are now gradually shifting their focus towards the mobile market. Entity Gaming has one main line-up with Pune-based star Abhijeet ‘GHAATAK’ Andhare at the lead, 4 influencers who also participate in tournaments, and an all-female squad under the Athena brand. Global Esports, on the other hand, has three main line-ups, namely SynerGE, SynerGE Retribution, and SynerGE Apprentice. For perspective, Entity Gaming has one CS:GO squad and their Dota 2 team has been a last-minute hotfix, and Global Esports has one Dota 2 and CS:GO squad.
Let’s also have a look at the viewership that makes up a big chunk of the esport ecosystem. NODWIN Gaming, the most recognizable TO of India, conducts their tournaments on Hotstar meaning we don’t have their stats. I can’t speak for Dota 2, but Zowie eXTREMESLAND Asia 2019, arguably the most prestigious tournament in India that saw all the top Indian teams participate, generously didn’t exceed 2,000 viewers on stream. In comparison, PMCO Fall 2019, PUBG Mobile’s most prestigious tournament, peaked at 116,000 viewers.
The immense prize pool shifts is a sign of larger things to come. In 2018, out of $535,000, Dota 2 accounted for 32%, CS:GO stood at 29%, and PUBG Mobile was at 18%. Enter 2019. With a total of $800,000 so far, 40% of it was made up by PUBG Mobile, and 52% was made by Dota 2 and CS:GO together.
Fan-favourite MortaL took away $30,000 for Team SouL.
Credits: NODWIN Gaming
Will the time spent nurturing the esports ecosystem for Dota 2 and CS:GO match the insurgence of PUBG Mobile? Keeping only what has been discussed so far, the situation can play out in the following ways:
1. PUBG Mobile helps grow awareness about esports which facilitates the already-existing organizations and TOs in Dota 2 and CS:GO that in turn continue investing in the existing ecosystem.
2. Efforts are completely diverted from Dota 2 and CS:GO and into the more lucrative and expanding PUBG Mobile ecosystem
3. Dota 2 and CS:GO continue expanding just as they would with little to no influence from the PUBG Mobile market and PUBG Mobile continues to show exponential growth
Now to have a look at the ground realities that will shape either one of these events, and then raise my opinion.
Around 2016 and 2017, there were nearly 10-12 teams in Dota 2 and CS:GO each who could’ve eyed for the top spot in any tournament. With the rise in the competition and an accompanying bustling scene, international spots for tournaments such as ZOWIE eXTREMESLAND Asia, ASUS ROG Masters, and WESG came to the subcontinent. The hope was that one of those teams could translate their domestic victories into international wins thereby bringing international attention to domestic talent.
In 2019, the number of such teams dwindled massively to 2 or 3 for each game. One hope still is that with more international exposure than ever plus better tournaments and infrastructure, one international headline could change their fortunes. However, in Dota 2, Global Esports came last in the ESL Clash of Nations. What happens of Entity Gaming at Zowie eXTREMESLAND Asia 2019 remains to be seen. India has so far not seen this dream fulfilled in these games.
In comparison, PMCO Fall 2019 had 14,000 teams, over 63,000 participants and the competition at the top is fierce. Teams rise and fall in quick succession but there is enough stability in around 10 teams to also have dedicated fans who don’t abandon them easily. There is also a lot of potential for international representation and Entity Gaming even came 4th at the Vodafone ESL Mobile Open in Milan. Indian teams do lack the skill that Chinese teams play at, but what makes the ecosystem special is that it can continue to thrive without insane international achievements.
Whoops win $8370 with 1st place at Dew Arena. Is this the last big Indian-only Dota 2 tournament?
Credits: NODWIN Gaming
Let’s look into how the future for probable growth would have to be made a possibility. For Dota 2 and CS:GO, the time and infrastructure investment for the average player to go professional is very high. In stark contrast, PUBG Mobile can be played, well, on a mobile. Mobile users are expected to reach 859M by 2022 in India meaning there is never going to be a dearth of PUBG Mobile players (unless the publisher messes up the game but I won’t touch that here). While there is a high skill curve for PUBG Mobile, an average player’s competition in experience, that is of a year and a half, isn’t 10 years and more like that of Dota 2 and CS:GO.
Perhaps the most important variable in the esports scene, of sponsors, will shape the growth of any of these games more than others. Sponsors not endemic to esports, such as Vivo, will always bring a larger cake to the table for sponsoring tournaments. They are also agnostic to the platform. Others such as Corsair or Alienware will always be stunted by their budgets and by the fact that their products can’t cater to the mobile audience. This can suffice as an argument that there will always be space for PC esports to grow, but it just won’t be at par with the exponential growth of mobile gaming. The fact that non-endemic and agnostic sponsors go for mobile gaming is also a testament to mobile gaming.Dew Arena 2019
Credits: NODWIN Gaming
With that being said, it seems to me that the second scenario, of resources completely diverting from Dota 2 and CS:GO to PUBG Mobile, will take place. The long-term investment right now doesn’t seem to be Dota 2 or CS:GO, but PUBG Mobile, or any other mobile game that could capture the imagination of this country. It also remains to be seen whether TOs can get lucrative offers that’ll allow them to sustain particular IPs for these games such as ESL India Premiership and ILG Season 3, but only a miracle such as a crazy international achievement or growing the community in ways other than traditionally focusing on esports can save these games. Could India’s growing cafe culture revive these games?