Fnatic has confirmed to AFK Gaming that it has officially released its Indian PUBG Mobile roster, the coach, and the India lead. However, contrary to other reports, Fnatic is not exiting India and is merely pausing its operations within the country until there is a clear picture of the Indian PUBG Mobile scene’s future. To understand the situation, we spoke with Fnatic’s Chief Gaming Officer Patrik “cArn” Sättermon, Talent Manager Victor Bengtsson, former PUBG Mobile coach Pratik “Aurum” Mehra, and former India Lead Nimish Raut.
Fnatic releases its PUBG Mobile roster in India
Fnatic has confirmed that it has mutually parted ways with its Indian PUBG Mobile roster. The roster consisted of Mohammed “Owais” Owais Lakhani, Ashish “Ash” Bhatnagar, Gaurav “Franky” Rawat, Akash “MaxKasH” Anandani, and Pratik “Aurum” Mehra. These players were unable to compete in official PUBG Mobile tournaments after the Indian government banned the app in September 2020. Fnatic also confirmed that it was parting ways with Nimish Raut, the country lead for India.
In an exclusive statement to AFK Gaming, Sättermon said,
"Together with our players, we have agreed to allow them to seek their futures elsewhere, to allow them to compete in PUBG Mobile in other regions. We are going to still be here, waiting for good news for the game in its current form or future iterations. When that happens, we'll be ready to resume the Black and Orange PUBG Mobile story once again."
Fnatic was one of the more successful PUBG Mobile teams in India, winning championships like the PUBG Mobile All Stars India 2019 and securing a second-place finish at the ESL India Premiership 2020 Summer Season: Finals. The team also performed well internationally, securing an 8th place finish at the Peacekeeper Elite Championship 2019 held in China.
“I think it has been a very positive experience,” said Sättermon speaking about the success of Fnatic’s PUBG Mobile roster. “I think that the fan base, the excitement, the engagement, and the support has been extremely unique and it's these characteristics that make us so excited about the next chapter of esports in India.”.
Victor Bengtsson, Talent Manager, stated that Fnatic is proud of their run in the Indian PUBG Mobile scene. “Looking at the players we’ve had since our entry into the scene in Fall 2019, I think we’ve created something fantastic, and I am very proud of what this group of players has accomplished.”
The release of Fnatic India’s PUBG Mobile roster allows its former players and coach the option to explore different team projects in overseas markets. Former coach Aurum stated that he was open to playing with an international team due to the circumstances surrounding the game’s return to the country.
“The game’s return is very uncertain for now, and I can’t deny that I have a family to run. So if I get an opportunity to play, coach, or work with a team from abroad, I would definitely consider that. I am open to all kinds of opportunities right now.”
He thanked his fans for the support over the last few months and also added that they should not lose hope after the recent announcement because the organization is not leaving India and is just going on a pause right now. “After the game is back, everything will be normal, and everything will be back on track for the community, and I'm sure Fnatic will be back in the same form,” he concluded.
Nimish Raut, former country lead for India, stated that working with Fnatic was one of the best experiences of his life and added, “It is sad that the team had to be released due to the current state of PUBG Mobile. But I am sure that Fnatic will bounce back. India as a market definitely makes a lot of sense for Fnatic, and in the near future, they will come back in a big way.”
Raut’s appointment as Fnatic’s India lead was officially announced in January 2020. He did not reveal what is in store for him next but said that he would be making an announcement soon.
“While it is sad that we had to part ways, I want to continue in the world of esports and look at other opportunities, so something very exciting will be announced very soon in terms of where I am heading. But for now, good luck to Fnatic. I am sure that when the game comes back, Fnatic will return extremely strong in this country."
Fnatic is not exiting India and will continue to look for other opportunities
Fnatic has also confirmed to us that its Indian operations are permanent and that it is not leaving the country. It reaffirmed that this would be the case regardless of PUBG Mobile's fate in the region.
“We are in India to stay. It is going to be a permanent investment for Fnatic as an organization,” Sättermon stated. “PUBG Mobile is what we are hoping for, but if that is not the case, then it would be in another esports title or titles.”
The organization stated that the decision to let go of its PUBG Mobile division was to allow it to pause and reevaluate its options within the country. “This is not us unrooting and disappearing,” said Sättermon. “We are keeping our eyes on the market on a day-to-day basis, and we are having a lot of interesting conversations about future players, staff members, titles, game developers, etc.”
He went on to state that while this has been the case for the last six or seven months, the organization did not feel ready to act on it yet. However, they are now sending their farewells to the players and Aurum, so that they can explore their careers in different team projects and markets.
“We are proud of our players for the performances they've put in for Fnatic, and we're going to do our best to support them in finding a new home",” said Sättermon. “We hope to be back on track, competing and on the way to Military Base! We are all in this together in terms of this unfortunate 2020-2021 period and we just have to make the most out of it. For us, it’s about time to let the players try their luck elsewhere to pursue their competitive dreams while we take a breath and come back strong again when we feel ready to do so.”
Fnatic’s thoughts about esports in India
Being one of the first international organizations to invest in India, Fnatic had some interesting insights into the country’s esports scene and its fans, with Bengtsson stating that the organization was blown away by the support and the passion of the Indian gaming community.
He stated, “if you communicate in the right way with the Indian community, they protect you, they become your brothers in arms, and they will give everything. They truly became the fanatics that we wanted them to be, cheering for us, which was an amazing experience. If you treat them the way that they want to be treated, then you can create something beautiful.” However, he also added that you have to understand what you are doing and that it might backfire otherwise.
Sättermon also commented that they had learned a lot from their Indian operations over the last few months. “The way we engage with fans, channels, maybe how we do certain calibrations between where we spend the money from a performance/sports side into entertaining and including the fans are some of the things that we've learned from and are working on for our return”
However, he acknowledged that this is an ongoing process and that there was still a lot to learn in the Indian esports scene.
“It feels like we are in the early stages of The Big Bang,” said Sättermon. “We are part of something which is moving really fast, and we don’t really know where we are traveling towards. I am not saying that as something we have taken for granted in esports despite the many years that we have run Fnatic because there has always been a new platform, a new title, a new way of doing business. I think everything has been a gear up when it comes to India in terms of almost expecting the unexpected”
They also spoke about the areas in which Indian esports still needs to improve to catch up with the more developed esports markets. Bengtsson stated that India needed a more centralized structure where fans could know where to go and get information about streams, scrims, and results. PUBGM fans in India had to go to six or seven different livestream channels across various platforms like YouTube, Loco and more to catch up on the day’s different scrims and happenings. So a centralized spot to give everyone an idea of where they could access the best and greatest of esports would be ideal.
Sättermon elaborated on Indian esports from the perspective of a team. He pictures a world where industry participants have a bit more patience, with a structure that fosters longer commitments between teams, game-developers, and tournament organizers. He alluded to organizations that appear one day and disappear the next, which could destabilize the Indian esports ecosystem. He said that he would like to see organizations sticking around with players committed to them for longer durations, which he believes is a factor of having professional contracts coupled with sane, sustainable, healthy, and fair business models.
“It’s about an ecosystem that is a bit more ‘where is this going in two years?’ versus ‘let’s see how this format goes, and we will take it from there.’ That’s quite natural in such a young ecosystem, but these are the things that we need to think about as we move forward.” He added that having multiple stable esports teams with long-term identities allows for the creation of rivalries and storylines.
Speaking on the subject of monetization, he highlighted instances of multiple players earning well via livestreaming and content. He stated that while this is very important and exciting for the industry, he hopes that some of this revenue could be better channeled to the support staff, players, and gaming facilities that drive performance and long-term storylines.
“It all comes down to identifying who you want to be and what you are here to do. A key difference I saw was a lot of migration from professional players moving into content creation,” said Sättermon. “Many of them are young and have spent a very short time focusing on being pro players before arriving at this decision. Compare that to a game like League of Legends where you have the Rekkles of the world, or the JW of Counter-Strike, where they have put in eight to nine years in the game and continued to play it at the absolute highest level. How do we create that platform and that model? That’s going to be really exciting.”
While Fnatic's decision to put its India operations on pause is not ideal for the region, there have been recent developments surrounding PUBG Mobile and its developer. On Feb 24th, 2021 KRAFTON Inc. hired YOOZOO Games’ former CEO Anuj Tandon as its new Regional head for India, Middle-East, and North Africa. Shortly after, on March 9th, 2021 it announced an investment of INR 164 Crore ($22.63 USD) into Nodwin Gaming. And most recently, job posts were made by PUBG Corporation for the position of Investment & Strategy Analyst. While none of these point directly to PUBG Mobile’s return to India, it has certainly led to an increase of optimism among industry participants in the country.
Disclaimer: NODWIN Gaming is an investor and a client of AFK Gaming
Edit: We incorrectly stated that Fnatic had won PMIS 2019. This was a typo that has since been changed to PMAS India 2019.