March 2023 Indian Esports Rewind
March was a mixed bag of emotions for the gaming community. While there were moments where we certainly rejoiced, there has been a constant wave of fear and worry at the current state of esports in general.
Valve, out of the blue, dropped the news about Counter-Strike 2 which is officially releasing in 2023. Meanwhile, the Indian Gaming Community also received a ray of hope about the return of Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI). The murmurs and discussions about the return Krafton’s battle royale became loud once again, but this time with a solid report backing these claims. Additionally, Indian mobile gamers were also treated to a new battle strategy game called Road to Valor: Empires.
With the Indian esports scene abuzz with all the Valorant and New State Mobile action, here’s a recap of everything important that happened in March 2023 in Indian esports.
BGMI Likely to Return, But With Time Restrictions, Gameplay Changes
The Government of India removed Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) from Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store on 28th July 2022. Following this, it was reported that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) blocked BGMI under Section 69A of the IT Act 2000. It was later reported that the game was blocked in India for reportedly communicating with servers directly or indirectly located in China.
Ever since the ban, the players and the Indian Gaming Community (IGC) have been hopeful for the game’s return. According to a recent report by , the popular battle royale title might (likely referring to Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store). The sources reportedly revealed to News18 that the ban would be lifted for a limited time of three months with certain changes made to the original version of the game.
The biggest catch is that the report stated that players would not be able to play the game 24x7 since there will be restrictions on the number of hours one can play. Additionally, the report suggested that the game will not include blood, meaning that the color will likely be changed. Apart from these gameplay changes, the government also reportedly asked Krafton “to introduce relevant changes in the game, including the server” due to potential cases of addiction and associated incidents of violence and self-harm among players.
AFK Gaming’s Perspective: The constant discourse in the IGC about the potential return of BGMI and its esports scene is a testament to the passion and love the players have for the game. In a way, PUBG Mobile and BGMI were key to shaping Indian esports. Despite the influx of other esports tournaments, the numbers, in terms of viewership, that BGMI events were pulling remain unmatched.
NODWIN’s BGMI Masters Series 2022, the first esports tournament to be aired on a mainstream sports channel, Star Sports, witnessed record viewership as it had more than . In comparison, the league stage of the .
The void left by BGMI and its many tournaments will likely take more time to be filled in by other esports titles. The audience is invested in BGMI to the extent that even when there are no official tournaments organized.
The changes mandated by the government are warranted and understandable. If the report turns out to be true, it will still be good news to the community. The unban of the game will help the many esports organizations and teams spring back to life and resume attending international tournaments.
Esports-focused Fantasy Startup FanClash Reportedly Fires 75% Workforce
According to a report from Inc42, FanClash has laid off around 75% of its workforce in three rounds, firing about 100 employees with the impacted employees receiving two months' salary as severance. The report indicates that FanClash has been struggling since Battlegrounds Mobile India’s ban last year and that this was the primary reason behind the layoffs. The layoffs come just months after FanClash raised $40 Million USD in a Series B round, led by Alpha Wave Global with participation from investors like Sequoia Capital India, Info Edge, and Polygon.
The company has forayed into other esports titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Dota 2 following the ban. In December 2022, the company announced a partnership with Skyesports for the AMD Skyesports Championship 4.0 in a bid “to reignite the CSGO & DOTA 2 ecosystems” in the country according to a release. The company also hosted “CS:GO Reignite” tournament with an INR 1 Lakh prize pool in January 2023 with the same goal.
According to Esports Charts, the Skyesports Championship 4.0 Dota 2 tournament garnered a peak viewership of 2,546 and an average viewership of 543 while the CS: GO tournament had a peak viewership of 121 and an average viewership of 72. These numbers pale in comparison to the BGMI tournaments hosted by the same tournament organizer.
The company has since pivoted to hosting fantasy leagues for Cricket alongside the ongoing Indian Premier League 2023.
AFK Gaming’s Perspective: FanClash's recent struggles with layoffs and the challenge to monetize esports titles other than BGMI underscore a larger issue within the Indian esports industry. While the esports scene in India has seen tremendous growth in recent years, particularly with the rise of mobile gaming, the challenge of monetizing esports titles beyond BGMI (and Valorant to some extent) persists.
The Indian esports industry faces a significant challenge in diversifying beyond dominant titles like BGMI and Valorant, resulting in other games such as Dota 2 and CS:GO struggling to gain a foothold and generate viewership. Without direct support from the publishers, it is difficult to envision a viable path forward for these games in the Indian market.
Moreover, the Indian government's propensity to suspend and block games due to privacy concerns, as seen with BGMI, PUBG Mobile, and Free Fire, further underscores the need for a more resilient and diversified esports ecosystem that is less vulnerable to regulatory risks. FanClash’s investments in alternative gaming titles were a road forward for a more stable and sustainable foundation for growth, even in the face of regulatory challenges.
It will be interesting to see if the company continues to invest in these titles after the recent layoffs, especially given the whispers of BGMI’s return.
Valve confirmed that . It stated that the game will have higher tick rate servers, responsive smoke mechanics, new polished maps, improved graphics, and accurate audio amongst other major updates. Counter-Strike 2’s Limited Test is currently ongoing.
South Korean video game holding for the launch of its latest casual PVP strategy game called Road to Valor: Empires. S8UL Esports is a talent partner for the game according to the organization’s co-owners Animesh “Thug” Agarwal and Lokesh “Goldy” Jain.
On 20th March, the first-ever concluded with Team Top-G winning the grand finals. Following this, Top-G became the first female CS: GO team from India to qualify for the global finals of the WEC 2023 which is scheduled to take place between 24th August to 4th September.
The Valorant Champions Tour (VCT) 2023: Pacific League kicked off on 25th March but owing to visa and passport troubles, Global Esports star players missed out on the opener and the second series against T1 and DRX, respectively.
Global Esports bid farewell to its . While it did not reveal the reason for releasing the two teams, Global Esports noted that it is not exiting the mobile esports scene and that it will re-enter the scene once the game returns.
Indian esports company Penta Esports announced the , this time for Krafton’s battle royale title New State Mobile, with a prize pool of ₹5,00,000 INR.
In an episode of AFK Gaming's Men of Culture podcast, Entity Gaming’s co-founders Varun Bhavnani and Neerav Rukhana opened up on why Entity did not re-enter the PUBG Mobile scene after the game was unbanned. They noticed a big “red flag” when one of the players requested to in bootcamps. Repelled by this, Entity decided to stay away from the scene.
Pune-based studio SuperGaming partnered with Gold Medal-winning Indian pistol shooter Heena Sidhu to bring her as a character for its upcoming battle royale game, Indus. when Indus releases.
Popular over-the-top streaming platform ZEE5 entered the esports streaming scene with the International Esports Federation (IESF) Big Bang Asia Open 2023. The tournament was streamed on the platform from 4th March to 2nd April and featured games like Clash of Clans, Real Cricket, Dota 2, and EFootball
Indian Esports Tournaments in March 2023: A Recap
With BGMI potentially returning, albeit with reported time restrictions, the mobile esports scene is already buzzing with players moving to different teams, and organizations picking up rosters that were earlier dropped. With Counter-Strike 2 also joining the esports scene, it will be interesting to see how the game affects the Indian landscape.
Meanwhile, Krafton’s latest PVP battle, strategy game, Road to Valor: Empires, is also picking up steam in the community, thanks to the countless guides and gameplay videos from S8UL Esports. It is only a matter of time before we realize whether it has what it takes to become a successful mobile esports title.
Coming to PC esports, the whole community is rallying behind Global Esports and eagerly waiting for the team to pick up wins in the . Though the first two matches did not go in favor, Global Esports is showing signs of progress. After having taken all the positives from the close series against DRX, Global Esports will be looking to come out with all guns blazing against ZETA DIVISION on 9th April.
There’s more action in the Valorant esports scene. The Playoffs stage of the highly anticipated is kicking off on 14th April and is set to conclude on 22nd April. Currently, the group stage matches are in progress and the teams are all looking hungry to grab that coveted slot to represent the South Asian region in the VCT 2023: Pacific/APAC Ascension league.
Globally, March 2023 has been a depressing month for esports with multiple industry leaders like Gamurs Group, Evil Geniuses, Twitch, Cloud9, and OverActive Media announcing layoffs. With FaZe Clan’s disastrous Wall Street experiment also casting significant doubt amongst venture capitalists, the time for infinite spending and sky-high valuations for esports companies might finally be coming to an end.
But despite this, esports is here to stay. As long as millions continue to play competitive video games, there will always be demand for watching competitive gameplay at the highest level, and there will always exist a market to serve this demand. Ultimately, the industry will undergo multiple evolutions before we arrive at sustainable business models for the various actors in it. These recent changes are just a part of this cycle.
Claims that esports is dying are often based on a narrow-minded understanding of the industry and often arise from presumptions and analyses based on traditional sports business models. Attempting to impose conventional principles on an industry as multifaceted and diverse as esports is one of the primary reasons behind the current state of overvalued and unsustainable organizations that we have today. Perhaps a more apt statement to make is that the bloat in esports is dying, rather than the industry itself.
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