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2020 marks another fresh year for esports and among the many predictions from many sources, few have ignored the rise and growth of mobile esports. In 2019, titles such as Garena Free Fire, PUBG MOBILE, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Arena of Valor, and Clash Royale were some of the top names in the mobile esport genre and each held their world championship similar to existing tier one titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) or League of Legends (LoL). The ease of access to these games, low barrier of entry, and already existing player bases meant that the developers had only to nudge things along to get an esports scene going. In the coming year, mobile titles will not only have to fight for their place in the global esports landscape while escaping the stigma of mobile being a lesser platform, but also have to deal with sustainable growth both in terms of awareness, viewership, and of course, revenue.
But things are looking brighter than ever as some of the big fish have begun to take note of just how popular these titles are and how much they have been able to succeed in regions where PC titles have low penetration. Faze Clan, Cloud 9, Team Liquid, NRG, Immortals, and Fnatic have already picked up rosters to represent their organizations in mobile esport titles, while organizations such as Team Queso and Nova have begun to establish themselves as mobile specialists.
With the growth of mobile titles, regions such as India, South East Asia, and even South America have begun to develop into potential markets, and the large populations combined with the virality of these titles has only accelerated the process. In October of 2019, Fnatic announced its entry into PUBG MOBILE by picking up a team in India. The players were already big names domestically, with fans numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Three months have passed and the team has begun to show promise after some initial hiccups. The Esports Observer spoke to Victor Bengtsson, who is a talent manager for Fnatic and has largely been the one overseeing the expansion in its initial phases.
Fnatic, Mobile Gaming, and New Regions
Fnatic’s entry into India and PUBG MOBILE was impactful as it added legitimacy to not only to the title but validated the region as well. “We had been speaking to Tencent about this game and were exploring opportunities for quite some time. After weeks of internal discussions, we came to the conclusion that India has always been an interesting region and we wondered how the community would react if we actually showed up and entered the scene. So we decided to take a chance on these players and that’s how the team came along.” said Bengtsson.
This wasn’t Fnatic’s first foray into mobile titles as the organization has already fielded rosters in both Clash Royale and Rules of Survival. One of the organization’s key sponsors in recent times has been the smartphone brand OnePlus, and the partnership is quite well-publicized. PUBG MOBILE’s popularity in India made it a natural fit for the organization and from a competitive standpoint, it had a well-established structure and direction, which made it a lucrative opportunity. However, the opportunity came with its own risks. One of them, of course, is whether they would end up irking their core fanbase, being a legacy brand built on titles such as Counter-Strike and League of Legends.
“We always look at the different risks but our fanbase is so heavily engaged with the story, the D.N.A, and the narrative of Fnatic which is the sense of always Fnatic – a love for a club or organization that stretches beyond titles,” Bengtsson said. “We knew that if the personalities were good players and good people, then our fanbase would connect with them. And while other titles have their own fanbases, the battle royale scene is somewhat connected in many ways. The Indian fans for one, are really excited that Fnatic had picked up an Indian team and the others were excited that we were stretching our capabilities to platforms beyond PC and console.”
To be fair, Fnatic has always been experimental with its choice of region and is probably the organization with the widest global presence. Its CS:GO squad is Swedish, its Dota 2 team from SEA, its LoL team is comprised of players from across Europe, while its Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege team is from Australia. Its vision of being an international brand with a global presence aligned with the decision to pick up an Indian team in PUBG MOBILE.
“We’ve always had our eye on India and felt that it was the right time. We want to be across the world because we are a global brand, but we want to be in places where the communities want to express themselves through gaming, and that’s what we saw in India,” said Bengtsson.
The India Factor
Coming into a new region, one whose entire ecosystem isn’t as mature as most, comes with its own set of problems. The players who were signed had largely created their individual brand identities by doing whatever they pleased, but now had to align themselves to Fnatic’s identity. Bengtsson feels that these are challenges that the organization has faced and will face in any new region. “To be at the point where sponsors, partners, activations and social media has been brought into the D.N.A of the team, you will face challenges.” Over the course of his interactions with the team, he feels that the players have now understood that they have commitments to people other than themselves.
However, despite the challenges, he also highlighted the difference in the attitude and player mentality. “In India, there’s a sense of pride and honor in winning. And there is a belief that if you put in the hard work, it will pay off.” The response from fans and supporters has also been positive for the most part. “Once you connect with the Indian fans and help them understand that we are absolutely here for the long term, they really welcome you and show the love.”
The Road Ahead
When Fnatic announced its expansion into India, there were talks of launching a facility and creating content around the team as well. Bengtsson mentions that the team will be bootcamping to prepare for the 2020 season and upcoming tournaments. However, there is a long-term plan to set up a gaming facility unlike anything previously witnessed in Indian esports. If realized, the facility will not only serve as a great branding and marketing tool, but also allow the organization to produce better content with the team, the players, and the entire community. Other than these, the organization is also open to working with local brands to create unique partnerships for its India division. There will also be a focus on the lifestyle aspect of Fnatic in terms of merchandising and apparel, which will be more than just gaming jerseys. To take these plans forward, Fnatic has already announced the appointment of an India lead, Nimish Raut, who is a former Riot Games employee with experience in sports marketing.
While Fnatic is a globally established organization looking to penetrate a relatively newer market, it seems to have a grasp on how big the differences between regions can be. The organization brings in 15+ years of esports experience and professionalism to India and South Asia, which can only be good in the long run. However, it has been wise to tackle India in a unique way; be it with how the players and the brand have interacted with fans, the platforms it has chosen to do so, and the way the organization has gone about setting up the team. Being at the core of the India project, Bengtsson’s experience has been eye opening.
“It’s an amazing feeling to learn that it’s not just us who love esports, not just the players who play the game, but also the people who love and support them who truly enjoy what we do. The kind of messages I get from Indian fans makes me feel so blessed that I could do an activation in India because the community out there is so passionate and they work so hard to make it what it is.”
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.
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