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In the span of three years, Indian esports organization Global Esports (GE) has managed to grow from a pet project to securing a multi-million dollar investment deal from Venture Catalysts. What started out with hosting a pub stomp for co-founders Rushindra Sinha and Mohit Israney has now grown into a full-fledged esports organization, spanning three countries and employing 77 members, 45-50 of whom are players.
With a lofty vision of becoming the next Team Liquid or Cloud9, GE’s approach to building a brand seems to be one that many industry leaders have gravitated to in the last few years. But being based out of India poses different challenges and requires a new approach as the company prepares to head out into uncharted waters post-investment.
The organization’s first venture in the space was hosting a pub stomp for The International 2017. While the co-founders were skeptical about hosting the event, a positive response from the Indian community showed them that there was indeed a thriving community who were interested in esports.
The organization’s first team was an Overwatch lineup, which is surprising to say the least. Blizzard’s first-person hero shooter saw immense popularity after its launch, especially in North America. However, in South Asia it was nothing but a drop in the ocean in a scene dominated by Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The relatively high price point in a region with a low per capita income coupled with inaccessible server locations and high-end PC requirements meant that not many were interested in the game. However, smaller communities tend to be better organized, and GE picked up a team, promising to pay for their travel and lodging at local LAN tournaments.
Shortly after, the Global Esports Overwatch roster became the best Indian team and started competing at the South East Asian level. Another Singaporean team contacted GE for a similar arrangement, to help them sustain and travel to LANs. GE became a pretty common name in the Asian Overwatch community and soon found its way into South Korea, a country where the game was incredibly popular.
“The growth was so organic that we never really realized when this turned from an idea, into a hobby, into an interest and finally a business.” says Rushindra, who was initially a substitute player for the Overwatch squad which GE picked up to kick off its journey into esports.
In August 2018, Rushindra and Mohit decided to quit their full-time jobs to try and make Global Esports into an organized esports venture. It became apparent to both of them that to scale and make it into a legitimate organization would require full-time effort.
“When we quit our jobs, we realized that we had to understand how the business works and after spending some time reading and researching, we realized that it’s not going to happen by sitting at home,” Rushindra said.
The two would travel to South Korea, a country which is known as the gold standard for esports, having led the way in titles like Starcraft for decades before the esports wave hit the rest of the world. Mohit and Rushindra ended up meeting coaches and players in order to set up their Korean Overwatch squad and were fascinated by the process. In November of 2018, the two were back in India and had realized that it was time to formalize the process. They formally incorporated their company and focused on setting up their business models and structures.
As of August 2019, Global Esports has three teams in Overwatch, one based in South Korea, another in Singapore, and one in India. Additionally, they have picked up Indian rosters in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PUBG) and Dota 2.
The Fundraising Process
GE’s successful fundraising round with Venture Catalysts took considerable amounts of effort, as Rushindra explains.
“The fundraising process was quite difficult since it was challenging to get through to investors who didn’t really understand the esports space,” he said. “We were going into meetings, with people who would be dumbfounded about the concept of esports. What we realized was that unlike other startups, just talking about Global Esports and why we were the right company wasn’t enough as they didn’t understand the market, the ecosystem, and the space.”
It became apparent to Mohit and Rushindra that they needed to help their investors understand the basics of how players were playing in tournaments and what an esport even looked like, through the use of a visual medium.
Filmmaker, Mohit’s expertise would be crucial in this aspect as he explains, “We had our decks ready and while they understood the numbers, they were unable to understand the scale of what esports is and could be. After ten or so meetings, I ended up downloading two hundred hours worth of footage from various documentaries and packed them into a seven-minute film and eventually, it started making sense to them.”
However, understanding the ecosystem was not enough as GE still had to prove that they were the right company to bet on when it came to esports.
“One of the pivotal things, which I felt was key to swinging the investors was the fact that we identify as a player-first company, which becomes easy since both Mohit and I have been on the other side,” said Rushindra “This helps us give freedom to both players and content creators and I would like to say that we have a horizontal hierarchy in terms of structure.
“Secondly, we were open to the fact that we didn’t know everything and were willing to learn, seek help and pivot as and when the time came. Obviously, our content focus was key in all our pitches and even when we speak to brands, it always comes down to a question of how many followers you have and such.”
The Content Focus
GE’s recent announcement showed that, like many organizations, its focus will be on content and media around its brand. Currently, 70% of GE’s revenue comes from prize money which it admits is not a sustainable approach. With player payouts, tax deductions, and delayed payments, prize money is not a reliable source of revenue. With this in mind, the company says that the focus is to bring down prize money to about 20% of the revenue generated while using content and media as a major resource in not just building the brand, but helping it generate nearly 30% of total revenue.
“We had a bunch of content ideas, we wanted to produce but we didn’t have the resources to execute them. For example, we are actually trying to make a docu-series involving each and every member of GE, from the players to the support staff to try and tell their stories to the world,” says Mohit.
GE’s content focus may not be unique in the sense that teams around the world have already woken up to this idea, but it certainly is new in India as organizations have slowly begun to realize the power of content, brand building, and marketing activities versus pure performance.
The focus on creating content seems to be echoing through almost all the decisions the organization has taken or will be taking both financially and strategically as Rushindra explains: “Everything we had done up until this point was bootstrapped. Now that we have a better understanding of the market and the industry, the new money coming in can certainly be put to good use. The primary use of seed capital is for growth. We want to scale up our content and that is going to be a primary focus. We are setting up an internal team called Global Esport Studios and we’re getting streamers and content creators on board.”
Looking Ahead – Future Plans
But apart from focusing on content and trying to get sponsors on board, all the while juggling the performance of their esport teams, GE also plans to expand to capture more mature markets. While India will always be a focal point for GE, it is looking outside towards North America and Europe in the near future.
“In the next 6-8 months, we are setting up an operational base in Los Angeles and are looking to expand to the west,” says Rushindra” Additionally, whatever we learn from our ventures in South Korea and elsewhere, we are looking to bring to India. We were one of the first organizations in the country to have formal player contracts, buyouts, transfers and trying to formalize the process in India.”
Global Esports is certainly not the biggest name in the global market at the moment, but its vision is certainly to be a major player. With new money being injected into the organization, it will be interesting to see how it grows and in what direction its co-founders take it. While GE has taken a step towards securing its future in the industry, it remains to be seen what it can achieve when it comes to actual execution.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.
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