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Esports in India has been witnessing steady growth with prize pools, viewership, and participation consistently trending upward. International tournament organizers such as ESL and DreamHack have recently shown interest in organizing world-class events in the country. However, a few local organizers have also taken small strides towards the global tournament circuit.
Having accumulated enough experience and knowledge over years of indigenous tournaments, a few companies have finally begun to sail beyond local borders to deploy their skillset and engage with a host of international teams, talent, and players.
One such company is Chennai-based Playtonia. Started in 2016, the company has created intellectual properties [IPs] such as Conquerors Insignia and the International Student Rockstar League. Through these tournaments, they have conducted online qualifiers for regions outside India for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), FIFA 2019, and PUBG Mobile.
“We have been doing a lot of tournaments in India and there are a lot of other opportunities out there in other countries,” says Prasanna Kumar T E K co-founder and CTO. “Since establishing ourselves in India we have gone ahead and marked our presence in Dubai and Malaysia as well. We wanted to engage these regions because we saw a lot of potential out there, along with opportunities for hosting bigger tournaments. There are also a lot of brands that are interested in doing such events.”
While Playtonia has opted to set up its own IPs in the international arena, a popular Indian CS:GO platform company, SoStronk, has explored B2B relationships with existing global tournament organizers (TOs).
Prashant Prabhakar, founder and CEO at SoStronk, says that “SoStronk is a playing platform for Counter-Strike players. It was launched in a new market with a B2C (business-to-consumer) perspective, but has slowly grown over the years, enabling us to execute end-to-end online and offline tournaments as a B2B (business-to-business) service.”
The service enabled the level of competition in Asia to improve, as players from different countries received access to lower latency servers along with other services.
Back in 2016, SoStronk used to run its own tournament IPs, the most noteworthy of which was the King of the Hill series. This was done at a time when Asian CS:GO was still young and access to players and teams was easier.
“We had Tyloo, ViCi Gaming, Risky Gaming alongside the best Indian teams competing in this circular tournament, where at the end of it somebody stays the king. That was our first foray of running our own IP in the Asian market, outside of India. We were getting close to 15,000-20,000 concurrent viewers in the finals, pretty good for 2016,” says Prashant.
The CS:GO tournament circuit was not nearly as crowded in 2016 as it is today. Teams were always on the lookout for new tournaments to compete in and rarely had to worry about scheduling conflicts.
“Today teams like B.O.O.T-d[S], Lucid Dream, Alpha Red, Tyloo, and MVP PK receive plenty of invites due to a possible tournament saturation in the region. There’s a prize money war due to the many available opportunities and the teams now have the power to say no.” says Prashant.
Despite tournaments in India offering comparatively large prize pools, international teams are often reluctant to participate. This according to Prashant, is primarily due to two reasons – India’s checkered past in the esports space and the country’s lack of tourist appeal when pitted against popular Asian tournament destinations.
“India might be a good destination country from a tourism point of view for some people, but I don’t think it is enticing as a go-to destination for esport events. Teams are not so keen on traveling to India for an awesome tournament. It is literally the perception of the third world you can say, that holds us back. In this part of the world, players are more keen on traveling to Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, or Hong Kong, as a destination for competing in a tournament instead of Mumbai or Bangalore.”
Going global comes with its own set of challenges, particularly those related to navigating the local landscape while ensuring that tournament infrastructure can be reliably set up in a foreign land.
Addressing these challenges, Prasanna Kumar T E K, co-founder and chief technical officer (CTO), at Playtonia says, “Since we have servers deployed in different locations, we were able to cover around 27 countries in this chapter of Conquerors Insignia. Also, as we have headquarters in both Malaysia and Dubai, managing all the assets and legalities respective to these regions is something we are comfortable with.”
Conquerors Insignia 2019, qualifiers for which are currently on-going, is scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from Oct 12-13. With Playtonia on course to conduct its first-ever international LAN outside of its home country, this is what Manickam Kailaimurugan, head of marketing at Playtonia, had to say:
“We have a checklist that we go through for every tournament and that is exactly what we plan to do for this one as well. We anticipate new challenges along the way but so far there are no roadblocks and everything is being executed smoothly.”
Playtonia being a multi-platform tournament organizer has specialized teams for different gaming titles and usually operates with a team of 40-45 individuals, of which 80% of the manpower is it’s own.
While Playtonia seems to expand itself internationally by conducting LAN tournaments outside of India, SoStronk refrains from taking up on-ground operations and has instead established itself in the online space by working with third-party IPs for the Asian region in partnership with many of the world’s top TOs.
“We have worked with companies like DreamHack, ESL, PGL, and StarLadder. We have a good working relationship with all of them, organizing qualifiers across Asia including regions from the Middle East all the way to Japan. We have also hosted a bunch of minor qualifiers for each one of them with the exception of FACEIT, whenever they have bagged a Counter-Strike major gig. Most of our work is centered around the Asian Qualifiers for these tournaments,” says Prashant.
Given his experience working with international TOs, we asked him about what it truly takes for Indian tournament organizers to catch up to the rest of the world.
“The thing is because they themselves are such a hyper-efficient organization, it is very easy for a third-party team to plug-in and work with them as long as you know what you are doing. If you are a pretender they will catch you because their domain knowledge is immense in every sphere and they know exactly how to do your job as well. They also respect hyper-efficiency and perfect preparation.”
He goes on to mention that “Indian tournament staff are really good on-ground, however they could certainly improve through better preparation and a greater focus on efficiency.”
When talking about tournaments in India, the game that currently seems to be making the largest waves is PUBG Mobile. With already more than 50M users playing the game, Tencent looks like they’ve hit the mark with this one. But many are still debating its potential as an esport versus being just a really popular casual game. So just what is it that the game needs to be classified accepted as an esport?
Prashant’s thoughts on the matter are as follows, “I won’t say that PUBG Mobile has completed its entire cycle from starting off as a fun game to being competitive and then reaching that stage where it is recognized as a fully-fledged sport. I think classifying any game as an esport takes years. It requires loyalty, patching, and most importantly spectator friendliness. But PUBG Mobile is certainly showing early signs of that.”
The Indian mobile gaming community has certainly been eager to compete in PUBG Mobile tournaments with over 11,000 teams having reportedly registered for the PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO) Spring Split – India Qualifier. With PMCO granting India a separate spot in the league and Team SouL having represented India at the Main Event in Berlin, the burning question on everyone’s lips is why then are some Indian TOs ignoring such a big, local opportunity? Should they continue to organize extensions of their Indian LANs by replicating the same in foreign countries like Singapore and Malaysia or should their focus shift to mobile esports within the country instead?
Prashant believes that both need to co-exist for the ecosystem to grow sustainably, “I think it is a phased approach and they both go hand-in-hand. But I am more bullish about mobile tournaments, even though I don’t spend too much time playing on the phone. The reason being that it is actually taking competitive gaming to the mainstream masses. Mobile esports is creating new gamers with a big percentage of them coming from tier-2 and tier-3 cities. For many of them, this is the first time that they are being exposed to any form of gaming.”
He is also of the opinion that the Indian mobile gaming and esports rush is likely to spill over to PC gaming in the near future. “India is believed to be on the cusp of economic progress and as this transformation takes place the personal income of these mobile gamers will also see an increase. At that moment I do believe that there will be some crossover to PC gaming eventually. However, for now, one should focus on mobile as it is the best opportunity for India to create its own closed esports ecosystem.”
Aditya Singh Rawat is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.
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