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At a time when teams, tournaments organizers, and other industry stakeholders are all trying to define the esports space in India, Pole to Win’s (PTW) announcement of entering the ecosystem is one that has a lot of implications behind it. Unlike some of the existing brands like Entity Gaming and Global Esports, who in many ways have had a more traditional route towards being a known name, Pole to Win’s entry into the space seems to be backed by a slightly different ideology. The multinational company recently launched its esports vertical under the brand Orange Rock Esports, picking up an Indian PUBG Mobile roster.
Pole To Win is a multinational services company based out of California, with offices in 10 countries, spanning three continents. The company has been involved with the videogaming industry for quite some time and has described itself as a “services company.”
“We have not developed our own IPs in the past. We are a services company. We do testing, customer support, development, localization, translation, and audio production,” says Deborah Kirkham, CEO of PTW. “We’ve worked with 23 of the top 25 videogame companies in the world. Most likely if you play games, we’ve worked with the developers in some shape or form.”
While PTW isn’t the most common name for consumers, it is primarily a Business-to-Business (B2B) company that has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work in the gaming industry. But with this latest acquisition, this will be its first step into the esports sector and quite possibly the first time the company has to face an esports audience directly.
Why PUBG Mobile and Why India?
While mobile titles are on the rise in esports circles, they aren’t yet at the tier one mark, which the likes of Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends or Overwatch currently dominate. It’s interesting that a company with a modest global presence such as PTW has started its esports journey in India, especially considering that the sector in the subcontinent isn’t as mature as it is in Europe or North America.
“The player base was one of the key factors that we looked at here. In India, PUBG Mobile has the highest player base. When our players were playing in the qualifiers for the PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO), between the regional and English broadcasts, the tournament had around 3.7M views. They had about 60K to 70K concurrent views, which is almost as big as someone like Ninja. With these statistics and the established market, we could justify our investment. PUBG Mobile was a good starting point since it is number one in the market and has the viewership,” says Kasturi Rangan, president – North America and India at PTW International.
Content Versus Performance
Esports organizations have begun to put an increasing focus on content and brand positioning in recent years, with many organizations signing streamers and content creators under their banners and even setting up studios and dedicated staff to churn out content. The idea behind this is that earnings from prize money aren’t as reliable in terms of monetizing a team while creating content can be a constant revenue source powered by sponsorships, brand integration, and advertisements. While this idea has been in practice with big names such as 100 Thieves, OpTic Gaming, G2 Esports, and other globally recognizable organizations, it is a fairly new concept in India. Organizations that were earlier putting almost all their focus on performance have begun to invest in content as well.
However, PTW seems to have a different approach to this process.
“Orange Rock is not really a marketing initiative. In terms of esports, our first objective would be performance. For us branding comes second for now” is what Kasturi feels when it comes to how they want to go forward with their organization. “Just look at our name – Pole to Win. We are all about winning,” adds Kirkham.
The approach is interesting, particularly because it has been tried before. Signify, which was under the COBX Gaming banner, closed shop recently, despite having had the best Dota 2 and Counter-Strike teams in the country. The organization was backed by Route Mobile, a tech company in India. The team, which lasted almost three years and dominated the Indian circuit, has little to show in terms of content, brand building, or even a social media presence over its lifespan. While Signify stated that the reason for shutting down was a conflict of interest due to the fact that COBX Gaming is a tournament organizer, the fact that it was unable to grow beyond a point cannot be overlooked.
Plans for the Future
Orange Rock’s entry into the Indian market comes at an interesting time as the esports sector in the country is finally beginning to see the light and grow. How it as a brand is able to influence the Indian market and what impact its background and experience will have in shaping the team will certainly be a good case study.
“Orange Rock has a lot of strategic initiatives behind it that we will be working on which will be empowering or disrupting a lot of different technologies, whether it be in the videogaming space or technological space. Right now, in stealth, we are working on four to five different major things which might change the face of some of the industries we are working with,” says Kasturi.
All things considered, PTW seems like it has the financial backing to make Orange Rock Esports work. With its past experience in the gaming sector, its networks in the industry, and its global presence, the organization seems to have all the tools to make its team a success.
Orange Rock Esports has already established itself as one of the better teams in the country, having qualified for the Vodafone ESL 5G Mobile Open in Milan and the PUBG Mobile India Tour (PMIT) Regional Finals. The team will play its first major LAN in Pune, India, on Sept. 22 before heading out to Milan to compete internationally on Sept.28.
It’s hard to fathom an esport organization from India that doesn’t have a PUBG Mobile roster. While existing organizations like Entity Gaming, U Mumba, and Global Esports have decided to pick up rosters after having existing teams in already established titles, Orange Rock Esports will kick off its journey with PUBG Mobile rather than the other way around. The player base and the popularity of the game combined with the sheer number of tournaments and opportunities makes it a pretty easy title to consider.
However, to be a more recognizable brand in esports and to appeal to a wider demographic, the organization will eventually have to diversify into other titles. How soon that happens and what the road map for it looks like is currently unclear but will likely depend on the performance and response of this first roster. PTW’s global presence also presents it with a unique opportunity, one not many brands can afford; which is to establish itself as a truly international name. But a lot hinges on the performance of its current squad and its ability to perform at the highest level, which could be added pressure for the players. It will be interesting to see how Orange Rock Esports develops both as a brand and as an organization and at what pace it is able to grow.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.
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