Indian mobile game developers pivot to eSports for next big break


Mohan Doss, co-founder of Chennai Games, is excited that his mobile racing game Mr Racer will soon have an electronic sports (eSports) mode that will allow players to participate in and conduct tournaments.

The Tamil Nadu-based game developer is one of the first adopters of unicorn gaming startup Mobile Premier League (MPL’s) new eSports software development kit (SDK) that was released last month for all mobile game developers.

Chennai Games is just an example. Following the post pandemic boom, an increasing number of gaming firms in India are pivoting or redesigning their games to incorporate eSports, once dismissed as an industry that had no future in India.

Rajendran P.R., co-founder and CEO of Nextwave Multimedia, developer and publisher of World Cricket Championship 3 (WCC3), ran a few small tournaments on a proprietary eSports mode earlier this year, followed by a larger tournament sponsored by energy drink maker Red Bull.

Rajendran said that once he saw interest from gamers, Nextwave scaled up that module and built more tools to appeal to large tournament operators. These tools not only allow more players to compete, but also offers them to change camera angles in real time, while streaming a match.

Nextwave is now planning to tap into MPL’s eSports SDK.

“MPL’s eSports SDK is under final stages of production and testing. There are certain eSports related customizations that we wanted in our game and the SDK enables that. This was also an opportunity to work alongside a big player and create more tournament opportunities for our fans. We think it will help us scale our audience,” he said.

The Indian gaming industry generates $1.5 billion in revenue, which is expected to triple by 2025, according to a 25 November report from Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Mobile gaming accounts for 86% of the Indian gaming market, the report noted. And with games like PUBG Mobile etc. raking in crores of rupees in the form of tournament prize money, the interest in eSports is growing too.

To be sure, much of the eSports action revolves around a handful of international imports right now, such as battle royale games PUBG and Garena Free Fire.

MPL’s eSports SDK and other such offerings are looking to change that. Also, Indian gamers do not indulge much in large-format PC games like Defense of the Ancients.

But the industry is big enough for big-ticket eSports teams from around the world, like Team SoloMind (better known as TSM) and Fnatic, to set up India-specific teams to recruit local players and compete in regional tournaments.

In a June blog post, Ashish Pherwani, partner, media and entertainment advisory services, EY India, wrote that the eSports market in India “has quickly scaled” to 3 billion in FY21 and is expected to reach 11 billion by FY25. “However, the sport has much larger economic impact: we expect it to generate economic value of around 100 billion between now and FY2025,” he added. BCG also noted that eSports is in the nascent stages but pegged its value at $100 million and growing fast.

“With mobile gaming continuing to scale and grow rapidly, we see a massive opportunity for mobile eSports and what it offers to both developers and players. We spotted a gap in the tools available today to organize mobile eSports at scale,” said Vibhav Viswanathan, vice-president, product development at MPL.

In games, eSports drives engagement, and higher engagement leads to higher retention and conversion. It also increases the lifespan of games, since a competitive tournament can run for 5-10 years, which keeps players interested in a game for long even if a new version isn’t created fast.

Availability of eSports in casual but popular games like WCC3 also lowers the entry barrier and encourages more casual gamers to participate in eSports. “Typically eSports tournaments are conducted by dedicated tournament operators and they are invite-only in most cases. A large part of users who want to compete in eSports is left out. We wanted to enable anybody to conduct and participate in small tournaments,” added Rajendran.

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