The Indian esports space finds itself in an awkward position, as the ban on PUBG Mobile has lasted for over two months now, with little information as to when a potential solution can be reached. Much of 2020 was focused on the subcontinent’s fascination with the game, its rapidly growing player base, and invested audience; all of which has translated into local and foreign investment, sponsorships, and mainstream media attention for both the title and its stakeholders. While the title may have given India a space in the global esports conversation, its absence has created a big challenge for the local ecosystem as organizations, tournament organizers and the community scrambles to find viable alternatives.
Among the many names that have been making the rounds, Riot Games’ Valorant has been a beacon of hope for many. PUBG Mobile content creators who found themselves game-less since the ban, advocated and built awareness about the title which then translated into collaborations with professional players and core PC streamers, marking an increase in popularity for the PC community. Now the Valorant space in India is rich with rivalries, narratives, and community leaders who are able to take the conversation further.
The Esports Club is a new tournament organizer in the region, and has exploded onto the scene with a host of tournaments in various titles. While it has made efforts to build up the entire ecosystem with its own esport IPs, its Valorant tournaments are definitely making a bigger splash than the others. Ishaan Arya, head of business development and content at TEC explains: “Valorant currently is the most popular esports title with the highest player and viewer counts; allowing us to create some really exciting events and IPs that are great for players while also driving immense value to our partners.”
The organizer has made a concerted effort to make long-term plans for all of its IPs, including Valorant which has five seasons of competition, each with its own prize pool. Arya says that having a long term plan was essential to TEC’s plans.
“Look at the state of Counter-Strike in India. For years, TO’s invested in prize money, but it rarely trickled down to lower-tier teams, so we never saw an influx of new talent on a regular basis. Just the same names with a few new guys now and then. Our system tries to create that mini-ecosystem without relying on outside organizers and events in terms of creating opportunity and providing prize money opportunities to mid and low tier teams while also catering to the top of the pyramid.”
TEC’s success with the first season of its Valorant Challenger Series allowed the company to bring in a new sponsor in the form of Lenovo. The tournament also had AMD Ryzen and Internet service provider, ACT Fibernet as sponsors from the beginning.
Amit Doshi, chief marketing officer for Lenovo India, explains why Valorant was a natural fit for the company.
“Valorant is definitely one of the most promising and upcoming PC titles to be looking out for in India. It has gained a lot of traction in the last one year and with them establishing a local server in India, it is only set to grow further hopefully. With the kind of different aesthetic and immersive experience, it provides – while currently it does not play into the masses but has slowly made a significant impact within the gaming community for its own niche. It being a free PC Game, will boost adoption and we are already seeing a surge in its demand in the post-pandemic period. As a brand, we like to associate with multiple titles which can be enjoyed on a Legion Gaming device.”
Other important stakeholders in the industry are the organizations, and in India, Velocity Gaming is the reigning champion. The team has established itself as the top side in the region and team owner Manoj ‘Sentinel’ Kasyap shares his perspective. “Right from the start, Riot Games has been very interactive with the community. Their approach has also been very esports-centric and of course, the game design and performance has made it possible for new players to enjoy the game. And because of Riot’s past history with esports, stepping into Valorant wasn’t a very natural choice.”
While it is true that India is a mobile-first nation, Kasyap was himself surprised at the support his team has garnered. “The Indian PC esports scene has received little support in the past and as a result we always lagged behind other regions. This was further amplified by some specific rough incidents but it’s time to put all that behind us and move ahead.”
With Valorant, Indian players have the opportunity to quickly be at par with international teams, which simply was not possible in a title like CS:GO. “In the few international events that Indian teams have been a part of, results have been subpar. But with Valorant, we can be at a similar level with other teams in Asia because it was launched and adopted by everyone at the same time.”
Kasyap is mindful of the costs of operating a roster in a PC title. He estimates that there is a near 2X difference in setup costs, though salaries in mobile are relatively higher due to the player’s brand values and social media presence. However, the organization isn’t really on the lookout for sponsors or revenue-focused at the moment. For Kasyap, the current objective is to establish a solid brand presence and then try and monetize it.
For now, Valorant is experiencing a high in South Asia, a large part of the reason being that the majority of the local audience has no other title to be invested in. Interest in the title has prompted other organizations such as Global Esports and Godlike to start fielding rosters in the game. However, the challenge is to be able to sustain the interest and to grow both the community and the viewership. Success stories in international competitions is something that will greatly further the cause of Valorant in India, and with Riot already outlining the possibilities for teams in 2021, it will be on the players to lead the way.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.