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Business Today|December 12, 2021
THANKS TO A DRAMATIC RISE IN SUBSCRIPTION GAMING SERVICES AND CLOUD GAMING AMID THE PANDEMIC, INDIA IS NOW THE WORLD'S FASTEST-GROWING MOBILE GAMING MARKET, HELPING MANY ENTHUSIASTS TURN INTO PROFESSIONALS . WILL THE MOMENTUM SUSTAIN?
PRERNA LIDHOO

PROFESSIONAL CLASH Royale player Prashant Pandey started gaming in 2015 while he was studying to become an engineer in Bengaluru. Five minutes of casual gaming turned into 15 hours a day and, in 2018, Pandey went on to represent India at the Clash Royale League e-sports competition in the US. He even started earning a six-figure salary as a player. This year, Pandey co-founded Qlan, a social network for India’s online gaming community, where players can look for jobs, broadcast their skills, share content, etc. “India’s online gaming industry is not what it used to be. It has gone beyond leisure and entertainment. It’s a full-fledged career opportunity in the making now. Just like Indian cricketers get salary from the BCCI [Board of Control for Cricket in India], online gamers can make upto ₹1.5 lakh [monthly] by playing for a team,” says Mumbai-based Pandey.

In the early 2000s, games such as Counter-Strike and Age of Empires introduced Indians to the world of online gaming though consoles and PCs. Today, almost two decades later, India is the world’s fastest-growing mobile gaming market, growing at 22 per cent annually, and is expected to generate an annual revenue of ₹11,900 crore by FY23, according to a 2019 KPMG report. The main reason behind this is India’s 560-million-strong internet user base, growth of cloud gaming and a dramatic rise in subscription platforms accelerated by the pandemic. Mobile users form an overwhelming 85 per cent of the industry and given the low entry barrier for mobile games such as PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, Clash of Legends and Call of Duty Mobile, the industry is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years. A joint study last year by Statista, Nazara and INC24 estimated that the Indian gaming market is poised to reach $3.5 billion in value by 2023 and $10.2 billion by 2025 from around $1.2 billion in 2020.

Not just that, according to e-sports content platform AFK Gaming, the total e-sports prize money grew from ₹77 lakh in 2016 to ₹3.84 crore in 2018, growing at a CAGR of 123.3 per cent during the period 2016-18. This has, in turn, helped more gaming enthusiasts turn into professional players. Today, as per industry experts, there are 80,000-odd people looking at online gaming as a potential career. “It’s seeing very healthy growth. A lot more gamers are picking up video games professionally and creating good content around it. At the end of the day, a gamer is not just here to play for fun, but also get recognised for his gameplay, and that’s what we want to provide,” says Naman Jhawar, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Operations at Mobile Premier League (MPL), one of the largest online gaming companies globally.

According to a February 2021 report by the IAMAI and Ikigai Law, the digital games and sports industry has opened numerous job opportunities in India, with annual salary packages ranging from ₹3 lakh to over ₹40 lakh. Online gamers have broadly three ways to earn revenue: the prize money, sponsorship deals and streaming live online. If they are part of a team, they could also earn a monthly salary.

The IAMAI report on India’s gaming industry estimates that the pool of the prize money in 2025 will be $14.3 million (approximately ₹106 crore), up from $3.6 million (approximately ₹27 crore) in 2020. The title sponsorship for a championship with a prize money of ₹25 lakh could range from ₹30-40 lakh.

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