As I enter the small cubicle at a co-working space in Alwarpet, Siddharth Prashant is prepping the systems to roll out a Dota 2 game later that evening (for the uninitiated, Dota 2 is a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena video game). With headphones on and a Rode commentary microphone lodged before him, he is creating the graphical placards which the participating gamers will see before the game starts.
The gamers aren’t in this room – they are playing from the comforts of their homes, across India. Prashanth, sitting at Chennai-based Playtonia’s workspace, will be monitoring the game and broadcasting it to hundreds of viewers with live commentary (that’s what the microphone is for). Around him, a bunch of tech geeks are creating posters and videos to get more viewers. I can almost smell the nerdiness in the air, and I am sure it’s that when Prashant tells me fifteen minutes later, “E-gaming is going to be huge in India, bigger than any sport. And when that happens, nerds will rule man, nerds will rule.”
Welcome to the era of Indian eSports. Many of us might be completely unaware of it, but across small bedrooms and gaming cafes in India, a revolution is brewing and a new world of sport is emerging stronger. There are several lakh pro-gamers in India, the viewing community could run into several tens of millions – and they are ripe for brand managers looking to sell games, gaming consoles and other tech products.
Indian eSports has been growing rapidly for the past couple of years. While mobile-based games make up the bulk of the market, there is also an increasing interest in holding eSport tournaments for pro games like Counter Strike and Dota 2. Recently, Mumbai-based Nazara Games announced an investment of Rs 136 crore in their eSports venture over five years, and Ronnie Screwvala said he will spend between Rs 80-100 crore in a single eSport tournament. From big gaming brands like ESL and SoStrong to event management companies like Nodwin, many players are making money from eSports business in India.
There are simple reasons for that: There are at least an estimated one million professional gamers in the country, and viewership for the gaming could run into tens of millions. Brands are interested in investing in eSports in the long term, with companies like Asus conducting their own tournaments like ASUS ROG Tournament. And the icing on the cake? The more the gaming community grows, the more gaming consoles you can sell. This is a huge market.
It is no wonder then that eSports will be a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games to be held in China (say thanks to Alibaba, which is pushing it majorly), and possibly even the 2024 Olympics.
So, what is a small Chennai-based company like Playtonia doing amidst all this?
“Everything,” says Prasanna, the CTO of Playtonia, as we sit down for a chat in his cubicle.
Playtonia is looking to produce end-to-end solutions for conducting eSport tournaments in the country. From hosting server space and leasing them out, to conducting the entire event – online and on the ground – broadcasting it to millions of viewers and taking care of the marketing and content production online, Playtonia wants to be the one-stop shop for everything eSport in India.
Venkat Vallabhaneni, General Partner, IDFC Parampara Early Stage Opportunities Fund, says, “When you look at the overall eGaming tournaments market, there are different kinds and they have been there for a while. Not like it is anything new. The new thing in my mind is combining live entertainment and live games with the virtual world. The future is going to be where people will be able to view and experience live events and tournaments from their living room - that's where the world is going.”
And that is where Playtonia wants to go as well, and beyond.
“On the global scenario, E-sports is a rapidly growing market and is likely to grow at a CAGR of 32.28%. Playtonia sees itself as a major player in the E-sports space, by providing for gaming infrastructure and an experience that will be amongst the very best in the world,” says Playtonia Co-Founder Sanupam Samantry.
Playtonia is a small team of about 12 people, with the 'single vision of taking eSports to a bigger level focusing more on gamer's perspective and not compromising on viewers perspective'. This is also a key portion where all brands would get a huge opportunity to promote their products and services, the company believes. In early 2016, Prasanna and two others, Abhijit Pattanaik and Sanupam Samantry joined hands on the project. Work started in August that year, and by December, the company was off the ground. They now have full-fledged tech and design teams, with enthusiasts broadcasting the matches which happen online, with live commentary.
They started with just 50 gamers, using the Playtonia platform to play pro games. But now, they are holding Insignia, a multi-player, 2-season tournament for Dota 2 and Counter Strike, with a grand finale at Phoenix Mall in Bangalore in November 2017. The prize money is a staggering Rs 20 lakh.
Playtonia is also providing Event Management and Server Support for ASUS ROG tournament in India. But their big idea? University Premiere League. An all-India rolling cup tournament where pro-gaming teams representing universities and colleges will take on each other. “We are also eyeing Sri Lanka and Pakistan, there are large gaming communities there,” says Prasanna. The company is also working on making one-on-one tournaments and games possible. “No one else in India is doing it,” he adds.