The curious case of esports gaming in India

November 16, 2021

Since the dawn of the 21st century, when the millennials were exposed to technological advancement for the first time, gaming has always held a back seat and has been considered a pastime.

During the late 2000s and early 2010s, a sort of gaming culture grew in India, where kids would rush to cyber cafés and gaming parlours to play with their friends. However, from crowding gaming parlours to owning a gaming setup, the rise of gaming in India has been nothing short of a revolution.

Today, India is emerging as a leader in the esports industry, a growing field that has fascinated millennials like nothing before. Esports are sports competitions conducted via video games and are often organised into multiplayer competitions, particularly between professional players — individually or as a team.

One of the key factors in esports taking over the Indian market has to be down to the growth and promotion done on online streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch. In India, esports accounted for around four percent of all online gaming users and 9.13 percent of aggregate revenue out of the overall gaming market in FY20.

With so much happening in the world of esports, let’s explore this discipline and look at every aspect of this rising market and how COVID-19 acted as a catalyst to spread it across India like wildfire.


Esports in India

Although still at a nascent stage, the Indian esports market has already scaled INR 3 billion in FY2021 and it is expected to reach INR 11 billion by FY2025. However, some industry experts expect the sport to have a much larger economic impact, where it is believed to generate an economic valuation of around INR 100 billion between FY2021 and FY2025.

1.5 million players, 85 million viewers, 20+ broadcasters and several brands, organisers and publishers will collectively define the esports market in India by FY2025. The esports industry is expected to grow in India at a CAGR of 46 percent over the next three and a half years, while streaming platforms will generate a major chunk of the esports revenue.

The industry, however, faces regulatory challenges and uncertainty such as the misconception that esports is gambling and comprises of games of chance and its consequent banning by certain states. Additionally, the lack of an industry-nodal body, regulatory clarity and multiple ministries only adds to its woes.


Also Read – How game streaming is brewing among Indian gamers amidst COVID-19


Thriving in a pandemic

The paradigm shift in the way Indians consume content and the way people socialise online has acted as a catalyst for the economic growth of online gaming. According to a report published by BARC and Nielsen, the number of smartphone gaming users per week grew from 60 percent in pre-COVID times to 68 percent during the lockdown period. On a similar scale, time spent on smartphone games per user grew from 151 minutes before COVID-19 to 246 minutes after the lockdown.

The aggregate revenue of esports startups and companies in India reached US$68 million in FY2020 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 36 percent in the next three years, as per Inc42 Plus’ analysis of 36 companies including Jetsynthesys, Nazara technologies, Usports, Gamerji among others.

Thanks to the proliferation of high-end smartphones at affordable prices as well as the rise of mobile games such as PUBG mobile, Free Fire, Clash of Clans and Call of Duty Mobile among various PC and Console games, the esports industry has shown significant growth in India in the past few years.


Also Read – The Rise of Online Gaming in India


Rise in investment

In today’s day and age, when the world is grappling with a global crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is fascinating how online gaming has stood to be one of the pillars holding the Indian economy up.

According to Inc42 Plus, the total venture capital funding in Indian gaming startups was US$448 million between 2014 and 2020. Among the gaming startups, the top-funded startups are Dream11 with US$100 million in total funding, followed by Smaaash Entertainment with US$82.6 million in funding and Nazara Technologies with US$79 million.

Additionally, PUBG Mobile had a huge role to play in fast-tracking India’s rise in online gaming. As per sensor tower data for July 2020, out of the 734 million downloads globally, India was ranked first in terms of downloads, with 175 million installs or 24 percent market share.

With Esports generating more consumers, stakeholders and investors will invest more money into it and, as a result, prize pools for such events will increase dramatically. Although the prize pool for Indian Esports events has increased gradually, to put it into perspective, India is outpacing China and the United States in terms of downloads, but during 2019, esports tournaments in the US offered over US$40 million in prize pool, while India’s largest tournament, PUBG Mobile India Series 2020, offered INR 50 lakh as total prize money.


Smartphone penetration and esports cafés

Smartphone penetration has been one of the driving forces behind the emergence of esports and online gaming in India; low latency in most parts of the country, and the affordability and accessibility of high-performance smartphones to a younger population, has led to this sudden surge.

The number of smartphone users in India grew at a CAGR of 15 percent during 2015-2020. The growing demand for digital services for information, entertainment and communication through apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube led to the Indian consumers becoming aware of the presence of such a sport.

Moreover, ideas like opening an esports café have been accepted with open arms. Esports cafés are not only a way for people to play games without owning the requisite hardware, but they also help in building that competitive edge amongst players. At present, India is home to over 350 esports cafés, with PC hardware giants NVIDIA announcing plans to expand its gaming footprint in India by adding 100 more such cafés.

Presently, Nemesis Gaming, League of Extraordinary Gamers and Circle Gaming are some of the major esports café startups in India. Besides, the pandemic doesn’t seem to die down soon, thus more investors will continue pumping money into this industry in the coming years.


A career option?

In India, the general notion has always been that gaming is not a serious career option. In times when the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is planning to introduce esports in Olympics and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has chosen to include esports as a medal sport for the first time at the 2022 Asian Games, this common perception towards gaming — that it’s not a serious career option — needs changing.

However, professional gaming cannot be considered a stable job in India since the country doesn’t have the required ecosystem and infrastructure in place to support such type of livelihood. A professional gamer in India can earn a lot of money provided enough tournaments are going on around the country. Thus, treating this as a full-time profession could land one in a tricky situation.

Besides, apart from professional gaming, there are other jobs in the esports industry that can earn you a handsome salary; game commentators, influencers, coders developing Artificial Intelligence for games, and voice-over artists are some of the lucrative professions in the industry right now.



As esports gains popularity amongst the youth, advertisers and agencies are expected to increasingly use the esports tournaments’ viewership to gain reach and engagement with the audience, with tournament sponsorship and syndication revenue likely to quadruple to more than INR 3.5 billion as it currently grows at a CAGR rate of 45 percent.

Esports in India is here to stay but is at a nascent stage right now. However, with the current support to players and stakeholders, the growing popularity of mobile games in India, and the recent surge in mobile esports gaming, there’s quite a possibility that Indian esports will become one of the very best in the continent, if not the world.

Rahul Saha

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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