Over the past few years, esports has moved from the amateur domain to the professional, with a surge in both viewer interest and participation. As more teams entered the fray, especially in east Asia and the US, pro tournaments made an appearance. Before long, the interest spread steadily to other nations, including India.
Thanks to the national and global lockdowns because of Covid-19, more people are gravitating towards online games. Accordingly, hardware manufacturers are ensuring their R&D offers affordable and compatible gaming hardware for the Indian market.
However, there is much confusion about the difference in esports and gaming. The difference is akin to that of professional and amateur sports. An esports player acquires specific skill-sets via practice and training as in other professional sports. It also involves a prize money pool and remunerations to people linked to its support activities. Conversely, gaming is more casual, meant mainly for entertainment, unless subscription led.
Of course, esports also has a high element of entertainment. But it is backed by hard work, diligence and dedication of every athlete seeking to climb the rungs of the professional games. It takes hours of daily practice, perfecting fast keyboard movements and simultaneously coordinating moves with teammates.
It comes as no surprise that esports is gaining recognition in international sports competitions such as the Asian Games. In the September 2018 Asian Games, India’s 23-year-old Tirth Mehta won bronze in the inaugural esports competition while competing in the Hearthstone event. Interestingly, India’s 10-player team participated in four out of six games: Hearthstone, Pro Evolution Soccer, Starcraft II, Clash Royale, Arena of Valour and League of Legends. It was the Indian team’s win in the qualifiers that secured them a berth at the Jakarta Asian Games.
Going by a 2018 report in Forbes India, China leads the global gaming market with revenues of $37.9 billion while the US, Japan and Korea follow. Given its total revenues of $1.17 billion, India only ranks 16. These simple statistics make it apparent that there is enormous potential for online gaming in the country.
Revenues via regulation
As per a 2020 report on the nation’s Media & Entertainment Sector brought out by FICCI and Ernst & Young, the number of gamers in India is estimated at around 365 million. The numbers, however, reflect the ground reality prevailing before the pandemic. The unprecedented coronavirus lockdown pan-India has led to a greater number of games being played and more players taking to online gaming.
Much of this is happening without institutional support. Yet, if esports were regulated, the Centre and State Governments will stand to gain immensely from tax revenues. Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 disruptions and the drastic drop in tax collections, authorities must seriously consider regulating esports for its broad benefits.
In a recent order in July, the Madras High Court has asked the Tamil Nadu Government to consider framing proper legislation to regulate online games. The HC stated it was not against virtual games. Rather, it thought the time was ripe for establishing a regulatory body for monitoring and regulating online legal gaming activities. The court, however, asserted that the views of all stakeholders must be considered before doing this. Significantly, it mentioned regulation “would encourage investment in the sector, which could lead to technological advancements as well as generation of revenue and employment”.
Since economic activity, including revenues and employment, have been hit due to Covid-19 concerns, esports can be beneficial due to its online and indoor activities. But for this to happen, the Centre and State Governments need to nurture and support esports activities by building relevant facilities and infrastructure. These include creating coaching centres and incorporating esports in the sports curriculum of schools and other academic institutions.
Though sports is a State subject, the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports should recognise eSports, too, as a sporting activity. By providing specific guidelines and appropriate support, States can be encouraged to conduct events and activities that nurture relevant talent.
Taking a cue from international precedence, as well as that by Asian nations such as South Korea, Malaysia and others, India must make plans to derive direct benefits from digital activities. With digital sports gaining acceptance in marquee international events, a cohesive policy is necessary to ascertain India remains in contention for future medals and glory.
No doubt ample talent exists in India. Institutionalising and encouraging such activities is the best way to go for gold while deriving many economic benefits.
The writer is CEO of All India Gaming Federation