Esports in India has been around since 2005. Technically speaking, in India it has always just been gaming, not Esports. Even now, India has barely transitioned from gaming into Esports. The main factor that separates Esports and gaming is the audience. Global Esports tournaments get around 200 million views in total. Meanwhile, the amount of views on Indian tournaments is extremely minor. We get a maximum of 1000 viewers in the biggest of Indian Esports tournaments. Let’s have a look at the all major events in the history of Indian Gaming and see if there is a reason for it.
From 2005 till 2009, the majority of competitive gaming tourneys were café tournaments and college tournaments. These were region confined and people would have to travel to other cities if they really wanted to take part in them. Travelling to a different city to play in a gaming tournament was not worth the effort because the prize-pools were not very impressive back then.
A good example of a college tournament from those times is DSK Supinfocom GameKshetra 2011 which was held at Pune. The tournament consisted of both PC and console games. The prizepool for each PC game was 50k INR and the prizepool for console games was 30k. You can find more details here.
Along with college events, LAN parties were also becoming popular. A company called Xtreme Gaming, founded in 2007, started hosting LAN tournaments which were very successful. By 2009, the concept of LAN parties started maturing to the point where sponsors started funding these events.
Xtreme Gaming had 3 big concepts: BYOC, WCG, IESL. BYOC stands for ‘Bring Your Own Computer’ which is pretty self-explanatory. WCG is short for World Cyber Games India. IESL is short for Indian Electronic Sports League. On November 16th 2012, Xtreme Gaming made a post on their Facebook page that they will not be hosting any more BYOC or WCG tournaments as brands are not interested in these events anymore. IESL went on till 2015.
Esports scene starts to take a hold
From the end of 2012 to around 2014, the gaming scene went extremely stale. Other than IESL, there weren’t any tournaments happening at a big scale. To bring competitive play, back into the community, Ankit ‘Chacha’ Jayant stepped up and announced that he will be hosting a tournament for Dota 2. This tournament would be the second season of ESPRL.
ESPRL is short for Esports League. Founded in April 2011 by Ankit, ESPRL was the first Indian Esports tournament which was completely online. After the success of ESPRL Season 1, Ankit brought in Nvidia as their sponsor for ESPRL Season II. This brought some life back into what seemed like a completely dead competitive scene in India.
By Season III, ESPRL added many of the major Esports game titles (at the time) into the roster – CS:GO, League of Legends, Battlefield 3, Startcraft 2 and Need For Speed – Most Wanted.
After 3 seasons of ESPRL, Ankit came up with an entirely new Dota 2 event, called Ragequit Cup. It was announced on March 3rd, 2014. Ragequit Cup was a community driven tournament. It was made by the community, for the community and managed by Ankit and his team of admins & moderators over at the Dota 2 India Official Group on Facebook. Even the name of the tournament was chosen by the community – Ragequit Cup.
Interestingly enough, since this was a community driven tournament, there was no monetary prizepool. There was an entry fee of 5 rare Dota 2 cosmetic items to participate in the tournament. All the collected rares would be given out as prizes to the top teams. The tournament kicked off in April and turned out to be quite successful. A team named Accelerαte won the tournament.
More than anything, Ragequit cup brought a lot of awareness. Since it was an online tournament, it brought in many new players into the scene. There was a huge demand for another season of Ragequit Cup. Just a few months after Season 1, Season 2 of Ragequit Cup was announced. Due to the success of season 1, they got sponsored by Dragon War. There was also no entry fee this time. A baffling 137 teams registered for the tournament, making it one of the biggest tournaments in terms of players. The event started in April 2015 and Team Mystery won the tournament.
By Season 3, Ragequit grew so big that it had a prize-pool of INR 1,50,000. They also hosted the main event of the tournament at a LAN venue. It was hosted at Urban Terrain – Digital Gaming Arena, Delhi. Team NeckBreak beat Team Elunes 3-0 in the Grand Finals of the tournament.
Big players enter the scene
Around 2014, NODWIN Gaming came into the picture with a vision to make Esports really big in India. NODWIN announced that they will be partnering up with ESL to bring a new league of Esports tournaments to India. This league would be ESL India Premiership.
ESL is a big name and it seemed as if this was going to be really big for the industry, allowing it to finally transition into Esports. But the same problem still existed. The maximum audience for the online phase was around 400 and 50 for LAN which still left us at Gaming.
However, it seems as if NODWIN is heading towards what they truly hoped for. I will talk about it in depth, later down the article.
Currently, NODWIN is hosting CS:GO, Dota 2 and Clash Royale tournaments through ESL India Premiership seasonal tournaments. ESL India premiership comprises of Summer, Fall and Winter tournaments which have a total prizepool of INR 1 Crore for the 3 games combined.
Another tournament series came into the picture when Taiwan Excellence Gaming Cup was announced by Taiwan External Trade Development Council and the Bureau of Foreign Trade, MOEA. It was a Dota 2 tournament and it took place in August 2014 in Mumbai. It had a total prizepool of INR 2,00,000. It was a successful event and the organizers have been hosting an annual event of the Taiwan Excellence Gaming Cup every year.
Through the years, Taiwan Excellence Gaming Cup (TEGC) has been growing bigger and bigger. The most recent rendition of TEGC was TEGC 2018 and it had a prizepool of INR 10,00,000. They have also added CS:GO and PUBG into the roster of games.
Getting back to the topic, around 2015, most of the tournament organizers were convinced that the scene is definitely growing, and they only need to pump in more money to solve the transition problem. The idea was to get more money from sponsors to have bigger prize-pools for the players. Everyone was in a race to create bigger prize-pools and only a few were interested in strengthening the foundations of the industry.
However, a company named ‘SoStronk’ started getting a lot of attention around this time, and they had a different kind of plan to help the scene.
“SoStronk is an online, subscription-based eSports platform built around and focused on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. As a platform, SoStronk hosts tournaments as well as offers players a platform to play with others. SoStronk is primarily prevalent in South Asia and the greater Asian market.” – From their website.
SoStronk was established back in 2013. They started out by offering 128 tick servers in India. Later they transitioned into developing a platform for Asian players/teams to play with & against each other. It became a good means for high skill players to get practice by playing against people in the same skill bracket.
In 2015, SoStronk began hosting their own tournaments starting with the King of the Hill series in India. Soon, SoStronk’s platform started getting the attention of many other tournament organizations. Currently, their servers are used for many tournaments and different leagues.
Another side to Esports, which was not very prevalent in India is casting. This is another fact which proves that India still has a long way to go for transitioning from Gaming to Esports. Companies like AFK Gaming, Gaming Central and iLL Gaming noticed this, and in an attempt to convert gaming into Esports in India, they focused on the media side of things. These companies were active in the market since 2013. AFK Gaming was the most successful among these and they managed to bring in a consistent and professional style of casting by bringing out casters like Nishant ‘Cloudx’ Patel. They are still the most dominating Indian company in the Esports media aspect, even now.
By 2015-2016 the gaming scene started to mature. Morfiction was doing college events and pubstomps, trying to build a community. ESL India started to find their roots in the market. Teams like Neckbreak and Elunes started getting a good amount of following. Entity Gaming came into the picture, they started the concept of contracts. It seemed like the market was at the verge of booming.
2017 seemed like the beginning of the golden era of gaming in India. In January of 2017, Ronnie Screwvala had announced that he was going to invest $40 Mil into Indian Esports through U Sports – ‘A futuristic sports business company’. The problem was, he went for a reality show instead of hosting a proper tournament series. But more on that later. In February 2017, another company named Nazara Games had also announced that they were going to invest $20 Mil and create a league of their own.
On 27th March 2017, Rajdeep Gupta, owner of COBX Gaming, announced that he is going to invest $10 Mil into the market. The difference between Rajdeep and the other 2 companies that made investments, is that he himself is a gamer and an Esports enthusiast. He has attended several events like The International and The Kiev Major. We all know how much of a difference this makes. Within the next month itself, COBX came up with COBX Indian Esports Championship, for Dota 2 and CS: GO with a prizepool of 10 lakh INR. It was unheard of, for an online tournament to have this high of a prizepool in India at that point. The tournament was a huge success and was loved by the players and viewers both.
Currently, COBX is working on COBX Masters, captioned – India’s Largest Multi-title International Esports Tournament. Phase 1 of COBX Masters was hosted during the summer of 2018 across 10 cities in India. It had a prize-pool of INR 50,000 for the winners from each of the 10 cities.
In Phase 2, The tournament will have a massive prize pool of approximately INR 1,40,00,000 ($200,000). This will be split across Dota 2 and CS:GO. They will be inviting 2 international teams for each game and will have qualifiers for the SEA region and India region separately. This event will definitely catalyze India’s transition from gaming to Esports.
Meanwhile, COBX is also handling their Signify project. Team Signify is a professional Dota 2 team which has been on the number 1 spot in the Indian Dota scene since its inception in mid-2017. Team Signify also picked up a CS:GO roster in December 2018.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to the topic – History of Esports in India. Almost a year after Rajdeep Gupta’s announcement with COBX, Ronnie Screwvala finally came up with his first Esports show/tournament – U Cypher with a INR 50,00,000 prizepool. The recording of the show was done in December 2017 and the show was broadcasted in February 2018. Ucypher got mostly negative reactions from the viewers. Many people in the community called it a compilation of the most cringe-worthy moments in Indian Esports. Apparently, there are plans for a season 2 of U Cypher which will go through major changes. Personally, I don’t think it has any chance of being successful if they make another “reality show”.
While Nazara Games did not come up with any new ideas, they sought out for the already established Esports organizations in India. They had their eyes on NODWIN and acquired 55% stake in NODWIN Gaming in January 2018.
Up until this point, it seemed like India is going to remain in the gaming phase, even after all the efforts and investments. This went on until DreamHack Mumbai 2018 was announced. DreamHack is a big name in the Esports industry and it was going to be in India for the very first time. Along with it, Dreamhack brought The Dreamhack India Invitational 2018 CS:GO and The Dreamhack India Invitational 2018 Dota 2. These tournaments had a prizepool of INR 25,00,000 INR (≃ $35,587.90 USD) for each of the 2 games, and they also invited international tier teams – Team Mineski, Neon Esports for Dota 2, and Energy Esports, Bravado Gaming for CS:GO. This was the biggest Esports tournament in India until then. It was organized by NODWIN Gaming in partnership with Viacom18 and concluded in the final week of December 2018.
With 2019 just about start, everyone in the scene already knew that great things are afoot for Indian Esports. This became a fact after ESL One Mumbai was announced.
While ESL India is growing at its own pace, its nowhere close to ESL One.
‘ESL One, the successor to ESL Major Series One, is a tournament series organized by Electronic Sports League. It brings teams and players from all over the world compete in an esports tournament unlike any other. Featuring the games Dota 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Battlefield 4, the ESL One features events taking place in sports stadiums all over the world.’ – From Liquipedia.
ESL One is finally going to debut in India with ESL One Mumbai in April 2019. This will be the biggest Dota 2 tournament ever to be hosted in India. ESL has teamed up with NODWIN Gaming to bring this event to the NSCI Dome in Mumbai. It has a prize-pool of $300,000 and it will feature 11 invited international teams.
This is a huge leap for Indian Esports, and seeing how tier 1 Esports organizers are showing interest in hosting tournaments in India, we will all be finally witnessing India transition from gaming to Esports.
If I missed anything major or got any point wrong, please feel free to comment down below. I will try my best to keep this article fully factual. I also intend to keep this article updated, so I will be making additions here as time passes and new tournaments come to India. Also, I’d love it if you followed me on Twitter and Facebook . Thanks for reading.