India’s e-sports boom is drawing big corporates

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The pandemic-fuelled boom in electronic sports has attracted large telcos and technology companies to the gaming arena, bringing big money and innovation into competitive e-sports.

IT major Tech Mahindra on Monday said it will organize a global chess league this year, becoming the third big tech company from India to enter e-sports. The company has named chess maestro and former world champion Viswanathan Anand as a mentor for the league.

As the pandemic drove millions of Indians indoors, gaming firms saw a big jump in user base and money spent on their platforms. Paytm First Games reported a 200% growth in its user base and a 4x increase in gameplays in the first half of 2020. WinZO Games saw a 10x increase in number of paid players in 2020.

To tap into this growing market, in January, Reliance Jio in a tie-up with MediaTek, launched its first mobile e-sports tournament around the Garena Free Fire game with a prize pool of 12.5 lakh.

Airtel, India’s second largest telco, too has stepped into all major e-sports tournaments in India. Collaborating with e-sports company NODWIN Gaming, it has created India’s first national ranking and awarding system which would grade all e-sports players in the country based on their performance across major tournaments, including Call of Duty Mobile India Challenge, ESL India Premiership, North East eSports Summit and KO Fight Night.

Tech Mahindra’s chess league will be a global event with participation expected from amateur and professional players who will compete on an online platform from pre-defined locations. The company is working on building the platform with a possible app-based touchpoint where chess enthusiasts and fans can follow matches and participate in fantasy leagues. The company said it plans to leverage artificial intelligence and virtual reality to explore new ways to promote the game and drive up fan engagement.

“In the past one year, all the stars have been aligning for chess. A lot of spectator interaction was already happening online. They proved to be very useful and popular during the pandemic. Netflix series Queen’s Gambit also helped drive up interest in the sports,” Anand said. “We would ensure that users can access it on an app, browser as well as on streaming platforms. We will add a lot of fantasy elements to drive up audience interaction.”

Revenue is not the primary focus at the moment, said Jagdish Mitra, chief strategy officer and head of growth at Tech Mahindra. “The important thing is to get the fan engagement going. Once that happens, the revenue will follow suit,” he said. “Apart from regular revenue models like sponsorship, we will also be looking at models like fantasy league,” he added.

“For a brand like Tech Mahindra that is not part of the e-sports ecosystem, chess is an easy sell. It allows for an easy transition as people have heard and played chess at some point,” said Rushindra Sinha, CEO, Global eSports, an online gaming firm.

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