Akshat Rathee: Live gaming is helping the esports sector achieve the pop culture status

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has helped fans throughout the globe connect and root for their preferred teams/players while sitting in the comforts of their home, leading to a higher engagement rate and business opportunities. However, these fans can’t wait to go back to the grounds, dress up in their favourite character costume, cheer, click pictures and connect not just with their favourite teams/players but also with one another.

Akshat Rathee

In conversation with AnimationXpress, Nodwin Gaming MD and co-founder Akshat Rathee talks about the current esports scenario, opportunities and challenges, and how they are prepping for the world post covid.

Said Rathee, “Nothing can match the viewing experience of an esports arena with players locking horns on the stage while fans cheer for their favourite teams. Online esports tournaments showed us ways to engage the audience from their homes. If not the same, we have tried to bring in elements of an actual viewing experience. From a statistical perspective, the numbers have only gone upwards. Hitting a total of 100 mn+ views for PUBGM tournaments last year is a prime example. As per LAN event popularity is concerned, they haven’t taken place in a long time and the audience is craving for the same.”

According to Rathee, Indian esports has come a long way, it is not fully established but not nascent either. “Today, the audience is aware of the tremendous potential of live streaming and gaming. Content creators and pro players have found a sweet spot in which they directly engage and interact with the audience virtually. The excitement and dynamics of live gaming are naturally evolving the sector into the pop culture space. Merchandising, a celebrity status for star players, social media and mega tournaments are all going to drive investment and revenues into esports in the near future making it the fastest-growing sector post-COVID-19. We are also seeing a shift from mobile-centric gaming to more PC and console gaming. FIFA21 and Valorant are clocking good numbers in terms of player base and viewership, so there is much to look forward to in the coming months in esports,” explained Rathee. Adding to that he further shared that today, non-endemic brands are also investing in esports as they could see a clear set of audience that fits the brand’s consumer base, and esports provides them direct access to the huge chunk of 13-30-year-olds, which is a tough nut to crack otherwise. The rising popularity of esports is drawing more brands to collaborate and multiply their business prospects and it is adding more value to esports.

Today a lot of Indian celebrities and gamers are roped in by brands. He shared, “Celebrities and influencers do carry the power to drive the narrative of a crowd. Indian audiences operate on star power and it is important to take that into consideration while planning a marketing strategy for a brand or an event. However, authenticity is important. And hence only those youth icons are beginning to get roped in, who are gamers too.”

Nodwin Gaming is at an intermediate stage where they know what can be expected from them and because of that they are investing in innovations and ideas, enhancing their R&D and experimenting with their capabilities. Recently Nodwin Gaming raised Rs 164 crore funding from PUBG creator KRAFTON. As per Rathee, most of the funds will be utilised to launch ‘bigger and better tournament IPs across India, South Asia and Africa’ and it will further boost both, the organisation and the regions Nodwin is currently serving in.

Commenting on the challenges he shared, “The current challenge for us would be to make sure we ride this wave well, put in place state-of-the-art virtual and physical infrastructure and give our Indian players the best possible experience to enable them to excel at even a global level. We are preparing for that and laying a strong foundation for the future of esports.”

Rathee also expressed that considering the current state of the situation, they are hoping to restart LAN events by September this year. And they have a number of tournaments lined up in 2021, whose preparations are underway. “Caveat being – these LAN events will take place, COVID permitting,” he added. He couldn’t reveal much about the 2021 esports roster but he expressed that they have plenty of tournaments coming up in India, South Asia and Africa and ESL India Premiership is a constant. Apart from that, they are trying to incorporate new game titles and provide something for every section of our audience.

He concluded by saying, “We are looking at a significant rise in engagement and growth in the coming years. As per a recent report by EY, the aggregate value of native esports startups is predicted to see an increase in CAGR of 36 per cent in the next three years. That just shows the monumental pace of developments in the industry. India has a demographic dividend of 67 per cent of the population being under 35 years and we believe that the consumer base will keep growing. We’re already seeing major brands venturing into esports to cater to a wider audience with massive investments which will see no stopping anytime soon. Projections for the Indian esports market in the coming years look promising.”