Online gaming—and wagering on it—is a booming market in India

The esports fever is catching on.
The esports fever is catching on.
Image: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool
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Cheap smartphones and affordable mobile data are aiding an e-gaming boom in India.

The country is home to one-tenth of the world’s gamers. The number of game-developing companies here has gone from just 25 in 2010 to 250 today.

By 2020, the domestic industry is slated to be worth $1.1 billion (Rs7,700 crore) and the count of gamers will rise to 628 million from under 200 million in 2015, according to IT industry body NASSCOM.

Already, the e-gaming phenomenon has spread far and wide in India, a recent survey by free internet provider Jana, shared exclusively with Quartz, showed.

Six in 10 respondents to the survey said they had watched or participated in online sporting events in the last month. Nearly nine in 10 did so on mobile phones.

Boston-based Jana, which launched in India in July 2014, gathered insights from over 2,300 Indians via its mCent browser app. (Percentages don’t always add up to 100% because respondents could select all options that apply.)

Earlier this year, India’s first televised esports tournament, MTV’s U Cypher, was broadcast. Its episodes were also uploaded to live-streaming platforms. And like for videos, India’s favourite platform to watch e-sporting events online was Google-owned YouTube, the Jana survey showed.

The popularity of esports in India is likely owing to its massive youth population. “Young internet users have a higher propensity to play online games as they are usually more exposed to technology and online platforms,” a report in Research and Markets stated.

Almost 72% of those surveyed were keen on wagering on sports or games or participating in a for-cash competition.

Half of the respondents had competed for money in the past six months. Among those who haven’t placed bets yet, 42.8% say they are “very likely” to do so in the future.

The highest share, 24.4%, expects to be conservative, spending between Rs370 and Rs1,800. However, the second-biggest group of future betters, 14.6%, are big spenders looking to shell out upwards of Rs14,400.

As the market matures, it is becoming a lucrative business with the total prize pool for esports expected to reach Rs300 crore ($43 million) by 2023, industry experts estimate. Already, Indian players have made their way to international championships. However, support at the grassroots level to groom gamers is still missing.

“Most gamers end up either starting late or are able to dedicate only limited time to esports. They also need to have a regular job. That is why we cannot compete against top international teams,” Mansoor Ahmad, captain of Arknemisis, India’s first fully-sponsored Overwatch (a multi-player shooter game) team, told The Indian Express newspaper. “Also, it doesn’t help that viewership is low for esports in India. Hence, many brands are not interested in investing in athletes or teams, which again is not helping esports teams sustain.”

These setbacks have real impacts on people choosing not to participate, Jana’s survey reveals.