The tournament, organised by esports company Nodwin Gaming, will kick off from August 4. Last year, the tournament became the first esports franchise to be broadcasted by Star Sports. It raked in 36 million viewers in its linear television debut last year including 6 million first-time viewers of the Star Sports channel, said Sanjog Gupta, head of sports for Disney Star, declining to provide viewership projections for this year.
“Three major factors led to this decision. First, we were keenly looking at Gen Z viewers who watched a fair bit of sports but did not engage with us as much. Second, the rapid growth of the competitive gaming culture in India. Third, the global acknowledgement of esports as a new, legitimate sports category (sic),” said Gupta.
In its second season this year, Nodwin’s BGMI Masters will see participation from 24 teams, of which 14 will be professional teams participating via invitations and 10 will be brought in by open nation-wide qualifiers. Nodwin is backed by listed gaming company Nazara Technologies. “With BGMI Masters Series Season 2, we are once again happy to see BGMI tournaments offered to the mainstream audience,” Sean Hyunil Sohn, CEO, Krafton India, told ET.
In search of advertisers
The foray of esports would also help improve advertisers’ interest in the sector, executives across industries said. Attracting advertisers is essential as it is the biggest income source for esports firms. “To seriously grow a sports franchise in India, it is imperative that you get a portion of the above the line budgets of traditional brands in sectors like FMCG. Television is essential for that,” said Akshat Rathee, cofounder of Nodwin.
Advertisers were also interested in tapping into the younger audience that esports brings in, Gupta said, but the challenge is in creating the right conditions for them to invest. The first season’s success encouraged Star to bring the franchise back. “More than 40% of the audience last year were below the age of 21… we were able to attract a lot of firms that had invested in sporting properties before but not in esports,” Gupta claimed. The first season had food delivery major Swiggy, automaker Hyundai, ad-tech firm Glance, FMCG firm Gillette and music streaming platform Spotify among the advertisers.
Gupta said the viewership numbers from the last year had attracted much more advertiser interest this year, but declined to name them as the deals were still being finalised. Nodwin has only announced two-wheeler manufacturer TVS Motor Co as “mobility partner”.
Beyond the platforms, players have also benefited from increased personal branding deals as television has brought legitimacy to the sport, while also boosting viewership, said Harsh ‘Goblin’ Paudwal, a BGMI athlete with Team Soul, a leading Indian team.
Television coverage has immensely boosted acceptance of esports as a career, Paudwal said. A 17-year-old professional gamer originally hailing from rural Maharashtra and the son of a single mother, Paudwal says BGMI’s television broadcast has opened up the door for other kids like him.
“Before the fight was on two fronts- you had to convince your parents that it is indeed a legitimate career option, and then prove yourself in the competitions. With the TV broadcast at least one of those fights should become easier,” he added.
However, the tournament and broadcast are also happening in the shadow of the government’s block of the game, which only got lifted two months ago and is still under a three-month trial period. Last year, the game was blocked just days from the end of the first season of BGMI Masters in early July.
Industry executives, however, remained confident. “The way Krafton has addressed government concerns and brought the game back, touchwood, it is here to stay. Investment from large firms like Star Sports and Nodwin are also indicative of that confidence”, said Piyush Kumar, founder and chief executive at Rooter.
Beyond this, there is also the question of over-reliance on BGMI to bring in the views. “In terms of the scale that is required for intensive competition as well as the popularity required to justify this kind of investment, BGMI satisfies on both counts. There might be another viable candidate for these five years into the future, but currently we don’t see any game that ticks these boxes,” Gupta told ET.
The game is also well suited to sports-watching, Nodwin’s Rathee added. “A good BGMI set translates to about 5 hours of content, which is pretty much what an IPL match translates to.”
Despite the over reliance on BGMI and past events, esports continues to grow in popularity and legitimacy. In 2022, India even sent an 18-member esports contingent to participate in the Asian games.
Back home, however, no amount of caution seems adequate. “My mother supports and understands what I do for a living now… but she still needs me to finish my college degree too,” Paudwal says.