NOT MANY people can say that they owe their career to pancreatitis. But that’s exactly what India’s first and probably only professional gamer Santanu Basu claims. Basu, who had to undergo surgery for the condition when he was just seven years old in 1993, says being bedridden for around seven months after the surgery ensured that his passion—gaming—became his profession. During that phase, he would pass his time and keep himself occupied playing video games.
Today, the 28-year-old has gone on to be sponsored by US-based gaming company Tempo Storm, which discovered his talent after he came third in the Fifa-organised online e-games tournament held in Yiwu, China, in May 2015. He also won a prize money of 15,000 yen. Rapturous applause greeted the young man from Kolkata when he won, a welcome surprise for Basu, who had always been ridiculed for his choice of profession in India. “I couldn’t believe it,” he grins.
But the road to success has not been easy. Basu had to deal with angry parents who could not understand his profession. But persistence and, as he confesses, a great deal of foolhardiness made sure he had his way. At 21 years of age, he ran away to Mumbai, where the 2007 World Cyber Games were being held. Remembering those times proudly and with a touch of nostalgia, he says, “I travelled without a ticket in an unreserved compartment and slept on pavements for three days in the run-up to the tournament.”
Basu won that tournament and soon started getting a lot of attention from the gaming world. In 2009, he represented India as part of the official Indian Olympic Association (IOA) delegation at the Asian indoor games in South Korea, where gaming was included on a par with billiards and other indoor games.
Interestingly, Basu’s story is one that goes against the odds. Unofficial estimates, even in advanced gaming countries such as the US, show that only one in four people go on to become professional gamers and even less go on to win professional sponsorships. The e-gaming world, in that sense, is no different from other professional sports. The other issue is that of age. Professional gamers, especially those from the US, Sweden and far eastern countries, are very young—’superstars’ aged only 14 years are a common phenomenon. The logic is that in the gaming world, reflexes are better in younger players. Also, the common belief is that though you can play professionally even in your late 20s and 30s, you would be well ‘past it’.
But put this to Basu and he gets offended. “That might be true for other games, but the Fifa tournament requires a game plan and knowing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses on the field (or more precisely on the video screen). I am still going strong and am yet to blossom as a gamer.” His regimen involves practising for five hours a day. In the run-up to a tournament, that becomes 12 hours a day.
Overall, Basu is happy with the way e-gaming has developed in the country. “When I started (in 2007), there were mostly offline events. Now, with the advent of the Internet, you can play any time against players from across the globe.” Basu admits that he is looking forward to the day when an India-Pakistan e-gaming competition would cause the same passion as a Indo-Pak cricket match. The requisites are all there, he says: enthusiastic players, sold-out matches, cheering crowds…
There are reasons why we must look at gaming seriously. A recent Nasscom-IGDA report titled ‘Casual Gaming in India’ estimated that the Indian gaming industry was worth around $890 million in 2015, with over 100 game development organisations present in the country.
Also, improved Internet connectivity has ensured that players can now hone their skills on a smartphone for as little as R5,000. “The number of events have also increased. Today, almost every technical college in India has gaming competitions. Gaming is cool now,” Bose says.