By Shruti Dhapola
A state of limbo is what India’s e-sports industry is in since Krafton’s popular game Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) was pulled from the Google Play Store and App Store recently. Technically, the game has not been banned – it has only been pulled from stores due to an interim government order. And while those who have the game can still play it, for e-sports companies and players whose livelihood depends on BGMI, the current situation is certainly not ideal.
Industry executives noted that BGMI is the game that largely drove revenues and viewership in the market – it recently crossed 100 mn registered users in India, in just over a year since its re-launch. Thus, a possible ban on BGMI would have larger ramifications for the country’s nascent but growing e-sports industry.
“BGMI accounted for a large percentage of the e-sports ecosystem in India, not just in terms of prize money but teams, players and the hundreds of support roles around it, represented by media sites, video editors, streamers, and tournament organisers. There was a lot of momentum for BGMI and e-sports in India, thanks to the efforts of Krafton and the ecosystem partners,” Ishaan Arya, co-founder and head of business development at The Esports Club said over email.
Other executives pointed out that for professional gamers who spend months training on a particular game such as BGMI, switching suddenly to another game is not easy. “The most impacted people are the professional players and tournament organisers. Content creators or streamers can switch to something else, though they might experience a slight drop in viewership. But for the players, it means sitting at home doing nothing. And companies invest crores in tournaments, which make for a year-long calendar. In fact, BGMI’s creator, Krafton, has invested close to $100 mn in the gaming ecosystem in India,” said Rohit Agarwal, founder and director at Alpha Zegus, a marketing agency that’s into gaming & lifestyle. In his view, the move creates uncertainty over gaming as a career as well.
“BGMI also led to brands entering the space. We were speaking to a lot of brands after BGMI got an ad spot in IPL,” said Rohit Jagasia, founder and CEO at Revenant Esports, an e-sports company with players for BGMI and Call of Duty: Mobile. The players constitute teams that compete in professional tournaments for pooled prize money. According to Jagasia, while Revenant has diversified into other games such as Pokemon Unite and will be representing India at the world championships in London next month, BGMI was the one driving revenue in a big way.
E-sports executives stressed the need for clarity on conditions that would get a game banned and the compliances needed to make sure such situations do not recur. Some held that a redressal mechanism is needed to deal with the issue. “There has always been a lot of ambiguity in games being banned, the right channels of communication and what a publisher needs to do to comply with requirements,” Arya said.
When asked whether they see any other game generating similar interest, the executives noted that the only one which came close after PUBG was banned in 2020 was Garena’s Free Fire. But it met the same fate in February this year. “Games like Apex Legends Mobile and in the not-so-distant future the likes of Rainbow Six Siege Mobile and Valorant Mobile could be alternatives. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty over the current situation being a temporary or long-term one,” Arya said.
According to Agarwal, one option for the players might be to switch to PUBG: New State, another game from Krafton that has aesthetics similar to BGMI. Interestingly, the game has no ‘PUBG’ branding in India, and is called ‘New State.’ Still, it has not taken off in the same way. When asked whether he thought Call of Duty: Mobile could take BGMI’s place, Agarwal said it was unlikely.
— BGMI recently crossed 100 m registered users in India
— The most impacted people are the professional players and tournament organisers
— Executives stress need for clarity on conditions that would get a game banned