AYU Official : Streamers such as Mortal, Dynamo, among others, are nothing short of celebrities in the gaming world. Streaming live for hours, these gamers get millions of views on YouTube.
In November, the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium in Delhi, resonated with loud chants of ‘Mortal! Mortal!’ as YouTube streamer Naman Mathur, who goes by the name ‘Mortal’ entered. The KD Jadhav indoor hall was filled with thousands of fans screaming and cheering on their favourite players, booing rivals as the competitive spirit rang through the stadium. This was the PUBG Mobile Club Open fall 2019 South Asia regional finals that saw over 25,000 people attend the event over five days of intense gaming, teams strategizing between games and cricket-like commentary that over 2 million watched live online. It was nothing short of a massive sporting event.
Such is the popularity of the PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) in India. “Mortal is considered the Sachin Tendulkar of the PUBG world,” said at least three professional PUBG players and team owners that TNM spoke to.
PUBG, which came to India in 2018 as a mobile game, took the country by storm with millions across age groups getting hooked onto the 15-30-minute game. With Jio just having released cheap data plans, and mobiles becoming more accessible, PUBG has reportedly seen around 20 crore installs in India in less than three years, the highest in the world for the game.
While the violent nature of the game has often come under criticism, popular players and streamers such as Mortal, Dynamo, Carry Minati, Daljitsk, Scout, among others, are nothing short of celebrities in the gaming world. Streaming live for hours as they play every day, these gamers get millions of views on YouTube, with fans and rivals flooding the chat section. While Mortal has 6 million subscribers on YouTube, Dynamo has over 8 million. There are also regional PUBG players that stream in regional languages, garnering thousands of views.
These players, along with their teams, have even represented India in several global PUBG championships, where the prize money goes up to thousands of dollars.
“Apart from cricket and Bollywood, I think PUBG Mobile is the biggest thing to ever hit India. I haven’t seen craze this big,” says Animesh, who co-founded Team Soul and manages popular streamers such as Mortal.
What made PUBG so popular?
Animesh attributes the popularity of PUBG to three things: Internet accessibility, mobile accessibility and Tencent’s marketing of the game.
Gnanshekar, CEO of Team Tamilas says that once PUBG Mobile was released, everyone started downloading it and “because the game was so good, everyone got addicted to it.”
When Tencent, which developed the mobile version of PUBG in partnership with PUBG Corporation, saw the immense popularity of the game in India, it decided to make it competitive, launching tournaments in India. It was these tournaments and the competitive nature of the game, which further drew millions to the game.
“Tencent came and took the market by a storm with tournaments, setting up the esports ecosystem and everything in India,” Animesh says.
Gnanashekar, who also works with various organisers of similar tournaments, pegs competitive PUBG gamers in India at around 3-5 million.
‘Six figure earnings’
Apart from the official PUBG Mobile leagues organised by Tencent, there are also several local outfits that organised licensed tournaments, each offering prize money that runs into lakhs of rupees.
“These tournaments are humungous because all the celebrities of the PUBG world compete and everybody comes to watch who performs better. It’s just like cricket. Prize money for any smaller events will be nothing less than one lakh rupees. It goes on till about Rs 2-3 crore. Players first compete in regionals, then qualify for Southeast Asia qualifiers and then eventually go on to play the world league. Indian teams make it to the top 5-10 most of the times,” Gnanshekar adds.
Not just professional teams and players, there are also thousands of streamers, who may not compete professionally, but stream live as they play the game, attracting millions of views. These streamers too, earn a handsome sum, thanks to their popularity.
The prize money of tournaments, along brands promotions and with income from platforms such as YouTube, made gaming – PUBG gaming in particular – a very enterprising career for thousands of youngsters in India.
While Animesh says that players like Mortal earn around $50,000 through prize money alone, Gnanshekar says that all popular gamers and streamers easily earn in ‘six figures’.
Animesh also gives the example of 19-year-old PUBG Youtuber Soul Regaltos who has 1.62 million subscribers, who has won over $15,000 in prize money.
“Imagine an 18-19-year-old coming from a middle-class family, and through his skill set, he’s been able to make that amount of money. This is what we were able to achieve. Career wise, it became a very big thing,” he adds.
The popularity of the teams in India was such that international e-sports teams came to India to forge partnerships with them. E-sports giant TSM partnered with an Indian team Entity Gaming, while another popular team Orange Rock was acquired by multinational video game service company Pole and reportedly earned over $120,000.
Impact of PUBG ban
Therefore, while there were several memes of parents being happy to rid their children of the addiction of the game, the ban on PUBG by the Indian government came as a rude shock to thousands of players that were building their career in gaming, which largely hinged on PUBG.
PUBG Mobile Pro League South Asia Finals recently concluded that saw TSM Entity and Orange Rock come second and fourth and were set to compete at the PUBG Mobile Bangladesh Challenge scrims. They will now have to withdraw.
“We had big plans for 2021 as PUBG mobile just announced $2 million prize pool. That’s 15 crore rupees for the upcoming season,” Animesh says.
A ‘budding’ gamer who didn’t wish to be named said that he had dropped out of college to pursue gaming and now stares at an uncertain future. “I now have to face the wrath of my parents as well. Let’s see, everyone in gaming is being positive about this. Hopefully a good alternative will come about,” he says.
Many in the field are of the opinion that budding professional gamers are likely to be hit hardest, unlike the very popular ones.
“At a competitive level it is going to have an impact. When the news broke, my e-sports team that had four players were worried about what will they do after this. But since they’re under us as an organization, we might figure out multiple ways to keep them going. But imagine the people who are not part of any organization and are budding gamers who have four players and they form a team. This is will affect them a lot. They don’t know what to do now. But hopefully, there are alternatives. Again, the whole PUBG ban is all related to the country’s privacy and security,” Gnanashekar says.
In fact, this is the attitude that most of the gamers showed post the ban.
Streaming on this YouTube channel right after the ban, Naman (or Mortal), said that while all tournaments in India will now be on hold, the ban is only a setback and not the end of gaming.
“We will be supporting the decision. Safety of the country over everything. We’ll follow it. It’s not the end of gaming… PUBG officials have told me that they are trying talks and figure out what to do. But it’s not the end… It’s like we have been pulled a year behind,” he told his viewers, as the comment section was flooded with support.
Animesh echoed the same sentiment, saying that the country’s national interest and security comes first.
It’s more of a setback, but not the end. We saw our audience coming in and commenting that our careers have ended. But there are a number of gaming titles which we can opt for. Ultimately, we are gamers, we are not PUBG Mobile gamers. Yes, PUBG made up 95% of our playing time and our content but we are switching to something else, we’ll try to bring in a new game, something that is maybe not tampering with the privacy of our country,” he adds.
But so far, no mobile game in India has garnered the kind of popularity that PUBG did. For streamers too, who also played other games, viewership was the highest for PUBG, with many instances of viewers demanding that they stream PUBG.
However, some feel that this is a great opportunity for streamers to try out and experiment with other games.
Prabhakaran, a popular PUBG player and streamer from Tamil Nadu who goes by the name MidFail-YT says that it is definitely going to have an impact and that switching to another game isn’t that easy. Prabhakaran, who streamed for 10-12 hours on a daily basis says that he now has to figure out what to do with his time once the game is banned.
“I can’t just change to another game. My viewers too won’t adapt immediately. My viewership that was for PUBG will keep on dropping and as a result my revenue will drop. It is going to get very difficult,” he added.
While the desktop and console versions of PUBG haven’t been banned, gamers say that it is unlikely that many will switch to that. “If I’m a mobile gamer who plays PUBG Mobile professionally or am at a very addictive level, I might I might not go to PC because it might cost me somewhere between Rs 70,000-80,000, unlike a mid-range smartphone that will cost me somewhere between Rs 10,000-12,000,” Gnanashekar says.
The game changer for PUBG was its accessibility on the mobile phone.
Brand sponsorships and event organisers
While speaking to TNM, Animesh had calls lined up for the day with several brands and partnerships that he and his team had signed. “This is something where we’ll definitely face trouble. I need to realign with them and see what the future looks like,” he says.
Gnanshekar also agrees that it would come as a setback for brands and event organisers as well. Having worked with brands and event organisers, he says that they might have to push dates of upcoming tournaments or even scrap them. This would have a massive impact on organisers since PUBG brings in a lot of money for prize pools and sponsorship.
“They’re clueless on what to do. They will eventually figure out an alternative. But PUBG ban would have definitely hit them hardest,” he adds.
However, gamers continue to remain optimistic. “We are always looking at the positive side. I can now stay connected with you guys longer. So, what next? There are so many games to play. We will do many activities together and a lot more will happen,” Naman told his viewers on Wednesday.
“I am looking at this as a very optimistic move because we started from zero and had no plans to become so big. Now we are confident that we can start something else and take it to the same level. I don’t want to cry over what’s been done. I am trying to move on to the next game, the next big thing and try to keep gaming continuing and growing in India,” Animesh adds.