Only Valorant has come close to competing with CS: GO, says Mohit Israney, MD and Co-Founder of Global Esports
A success story is a narrative woven into the very fabric of people’s dreams, sweat, and turmoil. And for a certain co-founder, the path leading to his ultimate destination has been a grind as heavy as a Dark Souls game at 20 fps.
Mohit Israney has remained the unsung hero of the Global Esports storyline. He was just as instrumental as his friend in creating one of India’s most prominent esports organizations.
A friendship that started in childhood has bloomed into something incredible. In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the MD and Co-Founder of Global Esports gives an insight into his life, journey, and inseparable bond with Dr Rushindra Sinha.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation that Mohit Israney had with Abhishek Mallick.
Q. A filmmaker by profession and a gamer by design, your journey leading up to your position as the MD and Co-Founder of Global Esports must have indeed been an incredible one. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the road that led you to who you are today?
Mohit Israney: Yes, it has been an adventurous journey leading to Global Esports, especially since gaming was the only thing I knew growing up. The moment a cinematic or a cut scene played inside the game, or when I watched a new title’s trailer, all I wanted to do was work in a team that makes these breathtaking videos.
Something about the fantasy realm piqued my interest, and I wanted to make these movies full-time. As a kid, I dreamed of making these movies come to life but had no idea that someday I would indeed end up becoming a filmmaker.
Games of every genre inspired me, be it single-player, multiplayer, or console, or even at LAN tournaments or online titles. It didn’t matter. I was comfortable speaking the language of games and knew that I wanted to make my career around it. In college, I wanted to pursue Game Designing, hoping that if I could learn how to make them, I would forever be immersed in this universe.
After studying Science for two years in junior college, I secretly gave an entrance exam to a game design school and managed to get in. The only downside: it was a diploma and not a degree, so when I told my parents, they insisted I opt for a formal degree before chasing my passion. So I did just that; put my passion on hold to complete my degree.
The two choices that I had for a degree were Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and Bachelor of Mass Media. I was not the brightest student, and math was something I never understood, so BMM became the obvious choice.
And that’s when my filmmaking career technically started because I met some enthusiastic people living life like the content creators of today, always wanting to shoot pictures and create videos around anything and everything.
Since I was the techy gamer in the group, well-versed with computers, I volunteered to edit their films. When Rushi and I had our first startup, there were many videos and commercials we created that I edited, so I had a rough idea of how to work the software. But filmmaking was a step into the unknown.
Our first live-action project, which I struggled to edit, was selected at an inter-college film festival. This made me realize the potential of filmmaking and how we can create something meaningful if we put all our effort into it. And that’s when I began working hard to learn every aspect of filmmaking.
Whether it was learning from the material available online or putting things into practice, we did it all. In the second year, when our short film played at a massive film screening hosted by our college, and we got a standing ovation, that was the moment I decided that the choice I made was the right one.
The ability to make other people feel certain emotions by something you have created almost seemed like magic.
After graduating, I decided to work in the Bollywood industry to gain experience since I was not in a position to afford a formal education at a film school. It was challenging to kickstart my filmmaking career, especially since I had no connections in the industry, so I would make indie film videos with Rushi and my friends and submit them to reputed film festivals.
Little did we know that the first commercial we created would win at the Beijing Film Festival.
That explosive start gave us the hunger to do more and taught us how to create large-scale films with limited resources. Slowly, more movies led to more accolades, and before I knew it, I was a full-time director.
The one thing that remained constant in my life while I was on my journey to becoming a filmmaker was video games. At the end of a working day or whenever I got a break, Rushi and I met with a few friends and played video games to our heart’s content. And it’s that essence that gave birth to the idea of Global Esports, where we are working full-time in an industry we love and understand.
While working as an assistant film director in a reputed production house of Leo Burnett, Rushi and I would meet and discuss possibilities of startups and what we could do to take things to the next level. Esports was something we both resonated with the most, and just by hosting a simple watch party, Global Esports was born.
Q. As a professional filmmaker, you have an oeuvre of remarkable accomplishments. From winning the Tribeca Film Festival, New York, and the Beijing Film Festival, to being the in-house director for Leo Burnett, you have a lot of accolades. Where does the persona of ‘Mohit Israney the gamer’ come in? Just how much of your passion do video games take up?
Mohit Israney: It all started with video games, way before films came into the picture. I would say a lot of my personality and my way of doing things were shaped because of video games. It has made me learn how life can be the ultimate game, and we need to do certain things to level up and defeat the boss to complete the level, just as you would in any game.
I learned various aspects of leadership, communication, and teamwork while playing different games, translating to the skills required to become a good director/filmmaker.
I still practice and stay updated with the latest games, just to keep the competitive spirit alive. I think, even today, playing video games is the ultimate stressbuster for me, and I love how your mind can refresh and make new connections while you sit back and enjoy. It helps fuel my imagination and creates the right atmosphere to come up with new ideas.
Q. I heard an interesting anecdote about your childhood, where it was your elder brother who first introduced you to video games. You were just three years old at the time, and both of you were avid console players before you entered the Counter-Strike and Dota 2 scenes. Can you walk us through some of your fondest childhood memories where video games played an important part?
Mohit Israney: Yes, I was introduced to video games when I was three, as ‘the player 2’ for my brother, because it’s not fun to play games individually. This moment transformed the way I looked at life, and it became an everyday tradition for us to play video games and catch up on life.
Think of it as a bonding session where two kids talked about life and beyond while focusing on video games. This, to me, was the essence of playing video games because although you played the game with another person, it was also a chance to connect, interact, and showcase your skills.
It became an integral ingredient for me to develop my social skills and connect with like-minded people.
The fondest memories from my childhood were when we kept aside everything in our lives to complete a particular game. The feeling of accomplishment after clearing a game after hours of hard work was always a moment to cherish.
Q. In the field of competitive esports, you were quite successful as a professional Dota 2 player. Can you tell us a bit about your time as a Dota 2 pro, and what made you love the game so much that you ended up devoting so much of your time to it?
Mohit Israney: I was more of a competitive Dota 1 player than Dota 2 pro, and my professional career started accidentally. There was a cyber cafe next to our college, where Rushi and I were introduced to Dota and competitive Counter-Strike players. Soon enough, we were hooked, and suddenly, Dota’s all we played.
The teenaged me was bored of playing the long Warcraft 3 games and wanted some fast-paced action, so I explored various custom games, and Dota was something I landed up playing before it even got its name. This single-hero system became one of the most vital elements that made Dota ready for esports.
In a random lobby, a guy called Grape Soda was impressed with my gameplay and asked me if I’d like to play on his competitive team. At that moment, I did not want to say no to the opportunity, so I agreed and began playing Dota on a competitive level. It was a fantastic journey towards learning how a team prepares for a tournament and what goes on behind the scenes to keep a team afloat.
The learnings of an esports athlete’s life have become an integral part of what we do at Global Esports, and it was an honor to take part in so many professional tournaments.
Q. Is your Dota 2 profile still active? Who is your favorite hero in the game, and why?
Mohit Israney: Since I played Dota competitively, unfortunately, the profile is not active, but I am sure that I can find some exciting highlights from the tournaments I played.
My all-time favorite hero is Pugna because there’s so much I can do with this hero to harass the enemy team. I enjoyed the aggressive playstyle he had to offer, and he was my go-to pick when I wanted to play casual and have some fun. But when it came to competitive, I would usually pick a hero like Rubick, and later in my career, Anti-Mage became my go-to hero.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current state of Dota 2, and how Valve has dealt with all its various issues, which have persisted for some time.
Mohit Israney: It’s highly unfortunate because Dota 2 still has the potential to be one of the greatest esports titles in the world. The problem lies not within the game but with the publisher, Valve.
While the game’s highest level is hugely glamorous, with tournaments going into the millions, the grassroots level is a desert because not enough effort went into cultivating it. A lot of talent with the potential to make it to the top tiers didn’t get a chance to compete simply because of a lack of infrastructure and opportunity.
Q. It’s not every day that we see a friendship that blooms as well as yours has with Dr Rushindra Sinha (CEO & Co-Founder of Global Esports). The two of you go way back and were even able to make a successful MMORG a decade ago. Tell us a bit about the game that the two of you made so long ago and how the dynamic is like between you and Dr Sinha.
Mohit Israney: Yeah, I guess we have been lucky to see our friendship evolve into the startup we only dreamed of as kids, and it all started with our Ragnarok Online Private Server. RO was one of the first of its kind MMORPGs to be launched in India, and we were hooked.
We played so much that we became the top players on the server and wanted to implement more of our ideas into the game. So we wrote to the developer, but all our emails fell on deaf ears, and that’s when we decided that we need to create our version of the game.
Working with Rushi has always been a fun experience. He’s extremely proficient at handling the backend and inner workings, and I utilized my creativity to help aesthetically improve what we were building. When we decided to create our server, he began learning coding and figuring out the software part of turning the idea into reality while I worked on the design and game aspects and how the entire thing would look and feel.
We spent hours bouncing ideas off of one another about unique features that we could implement. All this free-flowing brainstorming eventually took us from a Ragnarok Online Private Server to the family that we have now built, Global Esports.
Q. How did the existence of Global Esports the organization come to be? Today, Indian esports fans see it as one of the nation’s largest companies, which caters to over two million gamers and even has recognition worldwide. What were the initial years of Global Esports like? Talk to us about your struggles and the parts that both you and Dr Sinha played in its success.
Mohit Israney: The famous question! The existence of Global Esports was a total accident, and here’s how it all happened. Back in 2017, while I was working in the advertising world as a filmmaker, and Rushi had just come back from San Francisco from his startup venture, we wanted to work on something in the gaming/esports space.
We loved playing video games a lot, and our dream was to create something that would let us be more closely involved in the esports ecosystem. So, while I was working a full-time job as a director, and Rushi was managing his hospital full-time, both of us would meet at the end of the day to game and blow some steam off, as was our usual routine.
Each day, we would toy around with various ideas that would help us figure a way to make a full-time career in gaming, but something or the other would not add up, and we would try the next day again.
At that point, The International, a renowned Dota 2 tournament, was around the corner, which we were following religiously since 2011, and we decided to watch that edition together.
But instead of just the two of us, we thought of calling our old Dota gang. The response was more than we expected, and there was no way Rushi was going to host 50 people to watch the game in his house. So, we thought, what if we host the tournament outside, like a watch party, and invite everyone we know from the community?
I suggested that we host the event at a sports bar, just like they host any other cricket or football game. Rushi loved the idea, and we put out a Facebook post announcing the event, and we got such a massive response that our website crashed. It was a funny moment, but we were happy because we had RSVPs from more than 250 people who wanted to watch the event with us.
The idea came to us on a Tuesday, and we successfully hosted the watch party on a Saturday. And that was the first-ever event we did under the banner of Global Esports.
The event got over, and Rushi and I were back to work, but without even knowing it, we had entered the esports industry. Everyone who heard about the event started to get in touch with us, asking when the next event would happen. From brands, sponsors, tournament organizers to other esports organizations, we had no idea what we were doing next, but there was so much noise that it got us thinking.
This was an exhilarating time for us but also challenging because we saw a void in the industry, which we had no idea how to fill. Committing to an idea we had given birth to before it became Global Esports was the struggle we both had to go through. Both of us worked from 9 am to 7 pm in our respective fields, and night-time, post-dinner, was when we worked on our startup.
The biggest battle we faced was going to work the next day. The only silver lining was knowing that we will be coming back to nurture our startup at night. This was the feeling that brought a smile to my face each time I traveled across the city on a local train during rush hours.
Quitting our jobs was not easy, and there were many times we could have easily given up, but we believed in our idea so much that we were ready to do anything to make it come to life. Having each other’s backs during these times was a thing that felt like a game, and it was this idea that we had been discussing since we were kids that led to the inception of Global Esports.
Q. Apart from being the MD and Co-Founder of Global Esports, what other active roles do you play in the organization?
Mohit Israney: Apart from running the business aspects with Rushi, my primary focus is working on all the content that goes out of Global Esports. Being a filmmaker, I wish to incorporate a lot of learnings into the esports ecosystem, and with gaming now becoming a form of entertainment, I feel I am right in the center of video games and movies. It’s incredible exploring and innovating every day.
Working closely with brands and figuring sponsorships is something that I enjoy doing since it was one of the major things I did in the advertising world. I am actively involved in all decision making, whether on the esports and player side of things or the content front. Rushi and I work as a team, playing the good and bad cop whenever and wherever needed.
Global Esports is a startup, and as with every startup, you have to wear multiple hats at all times. So although my role and title might be that of an MD, it changes throughout our journey.
Q. Valorant, for now, has been growing exponentially in India. The esports scene of the game has successfully seen many tournaments in the past couple of months, and the prize pool seems to be going up. How far do you see Valorant going in the Indian esports ecosystem?
Mohit Israney: I feel the next biggest thing after PUBG Mobile is going to be Valorant. A lot of professional players have already switched to Valorant from games like CS: GO, R6, Overwatch, Fortnite, and PUBG Mobile, and this is just the beginning.
In the upcoming year, we will see a lot of action, especially in the Indian Valorant scene. Riot Games has managed to hit the right balance in the game, where the mechanics and utilities are similar to other titles like Overwatch and Counter-Strike. This makes it easier for people to watch and understand them, not just as spectators sports, but also as esports titles. And now, with the Mumbai servers out, the game is only going to go uphill.
Q. The Global Esports Valorant team finally got its first tournament win in Phase 2 of the Skyesports Championship Series 2.0. What was the atmosphere like in the room after the win? As Team Tamilas pushed it to five maps, tension must have been running high among the players.
Mohit Israney: First of all, I would like to thank Skyesports for hosting an amazing tournament. Talking about the atmosphere, I would give huge props to HellrangeR, since, being the captain, it’s hard to play and take care of the other four players’ tempo and confidence.
Tensions weren’t that much, but yes, Team Tamilas gave us a good fight. A big shoutout to them for putting up an excellent performance, and congratulations on winning the TEC Series 3.
Q. After HellfightR’s departure to Velocity Gaming, your Valorant squad probably had to rebuild its team synergy and develop new strategies that gelled with the new line-up. How hard was it to get the players back on the same page again?
Mohit Israney: It was a bit challenging for the entire team, but we are working our way towards building a promising roster that can compete internationally. For this, we have tried a couple of players, but it hasn’t been easy since HellfightR played a major role in the team, that of a ‘Lurker-Cypher.’
And we all know that a good Cypher in the team plays a significant role since it’s all about getting information to the team.
Q. Talk to us about the new recruit Lightningfast. What role does he play in the squad, and how well has he adapted to his teammates?
Mohit Israney: Lightingfast will be filling in the role of Lurker in the team in specific maps, but mostly, he will be playing Cypher. It wasn’t that hard since he played CS: GO for our roster for the past six-odd months.
I think he’s got a lot of raw aiming, just like Deathmaker, but he needs guidance and a little pushing. I believe we will be able to provide him that through our expertise.
Q. Riot’s other IP, Wild Rift, is almost on the horizon, with its Indian open beta launch. How well do you feel Wild Rift is going to fare in the Indian esports ecosystem?
Mohit Israney: It’s tricky. While I feel like the game will blow up, I’m still unsure about its success in India. MOBA games are not easy to learn, and League of Legends: Wild Rift is exceptionally complex in the sense that there are over 40 champs now, and they’ve all got different skill sets.
Then again, we’re all hopeful that the game will succeed in India simply because of Riot. Its success with Valorant in India and everything it’s known to do for the League of Legends community worldwide makes me feel hopeful about Wild Rift’s future in the country.
Q. Can we expect a Wild Rift roster from Global Esports once the game is up and running?
Mohit Israney: Well, you have to wait and watch! What I can tell you is that Global Esports has ensured that we’re always at the forefront, whether it’s with a new game or setting up a dominating roster in an existing title. We make sure our presence is felt one way or another, so you’ll just have to wait and watch to see what happens with this one!
Q. What are your thoughts on the current state of CS: GO? Do you think that it’s eventually going to die at the hands of Valorant?
Mohit Israney: Counter-Strike has been around for the last 20 years, and CS: GO for about eight years. It is considered one of the oldest-running esport titles and has a legacy that is almost as old as the esports industry itself, if not older.
It provided an entry point and became a popular title that most gamers started with. Many other FPS titles have come and tried to compete with Counter-Strike, with some achieving success to a certain extent in some regions, but none have been as hard-hitting as the recent Valorant wave from Riot.
The timing of the game’s release, during a pandemic where everyone was locked indoors, was perfect. The title is fast-paced and doesn’t have a very steep learning curve. It has built upon the basics of CS and added enough elements from other games to keep it engaging and fun for players and the audience, making it a great spectator sport.
Counter-Strike evolved into an esport while Valorant was built with the intent to be a competitive sport. Riot has a pedigree for hosting some of the best esports tournaments and leagues, with its other title, League of Legends, becoming the most viewed sport on many occasions.
Shortly after Valorant’s release, PUBG Mobile was banned in India, driving numerous content creators towards other titles. With Valorant being the newest and most talked-about game internationally, it was quickly picked up. This gave the game the right amount of exposure early on and allowed more people to jump on the Valorant train.
Major tournament organizers seized the opportunity and hosted streamer invitationals and tournaments with massive prize pools that gave the game extra push.
Valorant has gained popularity more than other titles, and soon, Riot saw the opportunity to release the Mumbai server, which has now changed the competitive landscape. The fact that it does not require high-end graphics to run will open up the playing field for so many players who wish to make a professional career.
Q. Is there anything you would like to say to our upcoming entrepreneurs who wish to have a career in professional esports?
Mohit Israney: We were those mischievous kids in school who just wanted to play video games. Decades later, here we are doing just that at Global Esports, turning our dreams into reality every single day, and we’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to do so.
So no matter what the world says, follow your heart and find new ways to do what you love.
Remember that the journey will be challenging, and you will fail many times, but the point is to get back up and fight, just like you would in a video game.