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Hoping to return with LAN events in 3rd quarter of 2020: NODWIN Gaming CEO Sidharth Kedia 

  • Despite COVID-19 adversely affecting the entire country, India's e-sports ecosystem is on an upward trajectory.
  • From a mobile-first future to the demise of PC gaming, NODWIN CEO Sidharth Kedia discusses a host of e-sports topics.
EXPERT COLUMNIST
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Modified 07 May 2020, 02:53 IST

Sidharth Kedia is confident about India
Sidharth Kedia is confident about India's e-sports future being mobile-first

E-sports has become an unlikely beneficiary of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Several traditional sporting athletes as well as fans have switched to the digital realm in order to fulfill their competitive and entertainment urges.

For several weeks now, Formula One drivers have been participating in the Virtual Grand Prix series. The event aims to replicate the actual F1 calendar but on a racing simulator, with the participants playing from their homes and thus maintaining all the requirements of social distancing. The race runs for a duration of 1.5 hours and has been termed by the FIA as an 'e-sports alternative' during such testing times.

Like all other markets, adapting is the name of the game even in the sports field. And India is not too far behind in that regard.

Apart from a sharp increase in downloads of games such as PUBG Mobile Lite, Garena Free Fire and Ludo King on Google Play Store, the Indian market has also seen a rise in the number of people watching e-sports tournaments online.

NODWIN Gaming, India's largest e-sports company with a global footprint, recently registered a roughly 30% increase in viewership for their e-sports properties - including the PUBG Mobile Pro League (PMPL) scrims. This exponential rise in spectator base is indicative of a paradigm shift of live sports viewership, from the traditional to the e-sports realm.

Sportskeeda recently had the pleasure to chat with Sidharth Kedia, Group CEO of NODWIN Gaming. We discussed a host of topics, including e-sports during COVID-19, India's mobile-first future, the demise of PC Gaming in the country and the company's vision for the future.

Here are the excerpts from the conversation:

Q. Do you think e-sports has been an unfortunate beneficiary of the COVID-19 pandemic? How much of the 30% viewership increase do you reckon is due to migration of fans from traditional sports to virtual ones?

I wouldn't say unfortunate; rather, I'd say unexpected. While COVID-19 has brought the world economy to a standstill with many businesses struggling to stay afloat, the e-sports industry, on the contrary, is reflecting some encouraging numbers.

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In terms of revenues and viewership, we have seen a marginal increase in engagement on our digital platforms by 5-10%. That does suggest a paradigm shift from traditional sports to digital platforms during the lock-down period.

That said, we feel that this is only the beginning. There is a lot more to come and we foresee a substantial rise in e-sports viewership, particularly among the youth, going forward. In the next couple of months, we will continue to see an upward trajectory.

Q. A lot of celebrity e-sports leagues are happening across the world, including the E-Premier League. Do you think such tournaments could be held in India as well?

Yes, why not? It is possible, and we are working towards creating such opportunities in India.

However, we believe that a well-structured and established ecosystem has to be put in place before launching any large-scale leagues. Our team is working hard to achieve that, and to offer a larger-than-life gaming experience to the users.

Q. Historically, PC games such as DOTA 2 and CS GO have barely got any viewership in India compared to PUBG Mobile. Do you see India’s e-sports future as mobile-only?

I would say that the future will be mobile-first - simply because of the massive penetration of the mobile market in India. E-sports viewership is directly linked to the gaming landscape, and when the landscape is predominantly mobile-based, the larger viewership is naturally mobile-based.

Having said that, we have high hopes from other media like PCs and consoles as well, which provide an equally seamless gaming experience.

Q. Certain e-sports titles which have been doing well in other countries, such as DOTA 2, have been cut from ESL India’s plans. Do you see a return of this popular genre to the national ESL setup?

If you see the trajectory of the Indian gaming populace, the audience is more inclined towards shooting games. We have seen a drop in the number of strategy genre games, and a massive surge in numbers for battle royale and First Person Shooting (FPS).

Games like PUBGM, Free Fire and Fortnite have a huge user base because of their simplicity. Also, the thing with the strategy genre is that our generation has too short an attention span for something as involving as DOTA 2.

Fast-paced action in the smallest amount of time is the consumer requirement.

Q. What do you think is the future of LAN finals and events - like ESL, Dramhack, PMCO and PMIS - in India?

LAN events have been our core strength and we see huge participation from our users for these events. We are hoping to return with those grand LAN events by the third quarter this year.

That said, we are waiting to see how the lockdown situation pans out so that we can make our moves accordingly.

Q. How does NODWIN attract the casual gaming crowd into the e-sports realm? For example, CS GO has a massive player base but not a massive viewership, while we see the opposite of that in PUBG Mobile. What steps do you take to address that imbalance?

Our regional penetration is really strong because we’ve taken our events to 150-200 cities in India through college-campus tournaments and gaming-cafe programs. While we are constantly immersed in the digital realm, we are establishing our connection in the physical world as well.

Our grassroots tournaments are open for all, so that no one is deprived of the opportunity. We have strong social media and community management teams that keep track of the changing trends by working closely with the community members.

We take the team’s inputs and work around the community interest. Various community cups, social media campaigns and online scrims are based on the general trends in the community. This is our way of building interest for e-sports in a casual gamer.

Q. NODWIN recently opened up international operations in countries such as South Africa. What is the strategy to enter international markets like, and how has it been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

At present, South Africa is where India was five years back. Since we have garnered expertise in mobile e-sports, we looked at regions that had good potential in the mobile e-sports space. That is how South Africa came into the picture.

It is a region where gaming is an intrinsic part of the culture. Mobile penetration is high and data prices are among the most expensive in the world. South Africa shows stark similarity to India’s former e-sports ecosystem and that gives us great comfort because, looking at South Africa’s trajectory, we can predict our e-sports and gaming potential.

Speaking of COVID-19 and lockdowns, we have the Inkosi Super Cup online tournament for the region. That is a three-month-long online starter cup that is also a gateway to the much bigger Umzansi Esports League – the national e-sports championship of South Africa.

Q. You worked in the media and entertainment industry before your entry into e-sports. How different do you think the ecosystem is in the two industries?

The media and entertainment industry is a much older, more developed and mature ecosystem, which is good for its incumbents. However, opportunities for any kind of innovations are limited. Also, given India’s demographic divide and changing consumer preferences, media has a lot of catching up to do.

E-sports, on the other hand, has leapfrogged this curve since it is an industry for the youth and by the youth. The nascent ecosystem has huge potential, and presents a great opportunity to be molded in the right way. 

Q. Several top organisations have entered the Indian market, such as Fnatic and TSM. Which other game titles are NODWIN looking to explore in the near future?

We are working actively towards building new publisher partnerships. We keep adding any game that is e-sports ready and popular among the community, to our repertoire. 

Q. NODWIN previously had a stint on national TV with D-Sport. With the growing rise of PUBG Mobile, will we see properties such as PMCO go on national television soon?

We have our series of shows on MTV - Esports Mania. We are powering four hours of premium e-sports content every week.

Regarding the broadcast of specific tournaments and their games, that is an evolving conversation with the publishers for multi-platform media rights.

Q. Having been in the business since 2012, how much do you think the industry has changed in the last half a decade?

The industry has completely transformed. When e-sports in India started out, it consisted of a small number of PC gaming enthusiasts. But now it has evolved to mobile e-sports. Prize money has experienced more than 100% year-on-year increase for top tier tournaments.

India is now leading the world in mobile gaming and mobile e-sports alongside China. Just like how cricket went from Test matches to ODI to T20, e-sports in India is following the same trajectory.

Q. Recently, a controversy involving a former NODWIN employee created a stir within the e-sports community. Do you think NODWIN Gaming employees have become indirect role models for the community? 

NODWIN will keep taking every possible measure to ensure a non-toxic environment for the gaming audience. This is a community where everyone can have fun.

The organization values and ethics vital to NODWIN Gaming cannot be compromised with by the players or the community.

Q. Finally, what are your thoughts on the future of the Indian e-sports ecosystem? And what is NODWIN’s plan for the next five years?

E-sports in India is still growing, and the industry is in its nascent stage. NODWIN is at the forefront of this industry, trying to develop an end-to-end ecosystem of e-sports. You will continue to see our manifestation of what we are doing to develop the ecosystem as we move forward.


Published 07 May 2020, 02:53 IST
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