Diversity has always been one of the defining features of the Indian video games market.
Though this poses its own brand of challenges, many industry leaders feel that this diversity is one of the biggest strengths that the market has to offer.
In a conversation with Abhishek Mallick of Sportskeeda esports, Mr. Sagar Nair, co-founder at QLAN, opens up about his thoughts on the current state of the Indian video game industry and the role that diversity plays in it.
He talks about QLAN, the social media platform for gamers, the thoughts that went behind it and what he envisions to be its future in the coming years.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation.
Q. With the amount of growth that esports, and video games content creation have had in India over the last couple of years, what are your thoughts on where the industry is headed over the next couple of years, and where it stands today?
Sagar Nair: The growth has been exponential and for all the right reasons. Youth today prefer gaming and gaming content over any other form of entertainment and it’s being met with some stellar content by the current crop of creators and more joining their ranks.
The future trend, which we’re already starting to witness, is non-endemic brands creating branded content with gaming creators. We’ve seen brands like Mamaearth partner up with Soul to create some engaging content pieces. Just like the West, where more and more brands have integrated with gaming creators and it’s working wonders.
Q. Diversity has always been one of the defining features of the Indian video games market. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges that arise from this, especially in terms of opportunity and brand recognition for some of the more regional video games personalities out there?
Sagar Nair: More than a challenge, we need to see India’s dynamism as an advantage. We’re witnessing tech and digital platforms being adopted at a hyperlocal level in India. There are social platforms created for and dedicated to Tier 2 and 3 cities and towns. Esports live streams are being consumed in larger numbers from the deepest corners of India. This has become a great way for local brands to reach out to their target consumers in a seamless manner.
Gamers are no different, they take pride in their belonging like any other mainstream sportsperson. Brands will and are already working with them to reach out to a more targeted audience and it’s only a matter of time before these very personalities become mainstream and in turn become an effective medium for larger brands looking at expanding into newer markets.
Q. Talk to us a bit about your venture QLAN. What are some of the visions that went behind it and the function that it will be looking to play in tackling some of the issues that the nation’s esports community is facing today?
Sagar Nair: It was with our first initiative in the industry. With The Times of Esports, we started interacting with the gaming and esports community on a daily basis. Gamers, pro and aspiring esports athletes, esports organizations, and businesses engage in this space. With each conversation, we realized that there are a lot of unanswered questions that are visible barriers to the overall growth and advancement of various stakeholders in this space.
We started answering these questions backed by a lot of targeted interactions within the community, months of research and analysis, surveys, and lastly, an extensive understanding of the platforms that already exist and which gamers actively use.
Eventually, realizing a digital platform that offers problem-solving features and brings together every stakeholder with an intent to create and exchange value is the way to go, and that’s how QLAN was born.
Existing issues can be summed up into these broad buckets:
Credible connections: QLAN’s AI-enabled matchmaking feature will ensure impeccable connections among gamers, as it is one of the platform’s USPs.
Lack of recognition: The community is very vocal about their need for the recognition that they deserve. QLAN is a platform that will recognize and showcase the skills and qualifications of all the entities that are a part of it. If you’re a gamer, a content creator, a caster, a team manager, or any other role that exists in the community, you will be able to show that to the world.
Showcasing skills: Gamers can sync their in-game statistics of 10+ games across mobile, PC & console on their QLAN profile. With each gamer’s true skills on display, QLAN aims to be the go-to platform for gamers to find the right match, to connect, team up or compete with, and in the future get scouted by larger organizations.
QLAN will also empower the community with an easy-to-create CV within the app, which can also be downloaded offline.
Fragmented community: The idea with QLAN is to aggregate a thriving and collaborative community where each stakeholder coexists and create purpose-driven connections and facilitate overall development.
Q. When it comes to the business or the revenue side of Indian esports, there is still a lot of confusion as to how one can monetize their craft. What would you suggest the solution to that would be, and how does QLAN fit into this equation?
Sagar Nair: The gaming and esports industry is insanely dynamic in nature. It has to offer multiple revenue streams, be it tournament prize pools backed by brands, branded content, live streams, in-game brand integrations, the works.
What will fuel the future and make the industry mainstream is non-endemic brands seeing the value and actively investing in gaming and esports. In the west, we see lifestyle, auto, cosmetic, and consumer brands, restaurants, and more leveraging the might and potential of gaming as a genre and means of brand communication.
At QLAN, we intend on creating a value chain that will solidify the presence of all the various stakeholders that are a part of it: gamers, squads, creators, orgs, tournaments, and skilled professionals. We need to compare our young industry to any of the established ones and build towards creating the same semblance and trust and become investable. This will allow us to open the doors to welcome the big brands.
Q. There are a lot of fake profiles of esports athletes on social media. Fans usually create this to pay homage to the players they idolize, so profile authenticity is something that is often brought into question. Talk to us about some of the technologies behind QLAN that will allow the platform to ensure the authenticity of the esports players.
Sagar Nair: What’s unique to QLAN is that user profiles will not only be on the basis of names and the pictures you put up, they’ll be linked to your gaming profiles. Gamers will be able to sync their in-game profiles and stats onto their QLAN profile using their unique username and ID.
Also, with our existing inroads into the community, we’re already reaching out to the known and recognized esports athletes and organizations to extend them early access and verification to QLAN. This is both to ensure they’re getting their all-important usernames and handles and also to ensure there are no fakes.
Q. With the Indian esports market being primarily mobile dominant, where do you see PC and console in the near future? Will the disparity in popularity among the platforms decrease in the next couple of years?
Sagar Nair: In a country like ours, mobile is bound to lead the race, simply based on affordability and convenience. Add to that the soon-to-be-implemented 5G network and it’s pegged to grow even further.
However, PC gaming has always had a niche, loyal and passionate userbase playing titles like DOTA 2, CS: GO and now Valorant. Gaming PCs are also becoming more accessible with a resurgence of gaming cafes and also services that rent them out. Console gaming, when compared to Mobile and PC, is still a smaller niche.
But with the overall popularity and rise of the gaming culture, we can expect further growth within their own capacities on all three platforms.
Q. What do you feel are some of the biggest hurdles that Indian content creators face today? What would you say will be a solution to this, with respect to brand recognition and being able to reach target audiences?
Sagar Nair: From our research and understanding, platform limitations and breaking audience clutter are the two biggest hurdles for creators today.
Available social platforms have algorithmic limitations, organic reach is stunted unless one starts investing and that becomes a big barrier for creators who are just starting out their journeys.
Brands prioritize metrics like reach within a specific target group, among others, when it comes to working with creators or influencers so that brands looking to reach out to the gaming and esports community will have access to both specialized creators and a ready target group actively seeking gaming content on QLAN.
Q. Game development in India has also seen significant growth over the last couple of years. With Raji: An Ancient Epic finally putting the nation’s video games development scene on the map, what do you feel should be the next step for the industry moving forward?
Sagar Nair: With Raji and also what’s being built as we speak, Indian game developers and publishers are staring at an exciting future.
They’re creating highly Indianized titles that are garnering a global appeal, which, in my opinion, is the ideal way to push the Indian scene to the global forefront. A deeper, data-driven understanding is what I feel will further empower this industry.
Tailormade products always tend to do well in this space, delivering a user experience that the audience seeks.
Q. Cloud Gaming looks like a very promising avenue as well. How well do you feel the platform will do in the Indian video games demographic as it stands today?
Sagar Nair: Cloud gaming as a concept is something that’s setting up a strong base. Platforms like The Gaming Project have garnered a loyal following of paying customers who want to access gaming titles that are device agnostic. With 5G on the horizon, the power to play demanding PC or console-only titles on any and all mobile devices on the go is too good to be ignored. The cloud gaming future looks highly promising.
Q. How important do you feel grassroots is for any esports market? What would you say are some of the best ways of empowering them and helping them play a more active role in the industry?
Sagar Nair: It is a well-known fact that the Indian gaming and esports industry is on a swift upward trajectory. Be it the number of gamers, brands, or companies currently operating in tandem with a massive rise in gaming-focused start-ups and game publishers, the Indian gaming scene is set to witness an exponential rise.
However, it is in the nascent stage that a foundation can be laid. With QLAN, what we aim to do is create a robust and sustainable ecosystem that enables and empowers everyone seeking entry and progress in this space.
QLAN will enable gamers, aspiring esports athletes, content creators, skilled professionals, esports squads, and orgs to make connections seamlessly. Gamers meeting gamers and creating Squads, gaming organizations to scout for their new rosters, a targeted and receptive audience for gaming content creators, a willing userbase for tournament organizers to market their tournaments and IPs, and lastly, skilled professionals like designers, developers, coaches, analysts and more that are an integral part of the community will be able to access career and job opportunities.
This cohesive system, once in place, will develop into a well-oiled gaming-only community creating varied opportunities, ensuring overall growth right from the grassroots.