“The Valorant ecosystem in South Asia was a great opportunity for the entire industry to catapult itself”: Akshat Rathee on VCC

Akshat Rathee, co-founder of NODWIN Gaming
Akshat Rathee, co-founder of NODWIN Gaming

The Valorant Conquerors Championship is about halfway done, and the competition has been far from disappointing.

A lot will ride on the teams going into the second qualifiers, as this pathway circuit will provide them a ticket to represent their region on the international stage of the APAC.LCQ.

In an exclusive conversation with Abhishek Mallick of Sportskeeda Esports, Akshat Rathee, co-founder of NODWIN Gaming, opened up about the vision behind the making of the Valorant Conquerors Championship.

He even talked about the early days of NODWIN Gaming, the state of the Indian esports scene as it stands today, and how exponentially it will grow in the near future.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation.

Q. Sir, can we start by having you tell our readers a bit about NODWIN Gaming? Not many know its origin story, and we would love it if you can walk us through some of the organization’s early days and how it all started.

Akshat Rathee: NODWIN Gaming, our seven-year-old company, germinated as an idea between a bunch of friends aiming to bring together the intensely passionate gaming community. An unfortunate incident in the form of the IGC in 2012 served as a catalyst for us to bring back “lost honor.”

I had the responsibility to run the StarCraft part of the tournament. But with no facilities in place and absconding organizers, we brought our community to my place did an event called NIGC (Not Indian Gaming Carnival). It was a fulfilling community-run tournament.

That event made my goals clear but not the path. We started by setting up India’s largest gamer-trade network, followed by a partnership with Valve to set up their server farms.

Then, the ESL India Premiership was launched as part of our strategic tie-up with ESL, and this was to introduce the Indian gaming community to its own national championships.

Today, NODWIN builds and operates its esports properties, provides marketing solutions to brands to help them engage with audiences, and produces live and scripted content for media partners in India and the emerging gaming markets of South Asia, South Africa the Middle East.

Q. You were often vocal about how esports as an industry has been constantly on the rise in the nation. What would you say have been some of the biggest benefactors for developing the ecosystem in the country? Especially when it comes to the esports titles, which do you feel had the biggest impact?

Akshat Rathee: The esports sector has quickly evolved from being a baby to a teenager in the last few years. We’ve not achieved our full potential yet but are on our way there.

We’ve built a solid foundation and are now adding layers to better it in terms of investments, innovations, ideas, and constant experimentation, as there isn’t just one benefactor to speak of here.

A few key factors that have led to the dynamic growth of the sector are:

  1. The changing mindset among parents towards youngsters passionate about gaming and want to take it up professionally.
  2. Increasing mobile and internet penetration, particularly in rural India.
  3. Affordability of 4G networks across the remotest areas.
  4. The acknowledgment of Indian esports by the Government of India.

In the last two years, what has also propelled this sector is the increasing digitalization and shift to digital platforms due to the COVID-19 imposed restrictions. Our tournaments have gotten bigger and better; the prize pools are getting larger and more lucrative with every competition. Investors continue to invest in the tremendous potential that this sector has to offer.

Significant investments in Indian gaming companies like NODWIN by global gaming giants like KRAFTON have earned the Indian esports sector its rightful place on the worldwide map, thereby greatly contributing to the commercialization of the entire ecosystem. We’re also seeing massive interest from big brands in esports and gaming, so all in all, it is a fascinating time for esports in India.

Coming to the titles, dedicated tournaments around particular games like CS: GO, Valorant, and PUBG Mobile (before the ban), where Indian gamers have their fair chance to make a mark, have played huge roles in the growth of the esports industry.

The consecutive editions of the ESL India Premiership and the Valorant Conquerors Championship took the sublime existence of esports to much higher levels, giving due recognition to gaming and its players.

Furthermore, the continued endeavor of other companies to innovate in the segment with having more indigenous IPs is giving a tremendous boost to the industry.

Q. Esports in India is still very much stigmatized and not often seen with a positive outlook. However, it’s slowly being considered as a viable career option. Do you feel there will come a day when this industry is taken as seriously as any other traditional sport in India?

Akshat Rathee: Absolutely! We’re already halfway there. We’ve successfully overcome the initial hurdle of being taken seriously as a financially viable career option.

Look at our whopping prize pools! Young professional players are making money based on their talent, speed, and agility.

Esports is generating the right buzz among India’s youth, and very soon, you’ll see its gamers achieve cult statuses like many of our sports and movie superstars. Today, even in a cricket-obsessed country like ours, esports already ranks second to the IPL when it comes to prize pools.

If we look at the numbers, the cricket industry is worth ₹20,000 crores a year. Esports will be closer to this number in the next 5-7 years.

Q. “Responsible Gaming” has always been a NODWIN motto ever since its conception. What are some of your thoughts and expectations regarding the future of the industry in the nation? How influential will professional athletes and content creators be in the coming days?

Akshat Rathee: Yes, and that motto will continue to drive all our future strategies. Responsible gaming underlines a few regulations and measures implemented on esports/online gaming.

These are not restrictive measures and will not interfere with your gaming experience. However, they are meant to safeguard the gamers and gaming community. We are here to build esports as a sport with a soul.

Over the years, viewers and gamers have understood that esports is not luck-based but requires astute precision of skills and gaming acumen, which has been advantageous in creating a niche of its own.

Professional esports athletes and content creators are already gaining a lot of popularity, and moving forward, they will have a crazy fan following. Hence, their ability to influence the audience will only increase.

Q. With NODWIN Gaming finally announcing the Valorant Conquerors Championship for South Asia, fans in the region are overjoyed to get a shot at international representation finally. Can you shed some light on some of the thoughts and vision that went behind making this pathway circuit to the APAC Last Chance Qualifier?

Akshat Rathee: The Valorant ecosystem in South Asia was an excellent opportunity for the entire industry to catapult itself to stardom. A representation in the Last Chance Qualifier was much sought after because of the enormous buzz it created last year.

Our partner Riot Games and we shared a common vision: to get South Asia the much-needed international visibility that it deserved.

A region brimming with talent cannot be overlooked. Hence we formulated a pathway that brings in rigorous competition and awards our best teams a slot higher up in the ladder towards VCT.

Q. What are some of your expectations heading into the competition? What sort of participation are you looking for from the region?

Akshat Rathee: We’re currently looking at an estimated 800-900 teams in all the sub-regions combined. We still have the second qualifier for the India and Pakistan & Afghanistan region, who have been the top contributors so far.

Q. The circuit is set up in a way to boost inclusivity among all of the minor regions. Can you tell us a bit about VCC’s roadmap and the role that NODWIN Gaming is playing in all of this?

Akshat Rathee: The roadmap for VCC is pretty simple. We have five regional qualifiers and one wildcard. The winners of each qualifier will secure a spot in the Playoffs, while the runner-ups will earn themselves a second chance to compete for a berth through the wildcard qualifier.

The winner of VCC will represent South Asia in the APAC LCQ.

NODWIN comes right in the center of this whole picture. A NODWIN Gaming IP is connecting the South Asia region to the bigger roadmap of VCT. It will be our job to see through the end-to-end execution.

Q. What chances do you think that teams from India and South Asia have against some of the best that the APAC Last Chance Qualifiers have to offer?

Akshat Rathee: Qualifier #1 of India and Pakistan & Afghanistan has shown us what firepower the region carries. I’m not doubtful of the competition they’ll be giving to the top teams like X10 and Full Sense.

SEA is a challenging region to get through, but we have a whole new generation of fearless athletes in our ranks. Qualifier 1 champion Velocity Gaming made it to the top ten Asian teams last year, and we’re yet to see what other sub-regions have to offer. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Q. Do you have a tournament favorite going into the competition? A team that you are backing to win it all.

Akshat Rathee: In my heart, I’m backing South Asia. I might sound diplomatic with this one, but that’s what it is. May the best team win!

Q. What are some of your thoughts on the development side of the Indian video games industry? With Raji: An Ancient Epic getting the amount of success that it did, and how promising the upcoming Ballad of the Asura looks, what sort of growth can we expect from the industry in the near future?

Akshat Rathee: The content that is being created out of India for games today is just mind-blowing. With its rich diversity in culture and languages, India offers developers a multi-faceted landscape to come up with innovative and creative ideas and stories for games.

India has the potential to be among the top five game developers in the world, given they utilize the stories from our vibrant history and weave narratives that grip the audience. Even if we deviate to multiplayer games, we still have a vast pool of great games coming out of India.

SICO and FAU-G are two names from the top of my head that, when fully developed using the best minds in the country, will carry the potential to challenge a few of the biggest titles in the world.

Edited by Ravi Iyer
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