Mobile esports in India in 2023: The rise and regression

Will BGMI-centric mobile esports scene ever change?

Gaming worldwide has seen exponential growth in popularity and revenue, and as a derivative of it, esports has grown proportionally worldwide, and the tides have reached the shores of India as well. Although in India, esports has been massively focused on the mobile gaming sector instead of PC, which makes it an apt topic for our discussion even in 2023.

Mobile esports in India: How did it become mainstream

India since the 2010s has been one of the biggest consumers in the world when it came to gaming media, and the graph only shot upward with time. Multiple mobile titles became super-popular with most people having played them or at least heard of them. Games such as Angry Birds, Subway Surfers, Temple Run, etc. attained cult status as per.

But the breakthrough moment came when Supercell‘s all-timer game Clash of Clans saw a boom in popularity in India sometime in the year 2015 and the game’s Indian users doubled and tripled. India had by then developed an interest in esports at a level to conduct esports tournaments locally. The friendly attack feature in Clash of Clans was a major step forward.

Clash Royale India
Image via Supercell

With the arrival of Clash Royale and Supercell’s marketing to draw audiences towards esports, mobile esports finally began to take off in India. And in 2017 we had Supercell’s officially acclaimed tournament 2017, the ESL India Premiership Clash Royale Summer.

PUBG Mobile: The catalyst of Indian esports

Krafton‘s worldwide hit, PUBG won the PC Game of The Year Award and was therefore already a hot commodity when it was announced that the game would be coming to mobile and it would be Tencent who would be publishing the game. Within a year of its launch in India, it was already breaking records and had firmly established itself as the game to watch out for in India.

The PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 India Finals took place amidst a hype that had never been seen in India till that point in time, or maybe even in the world for a mobile game. The tournament saw some of the biggest gaming content creators in India at that time take part, namely, Soul Mortal, Scout, Owais, etc.

The PMCO was a major milestone in Indian gaming due to several reasons. Firstly, for the first time, there were widespread attempts among Indian gamers to create their own self-sufficient esports teams and organizations and to represent the country on the international stage. Also, esports as a public form of entertainment held in public venues further cemented the position of gaming in India.

PMCO 2019, PUBGM India
Image via PUBG Mobile Esports

From starting off with PUBG Mobile, the organizations started to look for opportunities in other games, in both PC and mobile to chase the common Indian dream of someday winning a major global trophy in esports. The investments made by the teams began to propel Indian gaming to new heights, with the humble teams attempting to go into PC gaming as well, all because of one mobile game that gave them the drive to do so.

For the next 2 years, PUBG Mobile would reign supreme in India, and the world as well, where it would eventually grow big enough to compete with major PC games in terms of popularity and prize pool.

The prime time of Indian mobile esports

Following the PUBG Mobile World League 2020 PUBG Mobile got banned in India and was left out of all PUBG Mobile events including the Global Championship of 2020. Unexpectedly, it was following the ban of India’s most popular game, that esports in India entered its brightest era. After the ban, the major Indian teams were left with no choice but to suspend PUBG Mobile operations, and therefore focus elsewhere.

Esports in India
Image via Government of India

As a result, other games such as Free Fire and Call of Duty Mobile emerged as the front-runners of Indian mobile esports with other games such as Clash of Clans and Clash Royale in tow. Indian teams qualified for the CODM World Championship 2021 and Learn from Team IND made it to the top 10 mobile esports players in the world, where he eventually lost, but showed the potential of mobile gaming in India.

But later in 2021, PUBG Mobile relaunched in India as BGMI, and it instantly took off to heights that were never touched before. With millions of views in every video online and hundreds of thousands of live viewers at every tournament, BGMI was smashing all records in Indian gaming. Esports also got inducted into real-time sporting events by order of the Indian government, a moment for the history books. Esports in India as a whole had truly reached its zenith.

The ban on BGMI and regression in esports

If BGMI was a blessing for esports in India, it also turned out to be a curse in disguise. In 2022, BGMI got banned in India and sent all major organizations into a state of complications. The launch of BGMI and the subsequent tournaments with massive prize pools and coverage had caused the organizations that earlier focused on all games to abandon the ideal and sidestep them in favour of BGMI. This caused the complete collapse of Indian esports.

BGMI ban
Image via News18

To make situations worse, Free Fire and Free Fire Max also received the ban hammer, and CODM was nowhere near its heyday in upholding the Indian mobile gaming scene. With all major games that can support an esports ecosystem in a country as vast as India losing their footing in the region, Indian esports entered a period of dormancy where there were no major tournaments or at least ones that caught the public eye for a while.

Not only that, some of the biggest mobile esports titles such as Arena of Valor, and Mobile Legends Bang Bang are not available in India. Thanks to the Indian Government’s policies. Now Honor of Kings global version is on the verge of its global release but chances are very little that it will arrive in India. Another big loss for the Indian esports scene.

Indian Esports and the role of other titles

The people of India have always had a strong affinity for battle royale games, as was highlighted in the aforementioned part of this article. After Free Fire and PUBG Mobile were taken off the market, it became impossible for any other battle royale games to take their place. During this time, Call of Duty: Mobile made steady progress toward becoming one of the most well-known video game titles in the Indian esports scene. Being already a very famous esports title in the PC sector, Activision was just trying to get into the mobile esports sector and increase its popularity.

During this time period, we saw a significant increase in the number of teams investing in the CODM sector. On the list are prominent organizations like as GodLike Esports, Revenant Esports, Reckoning Esports, True Rippers, Enigma Gaming, and SynerGE, among others. Despite this, Call of Duty Mobile was unable to maintain its status as a top title in the mobile esports sector in India, purportedly because Activision did not cooperate with the industry.

Brawl Stars Moon Festival, Brawl stars wallpaper, Brawl Talk September 2021, Brawl Stars World Finals 2021 brackets
Image via Supercell

Another popular title that is still active in the Indian mobile esports industry is Brawl Stars. The developers held a separate tournament called Snapdragon Pro Series Season 1 for the India region specifically which also acted as the qualifier event for the Snapdragon Mobile Masters that took place on 13th May. Apart from the mentioned titles, several other major titles are still active in India. However, none seemed to reach the level of popularity that PUBG Mobile or Free Fire had in India.

Pokemon UNITE on the other hand, finally gave special attention to India, however, being a niche MOBA title, the game never got much attention from the Indians as usual. Even though a few esports organisations are participating, it is not getting the attention it deserves. Honestly, the Pokemon Company International has nothing to do with this, it is Indian gamers’ biases towards Battle Royale titles.

The future of Indian mobile esports looks bleak

Several AAA PC FPS titles are entering the mobile gaming industry this year. At this time, Valorant Mobile is still in the process of being developed and is participating in ongoing private beta testing. Another major PC FPS title that is yet to be released this year is Rainbow Six Siege Mobile. The game has already made the announcement that it is rolling out its soft launch, and the full release is very near.

Both Valorant and Rainbow Six Siege have a significant part of the market for esports played on PCs. The fans have every right to expect that the game developers will shift their attention to the mobile esports market in the near future now that the games have been ported to mobile platforms.

It is possible that the introduction of these games may result in a revitalization of the mobile esports sector in India. However, based on recent experiences with Call of Duty Mobile as well as people’s perspectives on first-person shooter games, it is very doubtful that these titles would get close to the popularity of Battle Royale titles in terms of esports held in India.

However now, BGMI is unbanned in India and serves as a sort of much-needed source of oxygen for the suffocating esports industry. BGMI maintained its status as the “game for the people” in India with huge audience turnouts since the day of its unban. But this once again puts us in the same position as before, that is, BGMI taking over in a way that makes it virtually impossible for other games to flourish at the moment. However, Free Fire is also making a return to India as Free Fire India which will definitely contribute to the country’s mobile esports scene.

Indus Heena Sidhu
Image via SuperGaming

Not only that, India-based SuperGaming is bringing its own Indo-futuristic battle royale title Indus which is heavily inspired by the Indian culture. But that still is a battle royale.

That being said, this can be avoided with the audience having a more welcoming attitude towards the other games and broadening their spectrum of interests instead of limiting it to one or a few games. The eminent gaming personalities of our country can play a major part by influencing the viewers to become an inclusive community that can take to gaming in general instead of just one game.

What are your thoughts on Mobile esports in India in 2023? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!

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