Akshit Pushkarna
Gaming and e-Sports

E-sports tournaments find favour with India’s leading brands

The country’s e-sports industry, which is growing at a CAGR of 46%, is likely to see participation from 100 brands in 2022.

India’s e-sports market is booming. Brands across categories, such as smart wearables, hardware, energy drinks, etc., are sponsoring e-sports events in the country.

Indian gamers are reaping the benefits of this sudden influx of advertising money into e-sports. The prize money pool for premier tournaments can sometimes be to the tune of Rs 1-2 crore. 

According to the ‘FICCI-EY Media and Entertainment Report 2022’, India’s e-sports industry is growing at a CAGR of 46%. The market will be worth Rs 1,100 crore by 2025. As per the report, the number of e-sports players in India doubled - from three lakh in 2020 to six lakh in 2021. 

The number of competitions has also increased significantly - e-sports teams have grown by over 50%, from 60,000 in 2020 to a lakh in 2021. The total prize money in 2021 crossed Rs 20 crore and the viewership increased from six lakh hours in 2020 to two million hours in 2021.

The rapidly growing industry has also drawn interest from brands. As per the ‘FICCI-EY’ report, in 2020, only 45 brands advertised in e-sports competitions. In 2021, the number grew to 72. A total of 100 brands are expected to partner with e-sports tournaments in 2022. Brands like Intel, Monster, Red Bull, MTV, among others, have partnered with e-sports tournaments, till now. 

"The Indian gaming industry has changed significantly over the last five years," mentions Piyush Kumar, founder & CEO, Rooter. "Before 2018, India’s gaming market was dominated by casual gaming. People spent more time playing games like ‘Ludo’. Casual games don’t require high commitment, in terms of the time spent, frequency and money."

InMobi’s ‘The Mobile Game Advertising 2022 Report’ highlights the fact that mobile gaming is currently one of the most sought-after platforms for advertisers. The report says that three out of four brands in India have been advertising on mobile gaming for over a year now. This, in turn, has increased the overall expenditure on gaming ads by 100%, since 2020.

What changed India’s gaming scenario, was the introduction of first-person shooting games about five years ago. These games, which are classified as medium to hardcore ones, require users to invest money, and keep abreast with new developments and variations. 

With e-sports taking off in India, in-game advertising in casual games has taken a back seat. Brands now are bullish about sponsoring e-sports events or partnering with gaming content creators, say industry watchers.

In-game advertising is not a common route that brands take these days. The reason behind this, industry experts say, is that it entails high costs. Also, there is not that much traction on the exact impact of the collaboration.  

Rooter’s Kumar explains that the business has seen ads from all sorts of brands over the past two years. “We have seen advertisements coming in from all sorts of brands. H&M, TVS, Airtel, ACT Fibernet, Intel, to name a few. Ads come in from across the board, but the commonality is that they all are targeting the millennial population.”

Rohit Jagasia, founder and CEO, Revenant Esports, says that e-sports competitions and their streams draw high viewership. 

"Sponsoring or partnering with e-sports events is a lucrative way to reach out to Gen Z and millennials. When these events are streaming, the user attention span is much higher than any other ad medium. Further, e-sports is a spectator sport more than a competitor's sport. A majority of people who watch e-sports, don't even play the sport. Hence, the viewer base is vast and brands always want to get associated with e-sports."

Jagasia explains that advertising in these events, is usually done via the sponsorship of teams. His team, Revenant, competes in various e-sports events. Brands endorse jerseys, merchandise, etc., for these events. The latest company to venture into an advertising deal with Revenant, is Puma India. The company sponsors the team's jerseys.

e-sports has made a mark on TV too. Jagasia shares that the IP of this television shows secured sponsorships from Swiggy, Hyundai, among others, when BGMI Tournaments were broadcasted on Star Sports.

The revenues for companies like Revenant and Rooter, have shot up 3-4 times because of these sponsorships. Rooter’s Kumar says this is because brands know that when they target users who watch e-sports streams, the engagement is high. It helps that those watching e-sports streams are likely to be financially independent or the decision-makers in their families. 

With the growing viability of gaming as an advertising avenue, there are some challenges too. Since there are no specific guidelines for ads in e-sports, event organisers are open to partnering with brands that are otherwise prohibited from advertising on more traditional mediums.

The Esports Federation of India (ESFI), the primary promoter for such events in the country, doesn't have any set guidelines for advertising.

"As of today, we are working towards laying down the guidelines, in terms of sponsorship and advertising. Having said so, the video game developers also play a large role because their product is being used for these competitions. These developers do have guidelines which prohibit the promotion of alcohol or pornography or tobacco," Lokesh Suji, director, ESFI, & VP of the Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF), tells afaqs!.

Suji says that many e-sports tournaments are still sponsored by online betting platforms.

“Big-name brands that organise such competitions, are also associated with these platforms. ‘Dainik Jagran’ recently organised a Call of Duty Mobile tournament where betting platform Betway was a presenting sponsor. Gaming influencers and content creators also promote these betting avenues. I think that the government should take a very serious cognisance against these companies who associate with such platforms."

E-sports tournaments find favour with India’s leading brands

Associating with online betting comes down to the organisers. A similar choice is presented to content creators and streamers as well.

Animesh ‘Thug’ Agarwal, founder & CEO, 8bit creatives, says that the content creators he manages have steered clear of partnering with betting apps and real money gaming apps. Agarwal has collaborated with brands like Monster, Intel, Amazon Prime, among others. 

With the influencer industry booming, there are more opportunities for creators to pick and choose their associations, he feels. "Some of India’s largest brands want to collaborate with us and integrate their brand positioning within our content. Audiences connect really well with gaming creators and that's why the industry is seeing an uptick," Agarwal shares.

He also says that by keeping aside money earned from YouTube and streaming, brand association constitutes a huge part of the earnings of these creators. According to industry estimates, a popular gaming creator can make anywhere from Rs 1-4 lakh per month from brand associations.

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