The development is predicted to boost advertiser interest in the space.
December 28, 2022, was a landmark day for India's rapidly expanding esports industry. That day, the government recognised esports as a part of multisport events. The newly minted ‘multisport event’ will now be a part of the Department of Sports under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Further, Kumar comments, "Now, as esports has been clearly separated from real money gaming platforms or igaming (‘teen patti’, rummy, poker, fantasy, online gaming, betting, gambling, etc.), it has opened new avenues/investment opportunities. We can now go to the grassroot level, Tier-II and III markets. We can train/coach young esports athletes, and build proper infrastructure and training facilities. Esports is in the same league as cricket, football, basketball, etc."
Prabhat Kumar, director, Esports Federation of India (ESFI), says that the multisport event tag brings esports one step closer to attaining the same credibility that mainstream sports enjoy in India. It will also cause a ripple effect, attracting more sponsorships and ads.
"With the government’s recognition, gaming will now become mainstream. Every stakeholder in the industry will take gaming more seriously. The stakeholders include people involved in various competitions, investors as well as advertisers looking to collaborate with tournaments," mentions Piyush Kumar, CEO and founder, Rooter.
esports to enter TV in a big way?
Jai Shah, co-founder, Orangutan Gaming, reveals that the industry knew about esports moving out of the 'gaming' umbrella since October 2022. Recognising esports as a multisport event will allow tournaments to function like the Indian Premier League (IPL). The sponsors of teams that compete in esports tournaments, will now have opportunities to advertise on the ground as well as secure certain ad spaces on digital avenues.
"This widens the scope for brands to advertise via esports tournaments. It is something that hasn’t happened in the sector, until now. We anticipate this to happen in February.”
Given the popularity of esports streaming, Shah forecasts that the bidding process for television broadcasting rights will also become more aggressive.
Rohit Jagasia, CEO and founder, Revenant Esports, believes that advertising with esports will be a more viable option for brands if they are looking to grab eyeballs on TV. He says that TV broadcasting will lead to a different level of cash flow.
“While sports tournaments like the IPL are seasonal, esports tournaments take place throughout the year. This makes it easier for us to carve into the TV broadcast opportunity. Now, apart from the ad inventory that we already have on streaming platforms, we will have inventory on TV as well. Hence, it will be easier for talent management agencies to pitch to brands for sponsorships.”
Jagasia also points out that the decision does also curb the advertiser disinterest as well as discomfort that originated after major games like BGMI and PUBG got suspended. Shah also opines that, with the new classification in place, these games might make a comeback.
What do esports streaming platforms have to say about the development?
Esports has already established a connection with the youth via digital streaming. Streaming platforms like Loco and Rooter receive thousands of eyeballs.
Ashwin Suresh, Founder, Loco, shares, “I think after men's cricket, esports is the largest sporting category in India. For instance, Loco hosted the Battleground series (a tournament) back in June 2022. On our platform, we saw nearly 100 million views on gaming content during that month. The majority came from this competition alone. At its peak, i.e., the event’s final, more than 259k viewers watched the game simultaneously on the platform.”
“After the news broke out, many organisers started looking at creating more tournaments in 2023. We are the largest buyers of tournaments right now and, hence, received multiple opportunities to buy new properties over the past week itself. As a result, the number of advertisers showing interest in Loco, has also gone up,” Suresh adds.
Kumar of Rooter mentions, “We’re expecting esports to skyrocket this year. Many marquee brands are now passing big budgets for their advertising with Rooter. From a revenue perspective, we expect a 3-4x (growth) this year, as a result of this new development.”
How can brands leverage this opportunity?
To understand what the decision has in store for advertisers, we spoke with Dr Kushal Sanghvi, head - India and SEA, CitrusAd. As per him, the general public’s perception is set to change. Earlier, many considered esports as a frivolous, leisure activity. Now, with it being recognised as a sport, it will be taken more seriously.
Esports offers a large captive audience, who engage with these streams for longer periods and with a conviction that is lacking in engagements with other platforms that offer shorter content formats.
Sanghvi says, “We need to see a change from the creative advertising perspective. It needs to be about how brands can interlink ads within the content. That is where the larger opportunity lies. From being subliminally present, we have to look at creating more interesting engagements. Whether it’s by using rollovers, creating interesting banners, or contest promotions during competitions.”
This opportunity will be utilised by digital-first brands. “The first movers will be digital natives, direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands,” Sanghvi adds.