Ananya Pathak

Who watches gamers in action - and why?

A panel of four - Ajey Nagar, Youtuber; Dinesh Sharma, business head – mobiles, ASUS India; Satya Raghavan, director - content partnership, YouTube India and Supratik Sen, chief executive officer and co-founder, U-Sports, discussed the gaming spectacle at afaqs! event vdonxt asia 2020.

In a recent interview, author and investor Ruchir Sharma declared, “Globally, the gaming business is bigger than music and movies put together.” Gaming is one of the dominantly emerging fields today. However, little is known about the industry, the audience that watches gamers in action and why, and the opportunities it opens up for brands today.

A panel of four – comprising Ajey Nagar (Carryminati), Youtuber; Dinesh Sharma, business head – mobiles, ASUS India; Satya Raghavan, director - content partnership, YouTube India and Supratik Sen, chief executive officer and co-founder, U-Sports, discussed 'The Gaming Spectacle – understanding the phenomenon and the opportunities for brands' at the fourth edition of afaqs! event vdonxt asia, held in Mumbai on January 29, 2020. The discussion was moderated by Anirban Roy Choudhury, senior correspondent, afaqs!

Who watches gamers in action - and why?

Setting the context to the discussion, Raghavan picked the mic first to speak about the game streaming industry in India, how it is developing and what it means to YouTube. He mentioned that as a brand, the team started focusing on gaming as a vertical a couple of years ago. “At YouTube, most of our time is focused on what will become big in time. Gaming came to our attention a couple of years ago.” He shared that comedians like Sapan Verma at YouTube are categorised as the class of 2014, whereas gamers like Ajey Nagar are classified as the class of 2017. “In that sense, 2020 is going to be the year of gaming. This means a lot of people creating gaming content and a lot of people consuming it too. This also means a whole lot of advertisers trying to figure out how to engage with this community.”

He says this is very anthropomorphic in nature. “Not stereotyping, this industry will be largely driven by youngsters. Two years ago, we wouldn't have even talked about the topic. Today, we are celebrating the emergence of gaming pop culture.”

Ajey Nagar, who currently has around 10 million subscribers on his YouTube channel Carryminati, went on to launch another channel CarryisLive, which today has around four million subscribers. Speaking about his journey, Nagar shared that before starting his channel in 2017, he had struggled for over eight years. “I always wanted to just play games. In 2014, I realised that one cannot just grow with gaming, given that people don't really support it. I started making sketches and performing mimicry at that time. That blew up and in 2017, when I got around 500k subscribers online on the Carryminati channel, I decided to open my gaming channel as well. And that turned out to be really big.”

Choudhury then asked Sharma when ASUS was likely to make gaming a part of his brand's communication and advertising.

Sharma shared that smartphones are the de facto screen for gaming today in the country, thanks to many factors that include cheap data. “There are around 350-400 million smartphone users in the country. Of these, around 55 per cent users are youth – males between 18-35 years. And our research shows that one of their key interests is gaming.”

Giving the audience a demo of a multiplayer game from his smartphone, he stated that gaming is an enriching and addictive experience. “Earlier, there were high graphic games for computers. Today, developers are making games for smartphones that have far superior graphic capabilities. And the best part is, you can play these games at any point of the day virtually with your friends.”

He added that when one spends a lot of time on gaming, the urge to watch content around it automatically shoots up. “Several youth today are aspiring to get into e-sports. They watch professionals playing and learn skills from them. This is also going to become a big money motivator for them. A lot of career options are also coming up in this context. Also, there is nobody governing the space, which gives you the leverage to play at ease.”

Choudhury pointed out that a couple of days previously, YouTube had announced that it would exclusively stream Call of Duty League and a couple of other e-sport titles. Supratik Sen, who owns a league himself - UCypher, said the media rights for e-sports leagues will become a big thing in the future. Talking about e-sports, he quipped that PC gaming has been disrupted big time with the increasing accessibility of smartphones.

Picking up on Raghavan's quote that 2020 would be the year of gaming, he said games like PubG and Free Fire would be the game-changers. “ When we did UCypher in 2018, we did have difficulty in choosing what those PC games were, but we knew which the top ones were. There were many smartphone games, but none were garnering numbers.” PubG downloads stand at 600 million as of today, while COD stood at over 100 million downloads at the end of its launch month.

“The millennial is not watching television anymore. They are watching content late at night, streamed by the likes of 'Carry'. The gamers have a fan following of their own. This space is so unique that in the next five years, this is where the content rights are going to be,” he added.

Sen said this is the era of interactive cinema. “India hasn't yet arrived in the market to state what genre of gaming it would prefer. Once it does, it would be a big content play. Monetisation is still a grey area in the industry,” he said.

Raghavan mentioned that viewership comes first and monetisation follows. When asked if he would follow the global strategy in India when it comes to gaming, he answered,

“We are extremely local in the way we work. Our efforts, for now, are to grow in the market.”

He pointed out that a lot of empowerment is happening today because of gaming. “You do not technically need to be born a gamer. Everybody can game, it does not require specific skill sets. Anybody in the field can be successful and gain an audience and become a champion. And that is what works behind the screens.”

Nagar agrees that one doesn't need to be special to play games. He believes visuals have their own unique language. “Gaming otherwise does not have a language of its own. You could watch a gamer of any nationality play as long as his game is good. However, personality plays an important role when you are streaming, given you become a performer in that case.”

Choudhury quizzed Sharma on his thoughts about smartphones gaining traction with gamers. “We are already seeing it. Being one of the players in the segment, we have got a hardcore gaming-specific smartphone that has been designed from scratch to support gaming. It's got functions like air triggers – ultra-sonic sensors. Smartphones today have more enhanced tech capabilities like advanced cooling technology and the display supports 120Hz refresh rate, giving a mind-boggling gaming experience.”

“When we were young, only rich people could afford to play console games. PS4, PS5 were expensive devices. With smartphones, gaming has now penetrated to the bottom of the pyramid,” he added.

Sen said cricket fields and other playing arenas are still a problem area in India, which is why e-sports comes into play. “With the smartphone player community growing, the e-sports tournaments and championships would be more mobile-centered,” he said.

“Brands are still taking time to warm up to it, but I don't think it is going to be that way for much longer. 2020-22 will be an evolving time for the industry,” he concluded.

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