India’s esports industry set to paddle towards the mainstream

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Esports is gaining more root in the sports industries with its involvement in mainstream sports globally. Evidently, it is no longer just a part of the Asian Games; Esports has taken the lead by making it to the Olympics. But, Tokyo Olympics failed to consider this as a medaled event and included it as a pre-series event. At the same time, Asian Games left no stone unturned in giving it the recognition it deserves to get.

With Esports making it to the top tier of sporting events, the discussion has taken a turn from ‘if’ the government will legitimise it with proper recognition to ‘when’ will the government take the necessary steps of drafting a framework to legitimise this sector. 

For instance, In 2018, Tirth Mehta won a bronze medal at the Asian Games. But unfortunately, this medal did not make it to the final tally as esports was only a demonstration title, and the government did not recognize it. But with Asian Games 2022, the sports industry has witnessed a much-needed upsurge to establish the sector.

As shared by Lokesh Suji, director of Esports Federation of India and vice president, Asian Esports Federation (AESF) with the Financial Express, “With the growing talent in India, We have high hopes of winning medals in the upcoming Asian Games 2022. Hence, now is the time for the government to establish a framework and recognise the Esports sector so that we can go full scale on the preparations for Asian Games 2022.”

While Rajan Navani, vice chairman and managing director of JetSynthesys says, “Esports is at a nascent stage in India. Hence, the need to regulate the sector before it reaches its potential does not sit right with us.”

However, as the talks within the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and other government bodies grow grave, the government must regulate the sector while legitimising it. But, the industry opines that the government should frame guidelines and not put regulations on it. 

But before setting up the regulations, the government must first understand the sector from a closer perspective. Due to its nascent stage and considering the blooming phase, the sector is currently shrouded in obscurity. Therefore, it is evident to differentiate esports from other gaming segments while laying down its definitions as clearly as possible for a layman to understand.

Upon successfully defining the industry, the government must form a governing body consisting of people who are adept at understanding the ecosystem. According to a majority of analysts, Esports governing bodies must consist of eminent personalities who have knowledge of content and content certification to create guidelines, jurists who can create frameworks while coupling them with six to seven Esports industry stakeholders.

Manish Agarwal, CEO of Nazara Technologies, highlighted that “the central gaming body should have a perfect balance of the right set of people understanding the ecosystem, experts and authority. Further, it is imperative that this body be given a certain amount of power to solve any queries raised on its own, otherwise the whole system will be defunct. I believe this is what the government should strive towards rather than getting into the micro-nuances of governing and regulating the Esports sector.

After the formation of this Esports body, the government should frame holistic guidelines that encourage global and local games while fostering physical and mental fitness. In addition, the games that will be included as Esports must set clear guidelines on age appropriation, content appropriation and local and global mix of content.

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“Esports is very much like any other sport. Hence, the same rules should apply for this sector with certain additions customised to Esports. The framework should also keep a check on gamers data and how international and domestic publishers are utilising it,” Rajan Navani, vice chairman and managing director, JetSynthesys, said.

While the government is in talks with the Esports industry stakeholders, it is trying to get a stronger grasp of the new segment to draft a fair framework for publishers and gamers. According to the latest FICCI-EY report on Esports in India, Esports currently has over 150,000 professional players and generates viewership from 17 million people across 14 broadcast platforms. If chances remain in favour, these numbers will grow to 1.5 million professional players and 85 million viewers by FY25.

Progress is on the radar of these stakeholders because they believe that the government should organise Esport national championships and broadcast them on Doordarshan to help it become a mainstream sport in India.