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The world of Indian e-sports, according to Nodwin Gaming's Akshat Rathee

Rathee believes it's important to have a proper regulatory body in India.

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MUMBAI: Perhaps because people have been stuck in their homes due to the Covid2019 pandemic, the e-sports industry is bigger and bolder than ever before. For many gaming platforms, user engagement was at an all-time high during the lockdown and even now, the revenues are continuing to pour in.

Nodwin Gaming MD Akshat Rathee, an avid e-athlete himself has revolutionized the e-sports industry in India and has almost single-handedly expanded the company to the middle east and south Africa. In a virtual fireside chat with indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari, Rathee spoke at length about e-sports in India and the international market and the challenges faced by the industry.

Online games have three key segments: casual games, e-sports, and real money games (RMG) that are basically skill-based online games played for stakes. However, Rathee said that there is no clear bifurcation between games in India, anything that is digital and has competition is termed as e-sports by people. This is not the case in the US or UK.

He also highlighted that outside India, the law is clearer on what constitutes gambling, skill-based games and real money gaming. He explained: “In terms of practical implications, an American or European customer is worth far more than the Indian one. But during the pandemic, physical events were cancelled and that impacted the value of sponsorship more in the western world.”

In India online viewership counts for a lot, said Rathee, citing PUBG live streams that millions tune into. “Even after the ban, the entire segment has grown… In the 45 days since the downfall of PUBG in India, a lot of other games have cropped up,” he observed.

According to Rathee, game publishers did really well during the Covid2019 pandemic. “New games were being discovered, games like The Fall Guy started becoming very popular. Apart from this, game casters benefited a lot but the algorithms did not favour the smaller players in the market,” he added.

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Answering Wanvari’s question on how to clear the clutter and mess that has mucked up the e-sports and gaming ecosystem, Rathee opined that bringing in clear and well-defined regulatory measures is the only option.

“Having a differentiated definition of the word e-sports that is as per Indian regulation and doesn’t apply to the rest of the world will not work. E-sports is a speed competition. Just because a person has more money doesn’t mean he can play twice. The e-sports game needs to be fair as well so that everyone gets equal opportunity to win the competition,” he explained.

Rathee defined e-sports as something that has physicality of results. It is the physicality of moves and actions that is the differentiator between the results of the participants. For instance, chess.com clearly mentions that chess is not a sport but a game. He further added, 

“E-sports are and need to be dependent on publishers. We are the world’s first sports category that is owned by someone from the very beginning. Owner of Kings belongs to Tencent, Bluehole owns PUBG, while Call of Duty is an Activision entity. So it is someone’s property – everything about the game, from the IP, data, rules, players and to the systems belongs to them,” he clarifies.

Rathee went on to say: “Another important thing is to understand the business of sports. The question arises – is e-sports a B2C business anywhere in the world without the publisher?” In his opinion, e-sports has always been a B2B business, for the simple reason that a sports organization is making money from sponsorship and media rights.

The gaming industry is at a watershed moment where the youth, information and technology, finance and IT ministry are actively making plans to regulate the sector. But there exists the roadblock of censorship and data privacy. The gaming industry is also stuck between the state and central government over GST issues. Rathee asserted that while the gaming industry is valued at less than Rs 10,000 crores, it’s like the goose with the golden egg for the government – precisely because it holds sway over the millennials and Gen Z, as well as the future of social media.  

Rathee argued that it is not easy to remove one country from the ecosystem. China also has a regulatory body that makes it mandatory for companies to license the games.

“China is in a position to ban many e-sports and games because they run the ecosystem. China already has a regulatory body which could say that you have to license games through us without which we won’t let you do it. Due to the fragmentation of the internet, the Middle East is raising concern over their cultural sensibilities. So, it is a very thin line if you put a regulatory framework in place that can be exploitative,” he shared.

At the end, the question raised is whose interest you are working for. “It is important to have a proper regulatory body in place so that the industry grows,” he emphasised.

It is high time the industry developed a strident voice of its own, declared Rathee, because most of the world outside India often looks at mobile gaming and mobile e-sports as second-class citizens to the e-sports ecosystem.   

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