How This Esports Company Is Discovering India’s Next Big World-Beating Team
The explosion of interest around esports in India took many a game publisher by surprise in India, though some did indeed see it coming and have profited handsomely from its ascendance. And while the focus from an events and spectator perspective for most part is squarely on the biggest teams and the best players, little has been done to surface up and coming talent.
It’s something Penta Esports founder and CEO Anurag Khurana is intensely aware of. He’s no stranger to competitive gaming, helming leadership roles at the likes of Riot Games, Reliance Jio, and PayTM before starting Penta Esports. To help him realise this, he’s enlisted the help of likeminded industry veterans such as Kiran Noojibail, a known shoutcaster and personality in the space as co-founder and head of esports. IGN India spoke to the duo to find out how Penta Esports plans to bring esports to the masses and unearth the next world-beating talents from the country.
The Current Esports Tournament Structure Is Flawed
Usually what tends to happen is that esports events are of two types. The first has pro teams or creators who are directly invited to play for a prize pool while the second is you traditional open tournament. While the latter has seen some upsets in the past, by and large they’re predictable fare with lesser known teams getting no visibility, Noojibail explains.
“These are designed and bracketed in such a way that the first few days all amateurs are thrown out and when you start your broadcast of the event, it’s only the pro teams that get the limelight,” he says. “It’s a very hard grind for someone who starts off.”
Simply put, this is because unlike traditional sports like cricket that have a proper system in place, esports doesn’t even have a club cricket league in place let alone a Ranji League.
“There’s no real structure per se at the grass roots level for someone to make it into the pro circuit, the idea was to give amateur players an exclusive platform where they go up against their peers in a level playing field,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Penta Esports is cutting corners with its presentation though. Khurana insists that these events will have the same production values and treatment you’d expect even if the players aren’t topflight yet.
It’s an intriguing way to solve for a sustainable ecosystem of esports talent as opposed to other approaches with a similar tack. The underlying principle is to ensure Indian esports players are nurtured and given an idea of what to expect.
“It’s amateur players but every other aspect of the event will be done at the highest standards,” he says. “This is so they get the limelight based on their performance and get enough recognition to allow them to have what we feel is a much easier transition in their journey to becoming pro.”
Fair Prize Pools for All
To make this happen Penta Esports dedicates an entire month to a single game with the goal of increasing participation numbers for that specific title as well as having the same prize pool regardless of the game or its popularity.
“The prize money for our amateur league is equivalent to any tier 2 tournament organiser hosting a tournament for that title and it’s same across the titles, it’s not that because it’s BGMI it’s higher, and if it’s something else it’s lower,” says Khurana. “An esports player is an esports player irrespective of the platform or the game being played.”
In addition to levelling the play field in terms of player perception, Khurana believes this is necessary to show them the monetary gains for their skill while ensuring viewers know there’s potential beyond a handful of popular names.
Some of India’s best esports teams are lined up too, to use Penta Esports’ amateur leagues as scouting grounds to find the next great addition to their rosters. He was hesitant to share names at the moment though he claims that “a couple of teams” have agreed to be “part of the program.”
Mobile Esports Is Four Times Bigger Than PC
So far there have been some early wins. The firm’s first Valorant tournament which saw close to half a million views in about three days.
“Peak viewership was 9,900 odd and we only started our channels three days prior to the tournament,” he says. “It was a great success in my book.”
Penta doesn’t plan to rest on its wins just yet. Khurana claims that its marquee events for a big mobile game like Battlegrounds Mobile India and Free Fire, “this number should be at least four times of our Valorant event to call it a success.”
Despite PC and mobile being the obvious choices, the company has its handful with console esports too. It’s hosting the ongoing Toyota Gazoo Racing Championship for GT Sport on the PS4.
Most esports companies shy away from console tournaments due to their inherent complexity. Noojibail tells me that the PS4’s relatively small install base in addition to an even smaller number of Indian PS4 owners that own GT Sport, the requisite DLC for the event, and the necessary PS Plus subscription needed to play online were tough challenges.
The Biggest Problem With Console Esports
Until they realised a rather straightforward solution: give participating PS4 players a copy GT Sport and the necessary car DLC as well as a PS Plus subscription for the duration of the event.
Suffice to say the sponsor, Toyota had to be convinced as well.
“This a pretty large barrier to entry for someone to take part in the event and simulation racing genre is in itself very niche,” he says. “This is something we decided together with Toyota to ensure we get maximum enthusiasts to take part.”
With Toyota’s buy in, the event is going on as planned though Khurana leaves us with one parting remark about the biggest hurdle to making console esports mainstream from his experience that’s currently unsolvable.
“These games were not meant to be played over the Internet,” he says. “The net code written for them is not up to the mark.”