This week, under Spotlight is Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames who speaks about e-sports in India.
E-Sports is clearly a topic which is close to my heart. Being the person who actually organized the first game tournament in 2000 at Hakone in Mumbai, we had only 30 participants from all over India. We had only one game, Counter Strike with 30 people. The first team had gone to Korea, I had been to Korea way back in 2000, and seen a gaming revolution there. I think since then and now, there has been a huge change. India now has over 4 international gaming tournaments and many national gaming tournaments along with hundreds of cafÃ© or city level tournaments or mohalla level tournaments.
I think the key thing in the E-Sports arena is that I still feel that lots of people still do not consider this as a sport. I am talking about gamers themselves. I think that is the key thing. In my whole journey from 2000 to 2007, certain things really upset me when I see these gamers. Lot of these gamers, young kids, we see them smoking in the arena, we see them in the most wacky outfits and have even found some of these people drunk in some of these events. When we spoke to them, they were probably ordinary people.
I want to ask them the question that when you are asked to play for India in an international cricket match, would you like to be seen smoking or wearing these kinds of clothes and using abusive language in the stadium. You are actually becoming the role model for people. I think this is what these kids don’t understand. For them they are just gaming with four friends and can be what they want to be. But I think that’s exactly what we want to change and we want this to be treated like a sport.
Over the past three years, lot of our efforts have gone into making the gamers realize that this is a sport. Only then can we make the audiences realize that this is a sport. The biggest challenge for E-Sports in India, over the period of time, is this. The good news is that we are seeing this change over the past two-three years, we are seeing gamers becoming professional, we are seeing gamers being sponsored, and we are seeing the first medal which we won at Singapore last year, which was won in FIFA by Rubin Pereira. What’s truly applaudable is that all this success which has come to India has come with zero support to the gamers.
They are all on their own. They are kids who play at their home or cafÃ©. They have no support from their parents. Parents think that they are a bunch of kids just doing nothing. Teachers and parents are not supporting them, but we are still getting something. Similarly, look at the scenario today. After the success of Tendulkar and Sehwag and Dhoni, if parents see their son playing cricket, the reactions will be that you can be the next Tendulkar. So, what E-Sports lacks is that one image.
People like Sania Mirza, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Narain Karthiyen have become role models for people in their own respective sports. And every sport has a role model that has reached the level of success, which other people want to follow. I think that is lacking in India currently. The objective must be that gaming events should be able to create world champions, instead of merely advertising brands. And if they become big, then automatically all of us will become big.
Lots of time we have seen sponsors wanting to tuck in more than the players. And the players become the secondary important thing. In many tournaments, we have seen that the rules are not followed properly, there are no proper judges, no proper referees. In the recent major tournaments, we found that the two computers didn’t even have the same configurations. For the organizers, it doesn’t make a big difference. But imagine its like a having a cricket match where India plays 50 overs but you want Australia to only play 30 overs and make the same runs. You can’t do that!
Currently, because people don’t look at it in that fashion, it’s completely changed. So, a lot of work needs to go. The next thing is coaching. Today in India, there are no professional coaches; there is no professional training for the gamers. They have no exposure, no access to coaches, no tips, no techniques. They do not play enough international matches. So, why are our kids losing and why Rubin is number two and not number one is because the only exposure they get internationally is just once a year. Again, they are completely on their own. While, in Germany, the gamers have their coach, they have team manager and it’s treated as a sport.
2008 is the year, as a key challenge, we are going to do this and personally, forget Indiagames, I am going to oversee this and get international coaches in India who coach gamers and this is the commitment we are willing to make. We are going to get professional training, professional managers and get more international events. This year, we are at least going to get four international events ourselves, forget about the other events, because I think the kids are smart, they know the games well. What they need is exposure, coaching, fine tuning and pretty much like the Chak De movie, I think India can “Chak De” in computer games too. And clearly, we have an opportunity where we can create world champions out of India. I have seen gamers from other countries, I am not saying they are bad, they are very good. But with the given limited recourse what India has with no broadband, we have already reached this level.
Look at Korea, gamers are like Tendulkar, there are four TV channels that only covers gaming. So, it is that big. I think, once we start generating world champions, gamers will actually turn out to be bigger role models than Tendulkar because unlike the game of cricket or any other sport in India where there is politics and all sort of not so good activities, gaming is one sport where you go and win and its very very clear. It’s not cricket where it has quotas from 20 cities. So, people are disillusioned with a lot of sports in India, where they feel they won’t be selected because they don’t know somebody or something.
But in gaming, kids know that what I need is in front of me, it is my computer. If I am the champion, I am the champion. There is no gray area in computer games yet, where we have a selection committee and stuff like that. I think 2008 is going to be a turn-around year. We have set up some goals. Clearly in the next two-three years, we want to produce a world champion at least in one game. We want to see a world champion and that is what is going to completely change the face of gaming in the country. If we are able to produce at least one world champion in any game, that actually will do more for the gaming industry than spending millions of dollars in television and print advertising and anything else.
The day we have Pepsi using these guys to endorse their products and Reebok talking about them, that’s when the scenario of gaming in India will see a change. That is really what we are trying to do and we will do it with support from everyone. And gamers are getting aware of this. Last year’s WCG 2008 India finals saw Kapil Dev (Indian Cricketer) awarding medals, certificates and that all was a sports feeling. We did not make it look like a dance competition or a fashion show. That is not what gamers were looking for. Gamers were looking for this and they got it.
The next challenge is that I will personally go and meet the editors of all the major newspapers in India. Whenever we call newspapers to cover gaming tournaments, they send their technical journalists there who ask - what is the monitor configuration, what is the graphics card you are using and things like that. They completely forget that they are not here to see the monitor and graphics card, but the gamers and their performance.
There is not a single article till date that talks about how the gamers perform, what were the scores and how did XYZ person perform as compared to the rest. All the articles talk about who were the sponsors, how much money they paid and how much money the gamer is getting and that’s it. That doesn’t happen in a cricket match, nobody comes and asks about the quality of bat and where did they get the ball made from and how many bottles of Pepsi sell here. That’s not what media wants. I think the media needs to be educated and needs to be told that this is a sport thus please send sport journalists. We will urge them and tell the media to try and cover gaming events in their sports sections like a sports story. And the day we start getting one such thing, it will be a landmark for e-sports in India.
By the grace of God, we will do that this year. We will get some newspaper to take it in that fashion. And once that starts, every newspaper can report this week what is happening, which event was held where, who won, what were the scores, who played well and who didn’t. It should be that kind of journalism. I would even urge GameGuru.in to start a section where you would cover a game like a sport and not give a commentary on how bad the game organization was. It’s either this or that. Nobody is trying to actually cover gaming or the gamer itself. So, I think that’s going to be exciting and we will see lot of changes there.