Professional gaming community on tenterhooks as India mulls PUBG ban

NEW DELHI: India’s professional gaming community is an anxious lot as the government mulls banning popular mobile gaming application PUBG Mobile owing to its Chinese origins. With 180 million downloads, the game accounts for 24% of total game downloads worldwide and has generated close to $28 million since July 2019 through in-app purchases.

The game is particularly popular for virtual tournaments which fetch crores of rupees in prize money. “It can be said beyond reasonable doubt PUBG Mobile is holding the flag of Indian eSports because of its massive audience and investment. And if it gets banned, it will be a huge loss for the eSports ecosystem in India,” said Sabyasachi Bose, a professional gamer.

Though PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) was originally developed by South Korean company PUBG Corporation for PC and later console, the mobile version of the game was launched and distributed by Chinese tech company Tencent. It is this connection that has put it on the Indian government’s radar.

Tencent on its part recently updated its privacy policy and announced that all user data generated in India is stored on local servers.

Rushindra Sinha, founder Global Esports points out, the average viewership for larger scale PUBG Mobile tournaments is easily over 2 million. In all our engagements with the gaming community the highest response for the community tournaments and customs hosted have been for PUBG Mobile.

“Tournament prize money in India grew 180% YoY (year on year) in 2019. The single most important driving factor has been PUBG Mobile. Although we’re just halfway through the year there has already been a total of 5 crores in prize money from PUBG Mobile tournaments,” adds Sinha.

Gaming industry in India has grown significantly after covid-19 compelled people to stay indoors. Online games or multiplayer gaming platforms have reported getting huge traction. PUBG Mobile added over 25 million new users.

Sinha said monetise-able opportunities like brands sponsorship grows if more people play and watch a game. “Smaller tier tournaments and the hundreds of new platforms that are popping up everyday allow even casual players to make a quick buck by winning community tournaments like the ones we’ve been hosting throughout the lockdown. An average eSports player playing at the Tier 1 level has the potential to earn anywhere between 50,000 to 2,50,000 depending on how skilled they are,” adds Sinha.

In the recently concluded PUBG Mobile India Series 2020, winners TMS Entity took home cash prize of 20,00,000. The second ranked Team Fnatic won 5,00,000. PUBG Mobile was one of the four games that were included in the ESL India Premiership that has a total prize pool of 1.15 crore. There are several tournaments with big brand endorsements lined up for the remainder of the year.

Though PUBG Mobile is the biggest mobile game, it isn’t the only option out there offering a world class gaming experience. Downloads of Fortnite and Call of Duty (COD) Mobile have also soared, but they still don’t have the same following as PUBG Mobile. The gaming community in India has shown to be very receptive of new games.

“I don’t think switching to other games like COD Mobile will be that difficult or will take that much time. For instance, Valorant from Riot games (a multiplayer shooting game on the lines of Counter Strike: GO) was recently released and it’s already getting a huge response in India,” adds Bose.

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