Indian e-sports gamers turn into athletes as Asian Games approach

The professional e-sports gamers are part of an 18-member contingent that will represent India in the Asian Games. For the first time, the sporting event has recognized e-sports as a medal sport, which is a big boost for the industry.

Ejaz, 29, from Kolkata, specializes in Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients 2), while Prajapati is an expert Street Fighter V gamer, beating about 200 other gamers, each, across categories, made it to the national qualifiers for Asian Games, held by industry body the Electronic Sports Federation of India (ESFI) last month.

The Chinese Olympic Committee and the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee have postponed the games due to a resurgence in covid cases in China. Unlike most, Ejaz said this is a positive development. “I am going to get more time to practice.”

Ejaz, who leads a five-member team said all of them need to improve coordination and communication, and develop new strategies for the Games.

Both Ejaz and Prajapati said the teams must practice extensively before the games. Interest in competitive online gaming has been soaring in India, but while e-sports is expected to grow four-fold within three years, according to a June 2021 report by EY, it is still a comparatively smaller industry.

Both of them played against gamers they were familiar with at the qualifiers and knew their strengths and weaknesses. At the event, the opponents will be far more advanced, and will offer a whole new challenge, they added.

According to the EY report, India’s e-sports industry is expected to grow at 46% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 250 crore in 2021 to 1,100 crore in 2025.

The global market is valued at $1.08 billion, according to data-tracking website Statista.

Therefore, the Asian Games is very important for gamers.“Many online tournaments appeared (after the pandemic), but it was not enough for me to make a living. To support my gaming career, I had freelanced as an interior designer.” said Prajapati. With the Asian Games, he hopes the industry will mature to a level where he can take it up as a full-time career.

Playing as a professional gamer in India has changed a lot, and gamers are getting support from parents, said Prajapati.

According to industry estimates, top e-sport gamers can earn 60,000-500,000 a month. However, the focus for most is mobile games, which pale in terms of both skill and scope of earnings as compared to large PC games like Dota 2.

Ejaz said German e-sports firm, ESL, stopped hosting Dota 2 events in India in view of low viewership. The company is among the oldest and largest operational e-sports firms in the world. Its entry in India in 2016, was seen as a big boost for the industry.

“There are very few players left in India who play professionally. Many do not understand Dota 2 because of its mechanics,” said Ejaz.

Prajapati said he has been struggling to find a coach to guide him for Street Fighter V, and continues to juggle work and practice as he prepares for the Asian Games.

On its part, ESFI, has asked athletes to seek its help . Prajapati, who is seeking help from international coaches, said EFSI will help him financially. US-based recruitment firm Ziprecruiter lists annual salaries for e-sports coaches in the range of $40,000 per annum.

Winners of the national qualifiers will participate in the Asian Esports Federation’s (AESF) Road to Asian Games regional qualifiers, which will be held later this year, and will seed players for the main event in China.

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