The Covid-19 pandemic has hit almost every nook and corner of the world and since its very first day, it has changed the face of the society we live in. It has incurred losses to almost every sector of every economy and in these months of lockdown, people have lost jobs, homes, and families. In all of these falls, some sectors and industries saw a rapid rise. One of the many such sectors is the world of esports, which due to people sitting at home gained users, subscribers, and viewers in multiple folds.
This is an interview with one of the leading gamers of the country, the man who has represented India over 50 times and has brought home trophies like no other gamer before. The man who has changed and is helping change the face of electronic sports in the country and the man who is the inspiration behind the success of many. This is a dialogue with Mr. Santanu Basu, APESCON President, LetsGameNow Founder, and the FIFA champion who rose from a small cafe to the world stage.
We have witnessed a plenitude of home hours during the pandemic. And I believe that has proved to be quite profitable for the esports industry. Would you like to enlighten us on the same?
Well, if you ask me I believe that the hardcore gamers, whether Covid or not, are going to play. And obviously, there have been extra users and extra hours during Covid and it has helped the gaming community in a way. But I would say that the crowd was already there and the people who played religiously will play religiously irrespective of the pandemic. But I believe the views of the parents have changed as they wouldn't want their kids to go out. Rather they would ask them to stay at home and play there instead.
India is having a great time right now to be in the esports arena
The last decade was the actual birth of the esports industry. And it is clearly one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. What do you feel about this change in Asia and to be geographically specific, in India alone?
To be honest, Asian countries like China and Korea have entered this arena before this decade, like around 2005 almost. Around 2005-06 the World Cyber Games started in Korea and it has been booming there. But obviously, after the inception of PUBG in India, the craze went on to another level. I think India is having a great time right now to be in the esports arena, as a lot of tournaments are happening, a lot of companies there, a lot of gamers are getting sponsored, so it is basically a great time to be an Indian Gamer.
We cannot really say how big this industry is. Some predict that by 2021 it might have a viewership greater than NBA. It multiplies many folds every moment. And when we really talk about the future, it is an evident statement which says: "The modern gaming market and technology are codependent and complementary." What are your views, generally from the perspective of a gamer, on the rising explosion of a virtual ecosystem?
Well, what we have witnessed in the last few years is that more than movies and TV shows, people are watching games and the content from games have been watched as many hours as other sports. And even the prize pools of DOTA and Fortnite are almost similar to the other sporting events. So obviously it is like taking a huge step in closing the gap between other sporting events and esports. And it is already a promotional sport in Asian Games, so once it gets recognized in the Olympics it will glow even brighter.
We see that with a rise in gaming and its base of gamers, there is a demand for the advancement of technology. What do you perceive could be the next big reveal for the industry when it comes to ease of gaming?
Well, I think with AI and VR coming in, we will see a lot of advancements in the same. Like gamers do not need to put passwords wherein they can just show their faces for facial recognition and then log in. I think when it comes to ease of gaming, all of these similar sorts of advancements are the next step forward.
We do not see here people coming and staying in cafes overnight but I witnessed that in China.
How different is the gaming environment in India different from those of the nations elsewhere?
Actually, I have been to China and there they have 24-hour cafes. Even the gamers, they play for like 24 hours and tournaments happen every week. I will give you an example of FIFA, which in India the tournaments are very less. But in China every week there is a tournament in FIFA, and a similar environment is seen for other games like DOTA and PUBG. Whenever you walk into a cafe you will find people practicing and it's the complete opposite of the culture we have here. We do not see here people coming and staying in cafes overnight but I witnessed that in China. There are small bunker beds and they play and stay there for like 5-6 days. But then again with the inception of new gaming teams like Entity and Global Esports who have done boot camps for the gamers, the scenario has slightly changed in India as well. But to reach the level of China it is going to take a long time because, with that enthusiasm and the facilities, they started 12 years back to reach where they are today. So we need a lot of grinding and tough work.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that a gamer in India faces?
The first thing is the challenge of servers. A lot of these are not in India so the games basically lag in connectivity and that is something I face personally too when I play online. Like for example in Singapore, the normal internet speed is around 50 to 60 Mbps and the ping is as low as 1ms or 2ms. But here in India, the minimum ping I get is around 30ms. So their normal and our normal are completely different. But I believe it will get better with time.
We have already sent gamers representing India to Malaysia, Maldives, and Germany
LetsGameNow proved itself to be a very successful platform in opportunizing young gamers with an incentive to pursue their skills with the consoles. So, Mr. Basu, when you first started how colossal did you think LetsGameNow would become?
So basically the start of this journey was with a tournament called World Cyber Games which was very famous and was started by Samsung. But eventually, it was shut down in the year 2013. So after that basically no FIFA tournaments were happening and I decided to start a company called AFGC (Asian Football Gaming Championship) which is now the longest-running Esports tournament in India and South East Asia as well. We started off in 2013 and we went on to 14 different countries as live events. Every year we organize tournaments in 10 to 14 different countries but obviously, the Covid pandemic has forced us to stay in the online platform of organizing for now. So in 2019, I decided to create an online platform of gaming interaction and so LetsGameNow was created. We have already sent gamers representing India to Malaysia, Maldives, and Germany from LetsGameNow. My primary target is to give as many chances to Indian gamers to go abroad and showcase their talent.
We were supposed to bring the FIFA World No.1 hereto India but the pandemic didn't allow us.
Your success story is truly herculean. You have been prodigious to the esports industry. But when the pandemic hit there surely were setbacks. How did you plan on turning this into an opportunity?
Well, to be very honest, we had just 50000 users till January and were just in our beta phase. But after the pandemic hit, we reached around 1.5 lacs subscribers and users. And that was without any marketing that we were seeing such a jump in users. Because obviously a lot of kids were at home and we understood the reason as to why the user base went up. But I believe that Covid was not much beneficial for us as we depend more on LAN games and we want to send players abroad. So that has been a hiccup but we are making them play online. We were supposed to bring the FIFA World No.1 hereto India but the pandemic didn't allow us. So we are making him play online with our gamers here.
We witnessed an influx in this industry. Viewership and partnership, both saw massive explosions. What are your thoughts on the scenario post this pandemic?
I think getting past this phase will take us a little time and obviously not before 6 months or sooner. But obviously, we will lose quite a percentage of users, say approximately 20 percent. We are just going to lose a flying percentage of these viewers but I believe most of them are going to stay and get hooked on to this gaming.
We make these amateur gamers play a whole month and we make them face the top players at the end of the month.
When it comes to gaming, India is witnessing a rise in COD-Mobile and WildRift. But these games are still in their early years, not sure to go through a great rise in the recent future. What plans does LetsGameNow have when it comes to maneuvering these gamers' potential at the international level?
Well, to be honest, whether it's PC games or mobile games, we are trying to focus on the ground level and make more amateur gamers play. That has been a strategy from the start and that's what we have been following. Whether it's COD Mobile or Valorant, we are trying to make more and more gamers come and play on our platform even if they are not pros. We make these amateur gamers play a whole month and we make them face the top players at the end of the month. This helps them keep the competitive spirit alive and at the same time, they can learn from the professionals as well.
How frequently are these tournaments held between the Indian gamers and the international professionals?
We are trying to do this once every month for now. But we surely hope to extend the hours and lessen the gap between the tournaments. Let's see, if we grow larger we will be aiming at multiple tournaments a month.
Through these alliances, I aim to send our Indian gamers to every nook and corner of the world.
Covid-19 had its pros and cons and I believe you experienced consequences of both, as an individual, a gamer, and a man providing a platform to millions. But would you be kind to tell us about the visions you hold for the next 5 years when it comes to the future of LetsGameNow and Indian Esports?
Currently, I am the Vice-President of the Esports World Federation (ESWF) and the President of the Asia Pacific Electronic Sports Confederation (APESCON) and we have around 40 to 50 countries aligned together. So through these alliances, I aim to send our Indian gamers to every nook and corner of the world. At least to these 40 to 50 countries for the next few years which will surely benefit them with massive exposure. And for games like Fortnite which are not popular in India but in countries like the United States, we want to send these players to the US. If someone is good at FIFA, we want to send them to the European countries like France and Germany and we have already done that. If a player is doing good in DOTA or League of Legends, we want to send them to Singapore to compete in the tournaments there. This helps them to learn from the best. So that is the vision now, to give as much exposure as we can to the Indian gamers.
They don't necessarily have to wait a year for a tournament. We want to send them internationally every month. I would also like to tell you that last time we sent 2 guys to Malaysia and 1 guy to the Maldives for FIFA and every time the Indian gamers have won there and come back with the trophies. Even 3 to 4 guys playing FIFA have been signed by International gaming teams and that is the kind of vision we hold. We not only make them play but also help them get sponsored and signed up for teams as well so that they can prosper more.
Finally, a heartfelt gratitude to this great man for sharing his thoughts with us and the world of gamers, who need this piece of guidance to take their steps and decisions for a future in this industry. Such words from such a man are the ones that go down in the pages of inspiration and motivation, for the generation that need it and the generations that are to take over the next scenes.