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BGIS 2023: When the curtains closed on Battlegrounds Mobile India Series (BGIS) 2023 esports finals, a boisterous crowd of thousands of attendees spilt onto the narrow bylanes in front of the Dome at Mumbai’s SVP Stadium. Some were clamouring for selfies with their favourite esports players (whose celebdom rivalled those of mainstream sports stars) while others rushed behind their favourite players’ swanky cars. It took me a certain level of unfettered resolution to tackle the throng and reach my Uber to leave for the airport.
“Did you go to see horse riding or something? Why was there such a huge crowd?” my Uber driver, Ram, asked me casually.
“Do you know BGMI? The mobile game? There was a tournament for BGMI and today was the final,” I explained.
“A tournament for mobile games?” Ram asked incredulously. “So many people turned up to watch people play video games?”
“Yeah!” I shouted like an excitable Agatha Christie character. “Sixteen teams competed, coming in from all across the country, and the winners took home Rs 75 lakh. The runners-up won Rs 37.5 lakh and the ones who came in third won Rs 25 lakh.”
Ram briefly braked without notice. However, he quickly managed to regain his speed and thanks to a comfortably empty Bandra-Worli Sea Link, there wasn’t any trouble.
“Bas game khel ke 75 lakh jeet sakte ho aap? [You can win Rs 75 lakh by just playing games?]” Ram asked. I even told him that esports players are now representing their countries in the Asian Games as well as the Commonwealth Games, and perhaps at some future Olympics as well — much to Ram’s amazement.
“If my child wants to play BGMI and other games now, I will now tell him haa beta, play to your heart’s content.”
Of course, I had to explain here that the ones competing are some of the most skilled Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) players in the country and it took them months and years of practice, and probably even more networking, to reach this stage.
Additionally, I also explained that even professional players don’t spend their entire day just gaming. So, if his kids want to become professional esports athletes, they should not give up on education and every other important aspect just for gaming. As with any other good thing in life, a proper plan and balance is mandatory.
But there’s no quelling Ram’s spirit. He has found something new, something interesting, and best of all, something he can afford to offer to his kids. After all, all you really need is a smartphone and a stable Internet connection, which India has plenty of. Sports is the ultimate equaliser. All you need to succeed is unquestionable skills and a drive to beat everyone else.
And Ram wasn’t the only one. At the BGIS 2023 finals, everyone from the arrangers to the venue’s security guards was pushed to their limits in trying to implement crowd control, as almost everyone wanted a piece of their favourite esports celebrities — be it a selfie or an autograph on their handmade banners. The atmosphere felt like that of an electrifying T20 match or even a rock concert.
Standing at the venue, it didn’t feel like I was seeing a counter-culture movement. It very much felt like esports was knocking on the doors of mainstream culture. And Neeraj Chopra — the Javelin athlete who’s developed a taste for Gold — agrees. But more on that later.
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What Does Attending An Esports Event Feel Like?
Sports is always a spectacle. Athletes gather together at a venue to face off against each other, showcasing their honed skills. Now, you might ask what’s so exciting about watching a few gamers pore into their mobile screens? Well, the same could be said about any non-physical sporting event — like chess.
However, at BGIS 2023, a gigantic cube was set up at the centre of the indoor stadium, fitted with towering LED panels showed all the action unfolding between the competing teams. The players sat at the bottom, on three borders of the cube, with each team getting their own dedicated LED panels in front of them, showcasing instant stats like the team name, player names, who got eliminated and who remained in the match, and so on. The players sat in their assigned zones and played on smartphones, assisted by a strew of handy accessories such as chargers, screen wipers, and cooling fans to prevent their devices from overheating.
Commentators would steadily give you a lowdown of all the action — as well as fun tidbits — on the PA, so no matter when you enter, you can easily get a grasp of what’s happening in a match.
Organised by Krafton, the developer of BGMI, the tournament kicked off in July, with a whopping 2,048 teams participating to secure their finals berth. On October 12, 13, and 15 (October 14 was marked a holiday for the India-Pakistan Cricket World Cup clash), 16 finalist teams faced off in a total of 18 matches. The team with the most points were crowned victors.
The teams faced off on different maps throughout the series, from top favourites like Erangel to trickier terrains like Vikendi. While some teams, like Revenant Esports, featured celebrated names such as Deepak Negi — popularly known as ‘Sensei’ — some other teams, like Big Brothers Esports, featured underdogs (or rather, UnderGods, as the commentators would repeatedly remind you) like Saif, who wowed the audience with his mad skills and unmatched resilience to win the Finals MVP award.
The total prize pool for BGIS 2023 was worth Rs 2 crore. The winning team — Team Gladiators — won Rs 75 lakh. Runners-up Big Brother Esports won Rs 75 lakh. And second runners-up Team X Spark was awarded an amount of Rs 25 lakh.
“We are overwhelmed and extremely proud to have emerged as winners of the tournament, claiming the ultimate chicken dinner, and a prize pool of Rs 75 lakhs. The competition was fierce, and the atmosphere in the arena pushed us to give it our very best,” Team Gladiators told ABP Live. “This victory belongs not only to us but to each and every fan who believed in us and came to support us. It took immense practice, dedication, and teamwork to get here and we’re excited to see esports continue to scale new heights in India and be a part of this journey.”
Big Brother Esports found it hard to quell their excitement. “Our dedication, skill, and hard work brought us here, and none of it would have been possible without the constant support of our fans. We’re immensely proud of our performance and excited for the future as we continue to push the boundaries of Esports,” the team said.
However, money aside, it was the fans who truly made the event a spectacle to behold. Every now and then, the crowd would erupt in chants of their favourite esports athletes and teams. In between matches, fans would call out to their gaming idols, asking for an autograph on their t-shirts and signboards, as well as even assuring them that a ‘Chicken Dinner’ is only a match away, so they better not be depressed over a loss.
Also attending the event were some more crowd-favourite esports stars, including the likes of Siddhant Joshi aka ‘S8UL Sid’. You may have to see it to believe it, but the craze these gaming stars generated among the crowd rivalled those of cricketers and even Olympic Gold medalists.
While the fans comprised mostly high-spirited teenagers, there were also several attendees who attended an esports event for the first time and were equally enamoured. Prakash, a banking professional, said, “This is my first esports event. I wanted to come for the previous two days as well, but managed to come today since Sunday is a holiday at work. I love the atmosphere here, especially the competition between the teams.”
‘Esports Players Have A Great Opportunity Ahead Of Them’
India is no stranger to gaming. Now, thanks to affordable Internet and the ready availability of a wide range of gaming smartphones and PC rigs, esports is already emerging as a lucrative career choice for many.
As per the State of India Gaming Report 2022 from AWS and Lumikai, the country’s esports industry is expected to grow to $140 million by 2027 — up from $40 million in 2022. The study further revealed a quadruple increase in the count of esports participants in India, soaring from 150,000 in 2021 to 600,000 in 2022. Projections anticipate a 2.5-fold growth in the next five years, aiming to hit 1.5 million by 2027.
Esports itself is getting wider recognition from leading sporting bodies, having been designated a medal event at the recently concluded Asian Games, where Indian teams participated. India even managed to clinch a DOTA 2 Bronze at the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships last year.
Furthermore, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach recently highlighted the extensive engagement of approximately three billion individuals in esports and gaming globally. Out of this vast number, an estimated 500 million express a keen interest in esports, encompassing virtual sports and sports simulations. Bach emphasised a significant demographic aspect, stating that a majority of these enthusiasts are below the age of 34. He added that he has tasked the newly established IOC Esports Commission with exploring the potential establishment of Olympic Esports Games.
IOC President announces plans to create Olympic Esports Games at opening of 141st IOC Session in Mumbai.
“I have asked our new IOC Esports Commission to study the creation of Olympic Esports Games.” – Thomas Bach said in his opening speech.#IOCMumbai2023 pic.twitter.com/C4lo9Vl7Un
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) October 14, 2023
Clearly, the world is looking beyond just the ‘counter-culture’ aspect of esports. Even BGIS Finals, for that matter, saw a total attendance of around 20,000 over the course of three days, claims Krafton.
“While esports has, in the past, been a less-understood industry, it is now gaining immense recognition and popularity. The love and support demonstrated by fans, traditional sports athletes, and other celebrities is a testament to how esports is becoming a part of India’s pop culture,” said Krafton India CEO Sean Hyunil Sohn. “We are overwhelmed by the amazing response from the fans and players for the BGMI tournament. BGIS 2023 has been a great platform for bringing together players and audiences from across the country and giving growing talent a chance to make their mark on a national level.“
“We witnessed a fantastic turnout, and it’s worth noting that we had over 20,000 people attending the tournament in person, over the course of the three-day finale. This not only showcases the exponential growth of the esports community in India but also shows the genuine passion of the fans,” said Karan Pathak, Associate Director Esports, Krafton. “In addition to the on-site attendance, the online viewership numbers were truly impressive. We had millions of viewers from across the country, all eagerly tuning in to witness the intense competition with the three-day finale being broadcast on Jio Cinemas and the Krafton India Esports YouTube channel. The event was broadcast in 10 languages, including English, Hindi, and various regional languages, enabling audiences from across the country to tune in.”
Pathak added, “The highlight for the athletes, however, was the immense support they received from the audience. The cheers, applause, and encouragement from fans and viewers added an extra layer of motivation, especially for the underdogs; the teams that have risen from the grassroots level to competing in a national, professional arena such as Big Brother Esports, for instance, who went all the way and claimed the second prize.”
Krafton is now set to host a friendly India-Korea Invitational Match from October 26 to 28 in New Delhi, featuring BGMI and other esports titles, played by eight local teams and eight esports teams from Korea. “The esports ecosystem is a top priority for Krafton, and we’re determined to contribute to its growth in India,” added Sohn.
Any sport, or rather any new wave, takes some time to take hold and generate buzz among the general public, especially in India where cricket still holds the key to the masses’ heart. And understandably so.
Truth be told, before Chopra astounded the world with his 2020 Tokyo Olympics Gold, nobody really talked about javelin throwing as a so-called ‘trending’ sport. Even if we dial the clocks back a little, before Abhinav Bindra won the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gold in 10m air rifle, the sport was little talked about among the general masses.
“I met with several esports players at the Asian Games,” Chopra said, attending the event as a special guest. “And I found them to be very impressive and dedicated.”
Chopra asserted that Esports is here to stay and that the “players have a great opportunity ahead of them.” His advice? “Work hard and give it your all.”
Of course, it takes incredible feats from dedicated athletes to make the world sit up and take notice. Thanks to esports tourneys like BGIS, more and more Indians will get to know about competitive gaming and esports. And who knows, maybe my Uber driver Ram’s kids might just win some Chicken Dinners worth Rs 75 lakh (or perhaps even more).