Thought gaming was just an idle pastime? How would you like to make money at it? Can you?
Gaming as a career? You must be kidding! Games are what you come back to after a hard day’s mind numbing work at the office. And is it not against the law to have to game for your daily bread? Not review a game, not code for a game—just play it?
The Current Global Scene
It is in the West, Korea and Japan that video gaming has come out of living rooms and basements and has been elevated into any other competitive sport like football or cricket. Teams—also called clans—made up of hardcore gamers comfortable in a particular genre like FPS, RPG or racing games compete in gaming conventions. Other pro gamers play individually. Ultimately whether a gamer is playing as an individual or as a team depends on the type of game.
As gamers started playing professionally gaming leagues have been established to conduct tournaments in the model of bodies like FIFA or ICC.
However unlike sports like soccer and cricket there is no single global body to regulate gaming. Some countries have competing leagues while others have one at the national level. Some active leagues are MLG (North America), Pro Gaming League (Canada), Championship Gaming Series, World Cyber Games (South Korea).
Most of these leagues organise tournaments sponsored by virtually all the vendors that make game oriented hardware, from mouse to motherboards to graphic cards to cooler cases. Then there are also vendor-backed gaming leagues like Dell’s College Gaming League, launched last month and open to all university students.
In order to broaden the base of gaming even more, many leagues are signing up with TV channels and broadcasting matches live. ESPN, for example, has entered an extensive tie-up with MLG to cover all gaming events organised by them. This trend is a fact of life in South Korea: computer gaming has already become a mass sport—millions of viewers watch the World Cyber Games on dedicated gaming TV channels while others get their fix from live streams on Web sites.
The World Cyber Games (WCG) is, in fact, the Olympics of video games. Started in 2001, WCG has seen rapid growth, both in terms of scope and visibility. Each country sends it own team to the games where they slug it out with gamers from over 70 countries for medals and glory. During the seventh edition of the games in Seattle last year, 700 gamers, selected from 74 countries from a pool of over 1.25 million gamers competed for $2.7 million in cash and prizes. This year’s championship—to be held in November in Cologne, Germany—promises to be even bigger and better than before. The top three countries last year were the US, Brazil and Korea—in that order.
Apart from pitting elite gamers against each other, such events are also great places for companies to launch gameing hardware or demo yet to be released games. That way the companies are able to get customer feedback from the gamers and also the regular users who throng the venue.
Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel is to gaming what Tiger Woods is to golf, or Lance Armstrong was to cycling. A 26-year-old, he is the most recognisable and has been the best for a long time in games like Quake, Counter Strike, Call of Duty and Painkiller. He has been featured in plenty of TV shows and magazines. Like any other serious athlete, he practices upwards of 5 hours everyday which might stretch to 10 hours before any important championship. He endorses and also helps companies design hardware like keyboard, mice, headsets, motherboards and cabinets that are customised for gamers. His company also conducts two-week courses in gaming at universities like Stanford and UCLA where for $3,499 a gamer will get tutoring from Wendel himself in Unreal Tournament 3. These courses never run empty.
In South Korea, the pro gaming phenomenon has gone to an extremely different level with top players becoming major celebrities. They endorse products from footwear to cereals and have their photos splashed in newspapers and TV. To get a perspective of how popular gaming is, an estimated 17 million of 48 million Koreans regularly play games.
So encouraging the situation there is for professional gaming that many gamers from other countries have settled there permanently to make a career in gaming. PC and online gaming is the rage in South Korea with the most popular games being Starcraft and Warhammer, in which they are virtually unbeatable.
The Indian Scene
As with most things related to computers and the Internet, gaming has not yet caught on in a huge way in India. Gaming has always been informal with LAN parties in the neighbourhood cyber café the extent to which it could be called an organised activity.
However in recent years, as computer penetration increased and broadband connections became more and more widely available, corporates started venturing into organising game events. One of them was Games2Win which organised a team of gamers called Temple of Seven and sent them for international tournaments like the World Cyber Games. However the experiment didn’t last long and it was discontinued.
When we asked Alok Kejriwal, CEO of Games2Win what he thought about the gaming scene in India he was quite downbeat. He said that the T-7 experiment’s failure has proved that as of now gaming is not sustainable in India.
“Gaming has a long way to go in India before it attains the reach and popularity levels in the advanced countries. In fact I think that gaming as seen in those countries will never catch on in India.”
Why? “There are many reasons for this. Apart from the fact that computer and Internet penetration is low in India playing the cutting edge games require plenty of cutting edge hardware mainly in terms of processors and graphic cards which are costly. But the more basic issue is entertainment. Indians have so many avenues to keep themselves entertained, from Bollywood to cricket that they don’t really need games to do the job. Indian parents are also not very receptive to games, considering them to be a waste of time and unhealthy.”
While all these are valid and commonly cited reasons one thing which Kejriwal mentioned about the reason games won’t ever be a phenomenon in India is the weather. His take is that weather in India is generally pleasant and indoor activities like gaming won’t ever be favoured over going out and having fun. While this is certainly interesting, serious studies need to be conducted to back up this claim.
So is the situation hopeless? “Not really. We need content that can excite Indian gamers. We need a game that does for gaming what Ramayana did for television. Besides, we need better infrastructure and good competition. We are optimistic that the situation will improve in the next five years,” says Kejriwal.
Lack of competition is one of the biggest things that hamper Indian gamers from taking on the best of the world. To be great at any game players need to match their wits against human players, not computer bots. And those players need to be equally good, or even better. The same scenario is prevalent in any real world sport too: the quality of your game is as good as that of your competition. Indian gamers are unable to get on international game servers mainly because of Indian IPs being banned or because of slow broadband connections that have high ping times. So when Indian gamers go for international tournaments, they come back defeated.
In spite of all the above mentioned hurdles, gaming in India has slowly but steadily changed from purely a hobby to a means to make some decent pocket money. These days there is a gaming expo or a tournament organised every other week in the metros and sometimes even in the bigger cities. Gaming clans are flourishing and the members spend nights fragging each other in Counter Strike or racing against each other in NFS.
Some big names like Reliance World and Sify actively promote gaming events where prizes worth lakhs are at stake. Reliance World has its Gamebox National Championships where the total prize money at stake is about Rs 10 lakh. According to Rishikant Nimbark, Product Manager—Gaming, Reliance World is embarking on a few steps to create the necessary infrastructure for gaming. This includes establishing a gaming zone in the network of Reliance World retail outlets spread out across India. Reliance World appears to be gung-ho about the gaming prospects in India and is confident that within a few years with enough exposure Indian gamers would be world beaters.
Another company that is maintaining a positive attitude on the Indian gaming scene is Rapture Gaming. This Singapore-based company organises gaming events like WCG Singapore, E Sports Championships and the Compaq AMD pro gaming league. Rapture Gaming is interested in the Indian pro gaming scenario and this is what Herman Ng, MD of the company has to say, “Indian gamers have a lot of passion and that is really a key to success but in terms of experience and exposure, this is the area where they lose out to the other countries.”
For most of us gaming will always remain a hobby. But like many other hobbies today if you are really good at what you do, gaming can get you decent pocket money and also a bit of fame. But if you are one of the best you can earn pots of money and get mobbed in game conventions the world over. You also get the chance to go see exotic places, stay in plush hotels and maybe get yourself featured in magazines and newspapers.
Five years down the line, gaming in India will change for the better. For now, gamers are advised not to burn their bridges and concentrate only on gaming—there always needs to be a plan B.