Brands need to ride e-sports bandwagon very early to reap benefits: Vinit Karnik, GroupM

GroupM Business Head, Entertainment, Sports & LIVE Events, Vinit Karnik, spoke about the four booster shots that will catapult the entire industry over time

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Mar 20, 2021 9:01 AM
Vinit Karnik

Does e-sports have the potential to emerge as the second most popular sport after cricket in India in the next decade? GroupM Business Head, Entertainment, Sports & LIVE Events Vinit Karnik attempted to answer this question on the second day of e4m Gaming Summit 2021.

Karnik started his session by highlighting key statistics on the Indian e-sports sector. He stated that there has been a 14x growth in the number of Indian gamers since 2010. Further, 250 million mobile gamers in India spend 22 hours/week watching e-sports content online. There has been a 123% growth in price money in Indian e-sports between 2016-18. Having demonstrated solid growth, the Indian e-sports start-ups raised $35.8 million in the last five years.

Talking about the popularity of gaming in India, Karnik said that most Indian phones have an average of three games. He added that 80% of Indians play a mobile game on a daily basis. Covid-19 accelerated the gaming growth in 2020 with e-sports seeing an 11% increase in users per week. There has been a 21% increase in time spent by each user on e-sports. E-sports live stream viewership has increased by 61% in week 1 of lockdown. He also noted that 45% of Indian gamers started playing games during the lockdown. Gamerji e-sports platform witnessed a 50% spike in Daily Active Users (DAUs) during the lockdown.

Karnik pointed out that e-sports has got four booster shots. The biggest one is the inclusion of e-sports as a medal sport in Asian Games 2022 which has brought social legitimacy for e-sports. Secondly, e-sports helps build careers due to the rising prize money pool and growing competitive landscape. With 50% of India's population below the age of 25, Karnik said that the e-sports industry must ensure that the growth momentum is maintained for some time till it becomes a very established sector.

Thirdly, the internet penetration due to affordable data prices is driving e-sports participation in India. Likewise, cheaper smartphones are also driving the mobile-first gaming revolution. Fourth, the rising no. of gaming/e-sports start-ups has helped increase the adoption of gaming and e-sports. He cited the successful IPO of Nazara Technologies to drive home the point.

"These are some of the booster shots that will catapult the entire industry over time and a lot of effort from all of us from a marketing standpoint will ensure that this dream becomes a reality," Karnik noted.

He also stated that e-sports as a media product mimics traditional sports in five ways. It is live, unique, seasonal, narrative, and quality. "Most of the sporting events are unique to their fans, to its consumers and it is watched by fans live in the stadia or watched live on TV or live-streamed on digital. So e-sports is mimicking traditional sports. It's very seasonal and so are most of the sports around the world from a timeline perspective," Karnik said.

He continued, "The narrative is also very similar. We have all seen the rags to riches story in the entire traditional sports ecosystem. We have seen a massive amount of grassroots talent coming right from the bottom of the pyramid from rural areas to become poster boys of that country or around the world. We see similar sentiments echoing in the e-sports and gaming ecosystem. A lot of e-sports players have become stars due to e-sports being live-streamed. We see top-quality players in traditional sports, similarly, we see the best talent in e-sports competing with their peers either on console or PCs or on mobile."

Karnik also did a comparative analysis of sports and e-sports' performance on YouTube as he moved closer to answering the question whether e-sports has what it takes to become the number 2 Indian sport. Sports dwarfed in comparison to e-sports in average monthly views, average monthly subscribers, and average monthly uploads.

Between March 2020 and January 2021, sports had average monthly views of 742 million which were significantly lower than e-sports' 3.3 billion. The average monthly subscribers for e-sports was 20.5 million compared to 2.8 million for sports. The average monthly uploads for sports was 8,500 while for e-sports the number was 15,600.

"Most people will say that traditional sports are watched live but that is the case with e-sports as well. That's why I wanted to make it provocative by asking 'can e-sports be the number 2 sports in India'?" Karnik said.

He also mentioned that some of the worldwide advertisers of e-sports like Dell, Coca-Cola, MTV, Acer, Intel, Red Bull, Airtel, and Louis Vitton are also betting on the sport in India. "Brands need to ride the e-sports bandwagon very early to reap the benefits. Today is the time for brands to evaluate various opportunities and how can one relate to this target audience and look at building brand affinity with them over time," Karnik averred.

Karnik then proceeded to list down the key e-sports stakeholders. These include streaming platforms, game publishers, teams, talent, and tournaments. These five buckets are addressing multiple problems from an advertiser and marketer's perspective.

"One can look at these five buckets from the endorsement, sponsorship, programmatic advertising, and exclusive content standpoint. Programmatic advertising is a pipe through the digital ecosystem while collaborative content drives a lot of eyeballs. A serious amount of money is being channelised through in-game advertising. Then there is stream integration and experiential marketing also. These are facets of our everyday lives in the media, marketing, and advertising community. Can we look at gaming through the same lens as we have done with sports for the last two decades?"

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