COVID has expedited the brand journey into gaming, esports: Sidharth Kedia, Nodwin Gaming

Kedia, CEO of Nodwin Gaming, talks about the growth of esports during the lockdown, OTT as a competitor, IPL, brand associations, future of online gaming, esports sector, and more

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Sep 10, 2020 12:40 PM
Sidharth Kedia

When the country and its economy are facing the wrath of COVID, online gaming is an exception. Being a subsequently new proposition in the Indian market, the industry has experienced immense popularity and growth over the years. According to Google-KPMG report, the industry is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2021. With an estimated gamer base to go up to 440 million by fiscal year 2022, Indian market has been ranked the highest in terms of the growth in online gaming strata.

During the pandemic-induced lockdown, Nodwin Gaming grew immensly in terms of reach and engagement. The gaming platform nourishes the dynamic gaming & esports ecosystem both domestically and internationally.

Sidharth Kedia, CEO, Nodwin Gaming, had a candid conversation with exchange4media. He spoke about the reasons behind the growing popularity of esports during the lockdown, OTT as a competitor, IPL, brand associations, future of online gaming, esports sector in the country, and more.

Excerpts

Gaming industry has seen a significant growth amid the pandemic-induced lockdown. What according to you has led to it? What has been the growth experienced by Nodwin?

Online gaming or esports is a multiplayer platform that has always been a social activity. So, while people were playing online, they were gathering together virtually. This was a way for people to socialize and do something which was also competitive at the same time. Online gaming became a surrogate or proxy for socializing, where the existing gamers got a lot more time at hand to improve their gaming skills. So, whether it was casual games like ludo, carrom or tamboola which brought families across geographies together or more mid to hardcore games like Call of Duty mobile, PUBG mobile, Free Fire, Counter Strike, lockdown offered a great opportunity to not just better the craft of gaming, but alo provided a social activity.

Talking about NODWIN, participation in our tournaments went up exponentially. For example, one of our marquee properties is called India Premiership where we have four games; PUBG mobile, Clash of Clans, FIFA and Counter Strike. If we compare the registrations, (which is the gamers who registered to play for the league, which runs for nine months, three seasons three months each) for summer season of 2019 and summer season of 2020, our registrations went up from 3000 to almost 57,000. Another important aspect was that our viewership went up phenomenally. So, participation both in terms of playing and in terms of viewing were key contributors in our growth.

Do you see OTT platforms as major competition during the work from home period?

OTT is a competitor in terms of timeshare of any individual. However, OTT, like any other form of classical entertainment, is passive. Gaming is very active form of entertainment. So, when you are playing your game or even when you are just watching it, you are engaging with the community because of the interactivity which is built into the watch platforms. The gamers are constantly talking to each other. The level of engagement the gaming community has with one another while they are playing is immense.

Rightfully speaking, OTT is going to be a competitor in terms of time, but not in terms of the mode of entertainment. Active entertainment is preferred over passive entertainment amongst youth.

How much does an average customer spend at your platform? What is your revenue model?

Nodwin is a B2B company. Our business model is not where the end customer pays us anything at all. We are a B2B company whereby our sources of revenue are either brands as sponsorship revenue or media players or media distributors. Or in some cases, we make money from the game publisher themselves when we offer a white label service to them. So, whether our tournament is running on Disney Hotstar or Sony Liv, Voot or YouTube, Nowdin is not getting that revenue. No one pays to play. In fact, it is the other way around. There are prize pools given if they win the tournament.

Have brands started looking at gaming and esports as a major advertising medium?

Well, brands have been looking at esports and gaming as an advertising medium or as a reach medium to its target audience for a while. COVID has amplified the process. A lot of brands that were either not sure about efficacy of gaming and eSports, have come on the other side of the fence and have started advertising now. So, brands were always there, but I think the COVID has expedited the brand journey into gaming and esports. What would have happened in the next three years has happened in the last three months.

Can you throw some light on some of the clients who have associated with Nodwin ?

Our clientele has two broad categories. These are brands and media distributors. Talking about media distributors, we distribute across the media landscape of this country, from OTT players like Disney Hotstar, Voot, Sony Liv and others to telecoms like Airtel and Jio to linear television like an MTV to social media like Facebook and YouTube. We have partnerships with everyone where revenue comes to us on account of media rights.

On the brand side, we distinguish brands in two broad categories; endemics and non endemics. So for example, we run the esports programme for HP. So, HP is an endemic brand because they make gaming or gaming related products. We have been associated with brands like Western Digital, Hyper X and others. We have non-endemic brands which have more youth affinity and that they have got nothing to do with gaming or it products but again, we have been working with them for a while and relationship has only strengthened. For example, we run the esports programme for PepsiCo globally.  Similarly, we have built a lot of properties jointly for Red Bull in India and in some other parts of the world. These are just some examples of both endemic brands and non-endemic brands where we have built esports partnerships with them.

What is your media mix? Where did Nodwin spend most for advertising and marketing?

The advertising that we do is for our properties. We don't necessarily spend a lot of money on advertising for brand. Surprisingly, the traditional platforms work better for us than digital platforms. To reach out to the tech-savvy gamers on the digital platform, it is more through influencer engagement. It is more about talking to them directly through plugging into the gaming communities.

With IPL round the corner, what does your gaming platform look forward to? Do you think that the target group would be bifurcated?

In terms of overlap of the target group between IPL and gaming, yes, of course there is a fair bit of overlap between the IPL audience and the gaming audience. The good news is the peak timings. The gamers’ peak in terms of the timing is after the IPL matches get over. Make your choice and the timing won't matter. But gaming is something that provides for an excellent second screen experience. So, I am not too worried about IPL eating into gaming or gaming eating into IPL. I think both can very clearly coexist.

What communication strategies have been applied by the gaming industry? Do you think affordable data and smartphone penetration has led to the rise of the gaming community today?

Ofcourse, the two factors which have contributed to increased gaming and will continue to do so are affordable data and high smartphone penetration in the country.

Talking about communication with our direct users, we didn't really need COVID to be engaged with the gaming community. This is something that we have built our business on. We are very deeply entrenched with the gaming community with everything that happens with the gamers. Nodwin has just not only introduced eSports as an industry in India but has really built it.

During the lockdown phase, we ran a campaign called ‘Play apart, together’. We focused on overall advocacy for gaming. We ended up talking a lot to the parents because a lot of resistance in gaming comes from the parents’ side. Sports resistance has gone down over the years but the gaming resistance persists. This is a cult cultural context, which is changing. On some of the platforms that we are providing to budding esports and gaming athletes in the country giving them a global exposure, we talk to the parents and build on the legitimacy and advocacy of gaming. We have been explaining to parents that this is a viable career option not just as a player but also as a gaming professional. It could be a shoutcaster, an editor, a game developer, a game analyst or just a photographers. All these contributes to the overall messaging being gaming.


What according to you is the future of the gaming industry?

I will sum up gaming and esports separately. The future of gaming is only here to grow. Gaming has already become a billion dollar industry in India. As per various reports, gaming is only growing either on account of in-app purchases or on account of advertising revenue that gaming publishers earn. So, there is a definite trend whereby people are buying more. Within the games, more and more brands are placing their ads. All these are testimonials to the ever-growing gaming industry. The underlying reason is the tech infrastructure on one side and the demographic dividend that India enjoys on the other side.

The youth is increasingly interested in playing these games, watching the streams running their own streams and hence esports is going to start pushing itself into the sports regime. esports will start eating into the share of cricket in this country in the coming decade because that is the holy grail of sports in India. No other sport has been able to parallel cricket for so many years now but esports has started taking over cricket and can become as big as cricket in the years to come.

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