Ronnie Screwvala's U Cypher aims to be premier esports championship in India

Globally, the e-sports gaming market is estimated to be over USD 500-600 million with over 2000 teams consistently participating in tournaments

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Jan 18, 2018 8:54 AM

The world is going digital, and sports is no exception. Moving not too far away from the excitement of live sports, but by involving gaming enthusiasts to compete with each other, electronic sports or e-sports has slowly but surely taken its place as one of the fastest growing markets in the world.

Leveraging on this growth trajectory, Ronnie Screwvala, U Sports founder, will be launching U Cypher on January 19. 

But first, let us understand what exactly is e-sports? e-sports, loosely translated, is casual gaming. It's a multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers. esports consist of video games, PC console games and even mobile games. Just like in traditional sports, e-sports fans follow teams, watch matches, and cheer for their favourite stars from around the world.

Globally, the e-sports gaming market is estimated to be over USD 500-600 million with over 2000 teams consistently participating in tournaments. 

U Sports co-founder and CEO, Supratik Sen shared, “There is big platform called Steam globally, It has 160 million subscribers globally out of which 1.5 million are Indian and there are 20 million more downloads for Counter Strike and Dota 2 in India.”

“Gaming is very popular around the world now specifically in countries like China, Korea and Japan. e-sports actually attracts the millennials. It has a much bigger interactive element for gaming. The number one media company in the world is the game company Tencent, which is three times the size of the Walt Disney company,” explained  Ronnie Screwvala.

What is U Cypher?

U Cypher, one of India’s biggest esports phenomenon that launches on January 19 on MTV at 10 pm, provides a platform for talented gamers to achieve their maximum potential and build their career in esports leagues.

U Cypher is a first of its kind multi-game esports championship which has six teams, with 14 members in each team, competing for Season 1's total prize money of Rs. 51 lakhs. The combat zone orbits around four games, namely Counter Strike: GO and Dota 2 on PC, Tekken 7 on PS4 and Real Cricket 2017 on mobile.

Apart from television, the league will be available on digital platforms like, YouTube, Twitch, and Voot. Season 1 comprises 35 episodes. Each episode will have two teams face off on all the four games to gain league points. It is a daily, one hour show with repeats the next day on MTV. “We are looking at a league twice a year and a two-three months tournament each. We want to have a second series in the second half of the year for sure. May be after two seasons we will decide whether we have to go for two seasons or a longer season a year," said Screwvala.

“Our first audition was narrow but now we will go wider. There are three segments of the players that we want to track. First 20 millions we consider to be the hard core game players of the country. Then we have another 20 million that are on the periphery and we are hoping that this league will create interest enough for another 40-50 million people who are fans in the gaming population to build an overall 100 million universe in India of game-playing audience,” said Screwvala.

“For the first season we plan to track 200 tournaments all over India and we picked the best set of players for these specific games and then redraft them into a team but moving forward, they will have to log online, play the championship online and the leaderboard will come through. From the leaderboard the best one will get to the draft process. Second season onwards we will have more teams. We will also enlarge our number of players. This season we have 84 players but going forward we will have 200 and then 300 players and more teams,” shared Sen.

Monetisation for U Cypher

For the first season for the tournament, Screwvala is not looking for any sponsorship. He shared that the revenue streams for them are three fold. Firstly, its sponsorship and advertising, second, it will be the rights (broadcast and digital both) and third is the subscription model.

He said, “We learned our lesson in Kabbadi where we didn’t sell any advertising in the first season and it's a good step for the new sport. The minute you sell it for the first time you get into negotiations but we don’t know what is worth still. Hence we decided to go without sponsorship for the first season only.”

“This will be the first time that a sport in India is looking at a direct subscription model. Other sports are in leagues so here we decided that we will not having a league, it will be more of a tournament. The difference for us is we are not selling teams, we as the the championship owners will own all the teams, we will own the entire league that will allow us to optimize the revenue in  a very different manner and control our own subscription model because the minute I form a league, I will get 10 other owners. For the first season we want people to get familiar with the sport, from second season onwards we want to build our subscription model," added Screwvala.

Aim for U Cypher in India

The Olympic Council of Asia announced earlier this year that esports would debut as an official medal sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China. esports was first included as part of the Asian Indoor Games in 2007, but the recent surge in esports popularity is causing competitive gaming to get even more recognition.
“In international tournaments, India stands a very good chance. For Dota 2 championship, the prize money is USD 24 million globally and we feel that our Indian team, if trained well, can come in top 30,” said Sen.

“For first season the prize money is Rs 51 lakhs which is not a small amount but not great either but for season 2 we hope to take that number up. If the subscription model goes well we can make this much bigger," said Screwvala.

U sports has invested Rs 25-50 crores for two seasons which includes the cost of entire auditioning, creating the infrastructure, and the marketing spends are estimated to be around Rs 8 crore.

About choosing a youth channel like MTV over sports channel, Screwvala said, “Now we want it to be very disruptive. We didn't think that the audience is ready for a 3-4 hours for the game play in a live telecast. For a sport channel you want to watch the whole sport for the entire duration and it needs to be live. We felt for the first time for this kind of tournament it needs to also be recorded to some extent. We thought four hours will be overdose on a sports channel, that's why a sports channel didn't qualify for us.”

Apart from U Cypher, Nazara Technologies also announced its esports league last year, however operational details about the same are yet to be revealed. These esports events will be joining the likes of other notable esports events in the country like Taiwan Excellence Gaming CUP, ESL India and Dew Arena.

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