The streaming revolution that is slowly taking over Indian esports
With improved internet speeds over the last few years and increased opportunities to monetise content, videogame streaming in India is on the verge of a breakthrough.
Michael "Imaqtpie" Santana sent ripples across the internet when his management company, Everyday Influencers, reported earnings of two million dollars per year. The ‘Imaqtpie Empire’ stretches across 20,000 average concurrent viewers, with nearly 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and a staggering two million followers on Twitch.
A live streaming video platform owned by Amazon and launched in June 2011, Twitch recorded an approximate 212 million viewers in 2017. For context, this surpasses the viewer base of Netflix (100 million) and HBO (130 million). The numbers show no signs of decline; the site reported an increase of 67% in concurrent streamers for Q3 2017.
Indeed, the streaming industry worldwide has amassed great fortunes with the advent of numerous esports competitions and the rise of popular streamers and their fanbase. YouTube’s gaming content registers another 563 million viewers. More people were projected to watch online gaming videos than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu all combined together in 2017.
For the uninitiated, the act of professional gamers streaming is akin to famed footballer Neymar Jr wearing a camera on his head which livestreams his entire practice games to millions of fans worldwide. And much like how televised sports channels conduct themselves in front of millions of fans, today’s esports tournaments bring a similar professionalism through livestreams. Starting with the broadcast of an expert’s panel to moving cameras passing through legions of fans during gaming sessions, esports is second to none in terms of production.
The streaming scene in India
While there has been a meteoric rise of streaming in the gaming industry worldwide, India has been lagging behind despite a growing urban gamer-base.
Who are the ‘shrouds’ and ‘Summit1Gs’ of India, and what has been their story? What lies in the future for the streaming cult? And lastly, what should one strive towards for their personal growth in the same? These questions are best answered by popular streamers in India who’ve taken the lead in the burgeoning industry.
Streaming has been the core part of JAGS founder Ishaan Arya’s work in the Indian gaming industry. But few people are aware of the challenges he encountered before he became a well-known face across the streaming subculture because of his collaborations with NVIDIA. “Lacking the necessary resources in Delhi, mainly a proper internet connection, I had to decide to move to Bengaluru to pursue this career,” Arya says.
Nishant ‘ClouDx’ Patel, a renowned caster and long-time streamer, also offers some professional insight through the difficulties he encountered. “Twitch has become the default destination for live esports content. But the closest Twitch Ingest Server is Singapore, and there are a whole bunch of ISPs that route poorly to it,” he says.
Indeed, the poor internet infrastructure in India has been the top culprit behind the lack of progress in streaming. Aman Biswas, industry critic and GTX Evangelist for East India adds, “Internet would be the first issue that comes to mind. High speed and stable internet for the masses came in only a few years ago, barring metro cities in India which had them for some time now.”
Delving further into the past, Biswas adds, “Barring esports, there are few gaming start-ups or independent groups in India trying to further the gaming scene in India in comparison to the population of the country. This is mostly because computers and video games were a privilege back in the 90s and early 2000s.”
The many streamers across the globe notably engage in streaming a variety of games from different genres for their audience. Streaming different games also helps bring in a varied audience. However, variety game streaming is yet to take off in India. “What prevents people from taking this road of streaming is probably because it has a very slow growth and little scope in it. As a result, everyone is looking to appease the PUBG and CS:GO audience,” says Ratul ‘Ratz’ Sathish, an avid gamer and regular variety streamer.
In contrast to the thousands attracted by ESL India and other major competitive streams, casual variety streamers have yet to find success in India; YouTuber CarryMinati is one of the few exceptions to have done so. However, Ratul doesn’t give up on the notion of variety streaming. “I chose variety streaming because I love gaming. I love games from every genre. With a busy schedule, I wouldn't be able to play all the different games out there so might as well just stream all of them,” he concludes.
The ones that work
Regardless of the many problems that plague the average Indian, there have been a few streamers making significant progress. The credit for this goes to the professionalism shown by streamers to cater to the growing esports thirst in the country.
“Our stream's unique selling point is good, English-speaking Dota casters”, says Nishant. “We pick up whatever Indian and SEA Dota games that we can. However, the majority of AFK Gaming's (his media company) work is now packaged as a white label or a co-branded service on our clients' channels.”
With the explosion of esports onto the Indian gaming landscape, streaming became a new-found hope as a career option for many. Production levels for various offline events such as the ESL Challenger Cup and IeSF have brought in unseen standards of quality. The setting up of dedicated media houses such as AFK Gaming and NODWIN Gaming soon followed.
“The most important thing that we as content creators and influencers need to do, to ensure that streaming actually grows esports and gaming in general, is to innovate the content we put out. We can't merely be aping methods that have worked in more established markets like North America, Europe or even East Asia, as neither the market nor the audience is mature enough,” adds Archishman Pradhan, member of the breakout server and production house SoStronk.
With three years of experience in the streaming scenario in India, Archishman is aware of the ins and outs of the circuit. “Until 2017 the streaming scene was the domain of the ‘filthy casual’ as most pros would say, and a term I detest from the bottom of my heart. It was massively underutilized. However, once Team Brutality started streaming and bagged a sack full of sponsors, other teams took notice and wanted to get in on the action. With the likes of Team Brutality's V3n0m and Entity Esports' Psy steeping into the streaming market, the viewer’s horizon has greatly increased, which till now was dominated by casual streams.”
Speaking about the future of esports streaming, he says, “From what I've seen, the main thrust for esports going into 2018 will be conventional TV broadcasts, at least for most conventional esports [like CS:GO and Dota 2]. As for how streaming comes into the picture, I think that we as an audience are still growing accustomed to consuming live streamed content from local content creators.”
He ends positively, “It is a veritable treasure trove for building market value and a potential gold mine to seek ad revenue from third-party sponsors via product placements and endorsement deals. Unrestricted to esports, if streams pull enough numbers, they will get approached by several brands to play the role of ‘influencers’ for their respective brands.”
Rohin Bhaumik, from the popular CS:GO streamers PC Peasants, has some advice for Indians looking to hop onto the streaming train. “You should have the tech to run a 720p 60fps stream, with a decent amount of production quality. The urban Indian isn't a novice, and they expect a certain quality from the streamer,” Bhaumik says.
Stressing on the importance of friendliness, he adds, “Being friendly helps and speaking any regional language always helps. Remember that your audience is comprised of mostly young adults or children, so keep the profanity to a minimum, and keep the politics out of your stream.”
Bhaumik also feels that streaming is a subculture because of a sense of inclusivity it offers the audience; something he feels should be maintained going forward.
“It's very important to build a positive environment for gaming and to nourish your viewers and your community,” Bhaumik says. “Streaming is about building a community. It's not about pro gameplay and being funny. You can be yourself and be genuine, and people will flock to you.”