Virtual Game

With more and more kids getting access to fast internet and smartphones, the Covid19 initiated restrictions have created a new generation of youth who play online and make some money too, Raashid Andrabi reports

Nomaan Kadla of the Subzero gaming squad

“I do not have a specific figure, but we made around Rs 3-5 lakh in 2021,” said Nomaan Kadla, an online gamer based in Kashmir.”We made the decision to start our gaming career and have since competed in several successful tournaments, earning a respectable amount of money.”

Kadla said in Kashmir’s “ups and downs” they lost good money during the enforced Internet outages.

Subzero is one of Kashmir’s well-known gaming squads. It was founded by four friends from Srinagar in October 2018. Kadla, Izzo, Meax, and Jc (in-game names) formed a random squad to play the game and later formed a team Subzero.

The group gradually began to compete in national events, winning a number of them.

“These tournaments made us proud as we gave the game every bit of talent we had,” Nomaan said. Their squad even hosted many online gaming competitions within Kashmir with a decent prize pool and a large audience.

New Era

The new generation is no longer rebuked for spending hours next to a console, PC, or smartphone, now. From tabletops to virtual reality, the online is taking the gaming zone by storm. The world of online gaming, eSports, has exploded in popularity in just a few short years.  What makes it interesting is that eSports have emerged as a highly sought-after lucrative job for youth as the Smartphone penetration has gone up with almost everything getting digitized.

Unlike traditional sports, eSports helps them become famous, gain fortunes, and adds to their dazzling reputation. Now eSports is about to be a medal sport at the Asian Games and are poised to make future Olympic appearances.  The 2022 Games in Hangzhou, China, will see eSports compete for 24 awards across eight different game categories.

New Generation

Fahad Bhat, a 25-year-old student from remote Kupwara is one of India’s estimated 400 million-plus online gamers. When India announced lockdowns in March 2020 to flatten the Covid-19 curve, Bhat started playing online games.

“I was playing games like PUBG, Ludo, and a few other games for hours a day during the peak lockdown,” Fahad said. “It was one of the few ways to stay in touch with people.”

Fahad recently purchased a new PUBG ID for Rs 10,000 and is now itching to purchase more in-game items. Battleground Mobile India (the Indian version of PUBG) hosts tournaments in which millions of players compete for the trophy and whopping cash prizes. He also competed in the tournament last month but was eliminated in the first round owing to a lack of a fast internet connection and a good gaming phone.

“At any cost, I need a new phone and Wi-Fi; I cannot keep losing like this,” Fahad stated. “This is a disgrace for someone who has been playing the game for years.”

Pubg, Freefire, Fortnight, and many other online games are now much more than games. These platforms have changed into serious business. Fahad, who now has been a gamer for 4 years, earns more than Rs 5000 a month in the game by playing for just one or two hours a day. He participates in different tournaments organized by different clans across the country.

Jasiya now holds online gaming tournamnets as the online offers its own opportunities

“I and my teammates have also started a YouTube channel for streaming our gameplay. It earns you money as well as makes you famous real quickly. I always look up to Jonathan, one of the top online streamers of India,” Fahad said. “He now has millions of followers, and wins competitions which have a prize pool of millions of rupees.”

Father’s Dilemma

Fahad’s father, Ghulam Rasool Bhat, also talked about his son and the online games. “His entire day would be consumed by either his phone or computer, which negatively affected both his education and his behaviour,” Bhat Sr said. “He did not have a set eating or sleeping schedule. This makes us very anxious about his future.”

A few months ago, Bhat said, his son approached him and handed me over Rs 10,000. Shocked, when he asked him his source, the son replied: “I won an online game, and this is the prize money.”

Convinced that he is not “spoiling” his time on the phone, Bhat has now permitted his son to play the videogames. “I believe he could make a livelihood from it,” Bhat said.

Hope of Future

This is an industry to look forward to, said Jasiya, a female gamer from Srinagar. Pursuing masters in commerce from the University of Kashmir, Jasiya has been playing games since her childhood.

“I used to play Mario, Contra, and a wide range of other games. With the passage of time, gaming shifted to mobile, and we followed suit,” she said. “I began my mobile gaming career with well-known games such as Clash of Clans, Call of Duty, and, most importantly, PUBG.”

Jasiya has been playing PUBG since 2019 – usually for most if the night, she considers it a watershed moment for Indian streamers. She has been streaming her game on her Youtube throughout.

“I had only been streaming for a few months when the internet was shut down for almost a year in Kashmir,” Jasiya said. “It was one of the most substantial setbacks in my career because, when I began gaming streaming, I was one of the few female streamers in India and expected a lot of support.”

Jasiya is Kashmir’s first female streamer. She said she expected a lot of support. Instead, the vulgar messages bombarded her inbox thus pushing her to mental distress.

For a long time now, Jasiya is organising online gaming tournaments in Kashmir, with a large audience and huge cash prizes. Her YouTube channel has around 50k subscribers and hundreds of thousands of views. “All praise to God, I make a good living from this, and I hope to make an impact in the streaming world soon,” she asserted.

Crucial two Years

Online gaming in India became hugely popular in the last two years. Covid19 lockdown helped in its popularity. As restrictions impacted all other sectors, the internet became the new highway of information, sales and gaming. In the global shift, Kashmir did not lag behind.

A group of friends have also opened a PUBG-themed restaurant in Srinagar called Winner’s Dinner, where the major attraction is the decoration, which is done with war room tables and other items found in the game such as shirts, cooking pans, and so on. There are also posters and PUBG maps on the cafe walls.

As hardcore PUBG enthusiasts might have guessed already, ‘chicken dinner’ is one of the most popular dishes served by the cafe. And interestingly enough, other food items are named after various levels of PUBG.

National Scene

According to a report by KPMG, one of the world’s big four accounting organisations, mobile game downloads in India were 5.6 billion in six months ending September 2020, up by 1.8 billion. The number of Indian internet gamers is expected to increase from 360 million in 2020 to 510 million in 2022. India’s online gaming market will generate Rs 136 billion ($1.80 billion) in revenue by 2022 end. According to the report, it is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 21 per cent over the next five years to Rs 290 billion ($3.84 billion).

While the industry has grown, it has also faced its own set of obstacles. Due to a lack of clarity, the concepts of eSports, online gaming, fantasy sports, and real money gaming remain rather hazy, resulting in misunderstanding and general scepticism about the sector. Industry analysts believe that this might hinder further investments into the sector in near future.

However, the flip side is that even though online gaming will have money, it will still lack the rigour of the real game and the respect that offline games enjoy.

Unlike physical gaming, online players come from all demographics, income levels and gender. Though still a male-dominated industry, there are more than 20 million women gamers. Off late, the game has moved out of the bulky PCs and consoles to compact, multipurpose gaming devices.

The two games might be distant from each other but they involve two different sets of people. Offline will not be impacted by the way people play online and vice versa.

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