Last week's PUBG India Open was India’s first official PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) online tournament, organised by Delhi-based GamingMonk. Considering the game released via Steam Early Access barely 10 months ago with a full release in December, the very existence of the tournament is in ways a testament to the game's quick rise in popularity.
According to PC gaming service Steam, PUBG is currently the most played game on the platform with over three million daily active players globally including India, rivalling established heavyweights such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) and Dota 2.
Aside from PUBG India Open, GamingMonk has organised online tournaments for FIFA, Call of Duty: World War 2, and CSGO in the last year. Gadgets 360 spoke to Ashwin Haryani, Co-Founder GamingMonk, who talked about the company’s origins as well as PUBG’s India potential.
Although GamingMonk is now a full-time tournaments organiser, that's not how the company got started.
“We started doing gaming tournaments just to promote sales. We didn't have a lot of funds to actually run those tournaments, so we started taking an entry fee for these events,” says Haryani. “When we started in Jan 2015, I believe we got about 70 to 80 FIFA gamers for our first FIFA tournament, and since then we continue to increase the number of the frequency of events and we kept getting a better response each event.”
The company pivoted to tournaments full-time last year, and received an undisclosed amount from venture capital firm AdvantEdge. It used the funds to launch its subscription-based e-sports portal, hosting online tournaments for FIFA, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and Clash Royale, among others.
In order to retain users as well as attract new ones, PUBG was an easy inclusion. This was driven in part by its lower entry barrier, compared to other competitive games that have a higher skill ceiling.
“There have to be games which allow competition at a certain level to bring more players in,” says Haryani, claiming the battle royale structure of PUBG that pits a 100 players against each other allows for greater accessibility. “I know there have been games like H1Z1 that are similar, but I think it definitely here to stay and compete with CSGO [Counter-Strike: Global Offensive] in terms of numbers - both audience and participants.”
“We had 480 slots taken out of 500 as 20 slots were for streamers and administrating the tournament. We still had another 480 people waiting to join,” he says, going on to suggest that PUBG is more popular than the company originally envisaged.
“We actually filled up the first 100 slots in less than four hours, with minimal social media activity. We moved it up to 400 people which again for filled up in the next three or four days and then the last that we could do is fill up another 100,” Haryani tells us. “I think they - PUBG Corp - weren't very bullish on participants because they gave us one server. They were interested in seeing streaming numbers. I think they're pretty excited to see what India could bring in this regard.”
To Haryani, the reason why there were relatively low expectations for user numbers was because of the relative scale of the gaming market in India.
“When we were talking to the PUBG guys we were really pushing for an all exclusive access to India. They actually gave us a few insights. We were posting them data that suggested there were 150,000 daily active users for PUBG in India and they came back telling us there were 2,500,000 daily active users in China. We can't compare to that,” he professes.
GamingMonk has plans to build on this early success with another tournament. Interestingly, it may not incorporate the third-person view that the game originally released with. Instead, it would - like the first PUBG India Open - be restricted to first-person perspective (FPP). “We were told by PUBG Corp to do FPP right now. That's what they wanted to check how this mode is working out. I think we'll be keeping it FPP for now, and maybe look at other options later on as well,” says Haryani.
Building an audience
With nearly 500 entrants, the PUBG India Open has been one of the most successful tournaments in GamingMonk's short history. This could owe something to the fact that it offered a free 15-day subscription plan to test the market. This resulted in 95 percent of PUBG participants taking part via its trial subscription.
“Indians adopt to a free plan much better, so there is a possibility of a permanent free plan in the future with users getting limited access,” Haryani observes.
Despite this, it isn’t the most popular competitive title for GamingMonk. He tells us that FIFA, PUBG, Clash Royale, and then CSGO are games that see the maximum player turnout. While FIFA is no surprise given the country’s love for the series and CSGO is a mainstay of the competitive scene, a mobile game like Clash Royale seemed like an odd addition, and the fact that it is doing better than CSGO seemed even more surprising, but that is indeed the case.
“We had a tournament with 135 players, but these are clan-based. We tried doing custom tournaments as well, but because of the level requirements for Clash Royale we went back to it being clan-based,” says Haryani. He adds that Clash Royale tournaments require players to manually upload screenshots for GamingMonk’s leaderboards. However, he reveals that GamingMonk is in talks with Supercell for API access, which should allow this automatically soon enough.
Given the size of the competitive gaming market in India, it’s surprising to see the likes of Supercell being open to helping out smaller firms. According to Haryani, most game publishers GamingMonk has aligned with — EA, PUBG Corp, and Supercell — want to “see India as a large e-sports nation.”