PUBG Mobile, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive were front in centre at the Cobx Masters 2019, held in Mumbai over the weekend. The second edition of this e-sports event from the Mumbai-based company by the same name had a $200,000 prize pool (around Rs. 1.40 crore) split between Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive respectively, while PUBG Mobile has a modest Rs. 2,00,000 prize for its winner. To learn more, Gadgets 360 caught up with Rajdip Gupta, Founder of Cobx Gaming to find out what we can expect from the Indian e-sports scene in the months to come.
First we had to ask about the timing of the Cobx Masters. It took place just two weeks before another major tournament, ESL One. Is there enough consumer appetite to bother with two tournaments in quick succession? Gupta believes so.
"We also have CS:GO, they only have Dota 2," he says. "In India the user base split is 60 percent CS:GO and 40 percent Dota 2. As an event we're capturing 100 percent of the addressable audience, not just the 40 percent ESL has right now."
As for audiences, Gupta tells us that qualifiers for the Cobx Masters were held in 10 cities across the country. These include major cities like Mumbai and Delhi as well as smaller ones like Kohima. We wondered if he noticed any differences in the awareness surrounding e-sports across the country.
"If you go to Kohima or the Eastern region in general, they're brilliant," he says. "They understand e-sports. They know e-sports and follow it well. If you go North, the things aren't that great. South, still it's better. If you go to Mumbai, Delhi, people are more aware of e-sports."
The reason for this he says, has to do with a bustling cybercafe culture in the East.
"They have the challenge of poor Internet connectivity," he says. "Hence they play in cafes."
Despite a positive response from certain sections of the country, some of Cobx's plans are on hold. A year ago announced a partnership with the Professional Gaming League (PGL), a well-known international esports firm that organises major tournaments like The International 2018 and the CS:GO Asia Championships 2018. According to a prepared statement from Cobx, it would herald "the entry of India on the global e-sports map and the inclusion in the list of global e-sports venues."
Turns out, we'd have to wait a bit longer for this to happen.
"Getting PGL to India now is not the right time," he says. "You need to build the community and ecosystem which we're doing. Within a span of 12 months we've had three big events happening in the country — Cobx Masters, ESL One, and Dreamhack. The community is getting actively involved and that's what we're waiting for. We might have more tie-ups and we're looking forward to that."
It's perplexing to announce a global tie-up before ascertaining its feasibility. Nonetheless, it's not the only point of concern surrounding Cobx. The company is an oddity as it runs its own tournament and also has one of the teams participating in it — Signify, which has squads for Dota 2 and CS:GO. This could lead to potential conflict of interest, allowing Cobx to favour Signify over the competition and in theory, allow it to retain the winner's share of the prize pool.
Gupta believes this is far from the case due to how the Cobx Masters tournament is structured.
"They haven't been given automatic entry," he says. "There's an India qualifier, they played all the matches of that and then qualified for this event. We have made sure that they have to play these qualifiers. If they win they participate, otherwise no. Even in future with this kind of event, we will always make them play the qualifier first."
While this might be the case, one can't rule out the possibility where certain factors such as match timing or the opposing team may be tweaked to favour Signify's squads. That said, its efforts in Dota 2 have been credible, winning a fair number of national tournaments such as the ESL Winter Premiership Finale and Dreamhack Mumbai 2018 as well as representing India internationally too. Ultimately, at Cobx Masters 2019, Signify were the losing semi-finalists in Dota 2 and finished at the bottom of their group in CS:GO.
The conversation shifts to PUBG Mobile and its inclusion. More importantly, how Cobx positions it, calling it a "casual" game. We wondered why. More so when in November last year, Signify announced plans for a PUBG Mobile team.
"50 million gamers play PUBG Mobile in India now, which is the highest," he says. "It's more about how people come together and play PUBG Mobile — casually, there's no structured way to put a team together. You might have the best player in Malad, the best player in Borivali also, but you don't know who is the best player in India."
As for Signify's PUBG Mobile team? It's still in the works despite the premature announcement. Though there are hurdles aplenty.
"We do have plans," he says. "Right now though, it's too early to invest in that. We want to get into FIFA and League of Legends which is more about structured gaming and support from international publishers and there's a lot of fan following as well. PUBG isn't about the fan following just yet. It's all about individual gaming at the moment. There's no hero player as such. If Dendi is coming as a hero in Dota 2, so I follow Dendi. In PUBG there's no hero that's been created."
The lack of popular, known players isn't the only issue. To Gupta, PUBG Mobile isn't geared towards e-sports just yet due to the absence of local ranking systems and a proper league structure. Though he remains hopeful.
"If they come up with leagues like Mumbai Premier League for cricket we might find the best team and have them compete against others," he says. "It might happen since Tencent is spending a lot money on the game. They might have some kind of league because India is the biggest market for them outside of China."
Finally we had to ask of Gupta's thoughts regarding PUBG Mobile addiction, Tencent India's attempts at self-regulation and apology for the same. Is it as big an issue as it's being made out to be? Is regulation of some sort required?
"That's definitely required to be honest with you," he says. "I know kids who play 10 to 12 hours and they just aren't focussed on their studies. Parents are concerned about these things."
"There has to be some kind of mechanism to control because there's no career out of that as such right now," he says. "For me PUBG isn't a career option just yet. It's just entertainment. Kids spend too much of time on this. There has to be regulation in the right manner."
If you're a fan of video games, check out Transition, Gadgets 360's gaming podcast. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts or RSS, or just listen to this week's episode by hitting the play button below.