ESL One Mumbai is one of India's biggest e-sports tournaments in recent memory. Not only did it have a Rs. 2 crore prize pool and a roster of international Dota 2 teams competing, it should ideally mark a turning point in how India is viewed as a spectator market for e-sports, particularly Dota 2, which is seen to have a rabid, vocal fan base. However it appears that the event may be sullied amidst allegations of college students being paid to attend and fill up seats to bolster attendance figures. Over the weekend, reports emerged on social media that ESL One's Mumbai turnout wasn't as anticipated, resulting in its organisers to resort to bringing in an audience by paying them Rs. 100 each to be a part of it.
According to those attending, there's a now defunct Google survey that was used to collate student details in order to distribute tickets. Furthermore, there was a WhatsApp group that was used to round up possible attendees as well.
A report from Esports Portal, which was removed hours after publishing suggested that Nodwin, the event's organiser was aware of this, though the firm denied the same.
"If we were paying people to attend ESL one, then my ranks would have been full. You can watch the tournament and ranks were not even remotely full," said Nodwin COO Gautam Virk to Esports Portal. "No such thing happened. No one was let in by ESL staff by giving money."
Multiple sources speaking to Gadgets 360 on the condition of anonymity have confirmed that the company was indeed cognisant of this, going as far as to say that this was also done during Dreamhack Mumbai.
"This happens more often than you think," says one e-sports consultant to Gadgets 360. "And with Nazara's upcoming IPO [Nodwin's parent company], they want to ensure there's only good news going out."
While some e-sports organisers claim that such tactics are fair play, it's interesting to see one of them being laid bare in such a fashion. More so when you consider what's at stake. It doesn't help matters that five teams pulled out of ESL One Mumbai which impacted audience turnout as well.
Several ESL One Mumbai event sponsors were not too pleased with the turnout either, going as far as to describe it as disappointing. In fact the term could very well sum up the state of affairs of e-sports of late. From cheating scandals laced in conflict of interest to barefaced piracy, there doesn't seem to be a dull moment, though how much of this actually helps move the games industry forward though, is another question entirely.
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