The year 2023 has been defined by key events and accomplishments for the Indian esports industry. The Leveling up: State of India Gaming FY’23 report by Lumikai in collaboration with Google states that India was home to 568 million gamers in FY23. The country’s gaming market hit US$3.1 billion in FY23 and is projected to reach US$7.5 billion by FY28, growing at a CAGR of 20 per cent.

In the previous yearender story, we looked at Indian esports teams’ notable victories, esports organisations earning mainstream recognition and drawing high-profile brand investments — making the industry’s growth nothing short of extraordinary.

In this part, we will look at the major challenges faced by esports teams in 2023, the resilience with which they bounced back, the changing perception of esports in society and the factors driving it, and the Indian government’s steps to create a self-sufficient gaming ecosystem.

Indian women CS:GO team at15th WEC Asian Qualifiers

2023 – a year of challenges and resilience

A significant challenge that the entire industry faced in 2023 was the ban on BGMI and Free Fire, which momentarily halted the growth of the Indian esports ecosystem. Before the ban was lifted, esports organisations had to find ways to stay afloat, and shifted their focus on creating content.

“Our established model for creators which relies on multiple games for streaming and content curation, allowed us to sustain the aftermath of the [BGMI] ban,” revealed 8Bit Creatives founder & CEO and S8UL co-founder Animesh Agarwal. Alpha Zegus too chose to focus on content. The marketing agency’s founder & director Rohit Agarwal said, “We generated more than 400 pieces of quality content for our partners and saw a 300 per cent growth in content solutions as compared to 2022.”

After a temporary hiatus, BGMI and Free Fire returned when the ban was lifted in 2023. “With the game’s return, we resumed our operations normally and the entire industry is now thriving,” Animesh said. Rohit added, “The comeback of BGMI boosted the esports industry by more than four times.”

Animesh Agarwal of S8UL
Animesh Agarwal

On the other side, Godlike Esports faced an entirely different challenge. As they compete in a variety of games, managing schedules of official and third-party tournaments was becoming tough and to overcome that, dedicated managers were assigned to each team. The organisation’s founder Chetan “Kronten” Chandgude further shared, “Another challenge we face is that many tournaments are announced at a very short notice which affects our brand commitment and activities. We need to work in accordance with the brand calendar.”

Changing perception of esports

Esports debuted as an official medal sport at Asian Games 2022. The Indian contingent participated in four of the seven games, finishing fifth in the League of Legends event. “The perception of gaming has shifted significantly with esports now widely accepted as a mainstream sport in Indian society,” highlighted Animesh.

“This recognition on the global stage elevated the [esports] industry’s status. The stigma surrounding gaming as a career choice has dissipated, opening new opportunities for aspiring gamers and legitimising esports as a viable and respected profession,” he added.

“Furthermore, we will witness the implementation of esports programs, degrees and scholarships by educational institutions to raise awareness about gaming in the country. This initiative aligns with the government’s promotion of gaming in the country and will empower aspiring gamers at the grassroots level.”

Godlike Esports founder Chetan Chandgude
Chetan “Kronten” Chandgude

The push from government & educational institutions

In 2023, Madhya Pradesh launched India’s first online gaming academy, providing gamers a dedicated platform to develop their skills for taking up gaming as a career. The state’s sports department organised an MP State Junior Esports Championship for BGMI players, which took place from 27 July to 7 August.

Education institutes along with state governments in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have taken steps to integrate gaming and esports in their curriculum and extra-curricular activities, and to organise tournaments.

Sharing his thoughts on these developments, Esports Federation of India (ESFI) director and Asian Esports Federation (AESF) vice-president Lokesh Suji commented, “The future of esports is exceptionally bright in India. Through the consistent efforts of ESFI, the Indian government officially recognised esports as a multi-sport event and categorised it under the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in December 2022.”

“Beyond official recognition, infrastructure development is a critical factor for the sustained growth of the esports industry,” he added. “The initiatives by our government and numerous states have laid the groundwork for potential financial backing and infrastructure growth in the coming years. Esports now proudly stands alongside the traditional sports of the country, attracting more players and sponsors to the industry.”

In another major development, the amendments made to the Information and Technology (IT) Act by the Indian government distinguished esports from real money gaming (RMG). This recognition provided legitimacy to the sector, leading to increased sponsorships and investments.

ESFI director Lokesh Suji
Lokesh Suji

Looking ahead at 2024

The gaming and esports landscape in India underwent a transformative shift in 2024, thanks to brand collaborations, entry of streaming platforms and celebrity involvement. To keep up with the dynamic nature of the industry, esports teams and talent management organisations have evolved their strategies for 2024.

“In 2024, our efforts are going to continue towards content solutions and experiential marketing, expanding our base to different regions, and bringing more quality to our work,” shared Rohit.

Godlike Esports is working on developing its own IPs, which it will reveal in 2024 itself. Chandgude said, “We are exploring some great collaboration possibilities which will increase the reach of our creators. 2024 is going to be a great treat for our esports and content audience. You will definitely see the new onboarding of creators and teams in the upcoming year.”

S8UL’s Animesh said, “As we look ahead to the upcoming year, our strategic plans are aligned with specific objectives for 8bit Creatives, Soul and S8UL. For IQOO Soul, our focus is on securing victories in esports tournaments, aiming for excellence on the competitive stage. At 8Bit Creatives, our commitment revolves around new initiatives and expansions, fostering creativity and innovation. On the S8UL front, our vision is to sustain and strengthen our global recognition as a gaming content powerhouse. We remain dedicated to curating world-class content that deeply resonates with our fans. With a spirit of “onwards and upwards,” stay tuned for potential announcements as we actively pursue new initiatives and expansions.”

On the esports tournament front, Suji shared, “One of the pivotal milestones on the horizon is the Aichi-Nagoya Asian Games in 2026, where esports has been confirmed as an official medal sport. ESFI is committed to contributing to a thriving esports ecosystem in the lead-up to the Aichi-Nagoya Asian Games. Over the next two years, our focus is to assemble the best possible Indian contingent starting right from organising national qualifiers to ensure a fair qualification process for our athletes. We will leverage our partnerships with Hama and FITGMR to provide top-notch gaming gear and coaching to the contingent to make sure that they are well-prepared to not just compete but bring laurels for the country.”