From sports to eSports: a market lies in waiting

Published November 16, 2020
The world of eSports is both organised and competitive.
The world of eSports is both organised and competitive.

Over the years, Pakistan has made its mark as a manufacturer and exporter of sports goods, with the Sialkot-based industry earning hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign exchange every year. The scene, as far as the sporting world goes, has transformed globally, with the digital platform running parallel to the physical. And it is here that Pakistan has not been able to tap the market yet despite having the relevant manpower resources.

Even for those who have never held a gaming controller, there is very little chance of not having heard the term ‘eSports’, which is short for ‘electronic sports’. Not long ago gaming was a mere leisure activity for teens and the tweens; more of a hobby than a business avenue. It is not the case anymore, and the shift has been rather drastic.

To put it in perspective, according to Allied eSports, which is among the brand leaders, as an industry video gaming is already bigger than music and movies combined, with eSports, as predicted by Forbes, already on the path to hit over $300 billion by 2025.

The world of eSports is both organised and competitive. Like any other sport, eSports has its own digital and physical events attended by millions of fans from around the world earning billions of dollars in revenue. Inception and rapid growth of the ‘Battle Royale’ genre has been the catalyst to the industry’s inconceivable success.

The annual mobile gaming revenues in India are expected to grow from $1.1bn in 2018 to $2.4bn in 2020, making it the fastest-growing mobile games market

PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone and Apex Legends are all popular Battle Royale titles that are essentially online multiplayer video games that blend survival, exploration and scavenging elements of a game with last-man-standing gameplay.

Developing countries, like Pakistan, have always been slow in making their tech-related moves, but eSports in general and Battle Royale, in particular, have been a different story altogether in Pakistan. Since a lot of modern games have their mobile versions and the Battle Royale genre has mobile phones as the preferred platform, the trend has spread as swiftly as the cell phone market.

The whole community of gamers in Pakistan existed since long, but the government one fine morning woke up to the realisation that some cultural lines were being crossed and banned a popular platform locally. But it did lead to an unexpected development as eSports as a genre got public limelight like never before. The ban sparked a debate and the voice of the people was acknowledged. The episode just proved the mass following a single game has, and, therefore, is a viable market to tap. What next?

The authorities need to crawl out from under the rock and understand that gaming is not just what children do “to waste their time”.

Developing players for the global competition is one aspect of the matter, while game development is another, and it is in the latter that the real money lies. A number of Pakistani-origin game-developers and other technical resources working internationally for big game development studios is proof that Pakistanis have the right acumen to succeed. Celebrated developers, like Shahid Kamal Khan, the former director of Strategic Content at Sony and an avid game developer at heart, are the kind of mentors Pakistan can engage to guide the local developers.

The success of this one sector can potentially create a whole lot good for the government by increasing employment and foreign investments. The whole eSports industry is a big pool of cash, from sponsorships, advertising, streaming rights and merchandise to astounding prize money.

By not being a part of the emerging scenario we are missing out on serious business opportunities while letting others take a head-start. According to Newzoo, one of the world’s most trusted and quoted sources for games market insights and analytics, the annual mobile gaming revenues in India are expected to grow from $1.1bn in 2018 to $2.4bn in 2020, making India the fastest-growing mobile games market in the world in terms of overall revenue. In contrast, with respect to prize money won by players, Pakistan has beaten India for the last couple of years consecutively by a considerable margin. The talent and the market are both there. All that is missing is a product.

The first step to addressing any problem is acknowledging its existence. The authorities need to crawl out from under the rock and understand that gaming is not just what children do “to waste their time”. The world has changed, and banning or ignoring this or that in Pakistan is only going to set us further back.

When we can get assistance from China in all matters, why not in developing our eSports industry. In the time that Pakistan achieved its total annual exports of $21bn ending 2019-20 fiscal, China, according to Newzoo Global Games Market Report, earned over $40bn in just gaming-related revenue. How is that for perspective?

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, November 16th, 2020

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