Universal lockdowns have disrupted people’s lives and livelihoods. But one form of entertainment—online gaming and eSports—has come as a blessing in disguise for housebound people. As per a FICCI and EY report on the country’s Media & Entertainment Sector, online gaming in India registered a rapid 40 percent growth in 2019-2020, generating Rs 65 million in revenues in 2019. The report estimated the total gamers in India at about 365 million. It is estimated that around a third of this growth shall be in the digital skill gaming and eSports sector of online gaming.
For the uninitiated, online gaming consists of a gamut of varied categories including fantasy, card games, digital skill gaming and eSports. In 2019, the online gaming sector contributed about Rs 9.8 million in total indirect taxes.
In 2020, the growth of eSports has been more robust thanks to the growing digital infrastructure. As people remain restricted within four walls 24x7, eSports has become the best means of engaging with friends and family. As per an AppsFlyer report, eSports apps also registered increasing revenues, particularly via casual games, growing by double-digits over the earlier weeks. Much like Chess and similar board games, eSports can be enjoyed from home.
Since many eSports tournaments typically involve a registration fee and a prize money component (the Fortnite World Cup in New York had prize money of $3 million for the winner), and because there is no list of such skill games released by state or national government, one runs the risk of falling afoul the Public Gambling Act of 1867. However, applying an 1800s law to an online sport is fraught with complication.
Significantly, games based on an element of skill are allowed to be played or offered even using real money, except in states such as Odisha, Telangana and Assam. But games based on chance are termed gambling and barred. Two problems emerge in such scenarios. First, how does one define ‘skill’? Second, states with separate laws ban what is legal pan-India. Therefore, uniform laws with clear-cut definitions are required to avoid unnecessary harassment of eSport employees. Incidentally, the Apex Court has recognised football, chess, rummy, golf, baseball and horse racing as games of skill.
Other beneficial aspects of eSports also need consideration, including the immense potential in offering opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. Moreover, it is the only sport immune to lockdowns. Consequently, if an enabling environment is fostered for eSports, both investors and investments will be attracted to the industry. In turn, this will generate greater jobs growth, promoting the industry’s long-term viability.
As recent events indicate, the coronavirus pandemic may continue disrupting economies globally for the next year or so. With almost all sectors badly affected, government revenues are under severe strain. In such a scenario, eSports ensure gainful employment for thousands of people while generating revenues for the Central and state governments. In economies largely or frequently under lockdown, this can be a worthwhile proposition for varied stakeholders.
—Roland Landers is CEO - All India Gaming Federation. The views expressed are personal