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Esports Audience Surpasses Kabaddi Viewers – Akshat Rathee, Nodwin Gaming

Esports firm Nodwin Gaming that started operations in the year 2015 has already made it visibly big in the online gaming market today. The company recently closed its third round of funding after raising Rs 164 crore in equity investment from South Korean gaming firm Krafton. Nodwin earlier raised capital from Nazara Technologies and Jetsynthesys, respectively. Akshat Rathee, who is the co-founder and MD of Nodwin Gaming, opens up to Businessworld’s Ojasvi Nath on plans post-funding, growing competition in esports, Nodwin’s business strategies, and more. Excerpts:

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What is new at Nodwin after you received funds from Krafton? Also, how do you see the deal in terms of growth of the gaming industry in general? 

Gaming in India is on fire whether it is skill-based gaming where we see players like MPL and Dream 11, or dedicated esports brands like us at Nodwin, which is broadcast and influencer heavy and whose values are at the top of the pyramid. In terms of Krafton investment, we will continue to follow our roadmap. We are looking for international expansions in mobile-first markets such as Africa and the Middle East, as well as any other such markets which are in sync with our understanding. 

Besides this, our focus is on building capacity and capability, work in manpower, studios, and specifically on our content strategy to be able to go ahead and build many gaming or esports related IPs.

How do you see the competition and what has changed in terms of challenges from the time Nodwin began its operations? 

An increasing number of entrants in the Indian esports spectrum right now will actually make our job of growing the esports space much easier. At Nodwin, we are trying to build this market for the last four-five years and we kind of had to do it all by ourselves. I like the competition in the esports business joining in as it makes it so much easier for me to be part of a bigger ecosystem in which other people are also contributing. 

In terms of challenges, we have to solve two issues right now – the awareness and marketing problem in gaming and esports. I think the best marketing campaigns we saw on mobile were during the Covid crisis. Two years ago, I still had to explain to people what gaming and esports are, which is not the case anymore. Fundamentally, between the last two years, the big marketing campaigns have just been through word of mouth through influencers, content, YouTube, or the tournaments that we are doing. The foundation was however laid five years ago. 

What are your strategies to stand ahead of the competition in terms of Nodwin’s tournaments? 

You have seen us grow at a certain pace in the last few years but we have grown really fast in these two years because of the prevalent market situation. We did not have to go out and market much during these times. However, we are working with YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other different platforms for promotional activities. We are working with brands like HP, Pepsico, Redbull, and Asus. Our marketing strategy has become product-oriented over time. Currently, we have partnered with Riot for the VCC tournament. This is a joint initiative by two of us to roll out the Valorant Conquerors Championship as the qualifying tournament for the APAC Last Chance Qualifiers as part of the 2021 Valorant Champions Tour. 

Having a roadmap of zero-to-hero stories where people from India, other South Asian countries, Africa and various markets get an opportunity to play globally. We and our friends at Riot Games have worked together to build this ladder that connects South Asia to the global roadmap of Valorant Esports that is the VCT 2021.

Do you believe esports will rival the biggest traditional sporting leagues in terms of future opportunities, and between advertising, ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships, and merchandising, there are tremendous growth areas for this nascent industry? 

It’s no surprise that esports is often compared to its predecessor — traditional sports. However, esports certainly has none of the typical confines of traditional sports. We are already among the top esports companies in India. There are more people watching esports than the French Open or a Formula 1 race. Even the audience for esports surpasses the viewers for kabaddi in India. However, in comparison to cricket, we are behind. India has so many sports channels that focus on cricket, so if you think about it and start looking at the numbers, you will see esports have outnumbered all the traditional sports except cricket. Nevertheless, there are times when people prefer to watch esports than an Australia vs England or Pakistan vs Bangladesh cricket match. 

Being second to the most-watched traditional game like cricket is no less than saying esports is on its way to drafting a huge growth story. 

Being one of the trailblazers in the Indian esports ecosystem, what would your suggestions be for esport enthusiasts planning esports as a business? Also, share with us about your upcoming IPs and tournaments. 

For such enthusiasts, I would suggest — find your niche! We have some great companies in India who are coming up in esports or have set up well. There are content creators, influencers networks, and streaming organisations that are doing well. The entire real money gaming sector has been phenomenally large during this time. There are so many opportunities for people planning their business in esports. Companies like Ewars have recently raised money. Then there are websites like Sportskeeda, AFK Gaming, and Total Esports, which are doing amazing work with their content. There are so many opportunities based on your capability, intellect, and capacity to invest. 

Our onsite tournaments, which we extremely love like Dreamhack and the premiership final, are delayed. We are soon going to announce multiple IPs that we will be going in with. I am super excited for this year especially the Riot partnership. We are looking forward to three or four large IPs.