Economic Times: How do you see the future development of esports in India?
Upmanyu Misra (UM): Esports, like any sport, will need heroes if it is to find its footing in India. Just like Dhyanchand, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Mary Kom, Viswanathan Anand and many others have grown their respective sports at grassroots level.
We have to understand that India is at a crossroads where it has stood many times. We can go the way of cricket or the way of rugby. The biggest hurdle is bulldozing through the stigma attached to gambling. Parents, who are the gatekeepers, need to be made to realize that this space is no different than any other sport or
art (singing, theater, painting). And most importantly, the rewards that come with a professional-level career are similar, if not better. To achieve this, we need to develop the regulations, the infrastructure and the sheer will to pursue a career in eSports. Countries like Korea, USA, Scandinavia that have established early support structures have already experienced the socio-economic benefits of this sector. India also has several factors for this – high internet connectivity, digital acceptance and cheap hardware. I would like to appeal to our government, businesses, schools and parents for their full support.
Fortunately, India has no shortage of imminent presentation opportunities. One of the most important is the upcoming Asian Games in China. There are eight medal events on the program and wins will count.
ET: Given the tough global competition, how do you see Indian online gamers performing compared to their peers?
UM: There are always promising people here and there. But our teams are still not organized, equipped and trained to have a coherent global impact. Also, competitive games come and go, and an individual (without organizational support) might be disappointed. To top it off, there aren’t enough brand sponsorships, milestone events, advertising deals, etc. to reasonably support, let alone evolve, a player.
To be clear, this can turn out a dime with forethought and planning. That’s if players and tournaments regularly get exposure and encouragement.
ET: Although postponed, for the first time, the Asian games will also have esports as part of the tournament? How do you see India’s prospects in these games?
UM: In 2018, Esports became a demonstration event. One of the boys won a bronze medal there. I would say that this time we will be even more competent and prepared. The problem is that others would too.
At last count, India are sending 18 players spread across 5 events. Each of the events has a lineup of superstar players and it will be amazing if we can land a few podiums. This will increase awareness at the national level.
ET: What government initiatives are needed to take the electronic games industry to the next level?
UM: It should be an iterative process. The first step is to clearly define roles and responsibilities within government.
Currently, there is the Electronic Sports Federation of India (ESFI) which loosely exists as a governing body. However, based on my discussions with teams and players, it didn’t do much beyond hosting qualifying events. Admittedly, I am not aware of all the functions performed by this body. Nevertheless, these bodies should be regulated by the government and run on a KPI-based model, much like wrestling, boxing, etc. There must also be units at the state and district level that seek out and nurture talent. Such a structure will require infrastructural funding and can only crystallize over time.
ET: You recently joined the Galaxy Racer team. Tell us about your association with the team.
UM: I lead the M&A and finance strategy. We hit nine figures at the start of 2022, and it’s still exciting to drive a Sounicorn. There’s also quite a bit of learning involved as this is my foray into the operational side of things. Previously, I contributed to the space as an investor, gamer, and game programmer.
Paul, the founder and longtime friend, has a vision that could be truly unique and have a game-changing impact. GXR starts with the basics: games, players, influencers, teams and competitions. However, it is evolving very rapidly to push the boundaries of player growth, revenue streams, IP generation, digital advertising, and Web3 technologies. GXR is a true contender in the new race for time and people’s loyalty. Above all, GXR is staffed with a group of super energetic and dedicated people who make the job a lot of fun.
ET: As a serial investor, what are your other projects in this area?
UM: As a VC, I have always sought out new era technology (playing where the puck is going to be – strategy). This made me invest very early in cybersecurity, fintech, foodtech and blockchain/Web3. My focus now is on building an amazing Web3 business in partnership with GXR. Blockchain, community and sustainability will come together to drive real-world impact. The synergies between the two companies are immense.
To balance my operationally intensive work, I took an institutional VC sabbatical. Nonetheless, I will continue to be an angel and mentor to about half a dozen startups that really excite me.
From the end of this year, I am honored and excited to start working on a few government committees to help shape the eSports and Blockchain space in India. Discussions with our nation’s leaders and bureaucrats have been fresh and purposeful.