Entering the virtual war with all guns blazing

TNIE marches into the virtual war zone of esports, where a Kerala team has emerged as a force to reckon with at the global level. 
Battlegrounds Mobile India.
Battlegrounds Mobile India.

KOCHI: India’s love for battle royale games has reached its zenith with the announcement of the much-awaited Battleground India Series (BGIS). For the uninitiated, it’s a virtual war where gamers across the country battle it out for prizes worth Rs 2 crore. 

Basically, gaming teams take on each other in the Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) war zone, or the renamed avatar of PUBG, released in India after the government had banned several Chinese-made apps.

A popular concept abroad, this is the second BGIS in India. Currently, gamers across India have personal war rooms or boot camps set up by e-sport teams. Preliminary qualifiers – or the Grinds – began on July 20, and the final clash is scheduled for October. Like in the 2021- 2022 edition, the final rounds will be telecast on Star Sports.   

Each team has four lead players and two substitutes. The winners will take home Rs 75 lakh, and qualify for the PUBG Mobile Global Championship, which is a different league, with a prize money of about Rs 12 crore.     

In what may come across as a stunner for many in this part of the world, an esports organisation from Kerala, BLIND, has emerged as a fan-favourite to win the Indian championship. With an impressive record of five national esports tournament victories this year, including the Skyesports Championship Series, Upthrust Esports Survivors Saga Season II, and Villager Esports Domin8r Series, BLIND has cemented its position as a force to be reckoned with.

As per Esports Gen rankings, BLIND is currently the no.1 team in India, securing an enviable 21st position globally. The journey of BLIND began as a small-time PUBG clan founded by gamer Arjun Suresh aka ‘Blind Satan’. The organisation’s rise gained momentum when Sharath Babu aka ‘Blind Jocker’ joined forces, transforming the small group into a thriving esports entity. 

Today, Kochi-based BLIND boasts an impressive roster of over 75 players hailing from various corners of India. “BLIND started as a PUBG mobile roster in 2019 with a vision to bring talented amateurs into the mobile esports scene,” recalls Arjun, who hails from Palakkad. “Our first professional debut was at the PUBG Mobile India Tournament, one of the biggest esports events in India. That was before the PUBG ban.”

BLIND made a mark, reaching the semifinals. “Later, we expanded to other games to accommodate more content creators and esports enthusiasts under our banner,” says the 27-year-old. “Like most gamers, I started off playing video games in my teens. At that time, I had no clue that gaming was part of a booming sport or about its potential as an industry. I never thought of a career in esports, until I went to Mumbai in 2018 for a job at a major telecom company. That’s when I delved into the esports possibilities of PUBG.”

Now, Arjun adds, BLIND has individual managers for each lineup and they constantly track esports developments, tournaments and rankings. “We pulled off a hat trick, winning three tournaments back to back,” he beams.  

Team building

To prepare its players for future tournaments, BLIND provides its members and teams with equipment such as iPhones and headsets, coaches/analysts, and managers to handle scheduling, needs of players, etc.
BLIND also has boot camps in Kakkanad and Dubai, where high-speed internet connections, recording and streaming facilities, and leisure and relaxation avenues are facilitated. 

“We are a player-first organisation,” chips in Sharath, 30, who hails from Thiruvananthapuram. “That is how we ensure the best performance from each member. We give them complete freedom, and provide them with optimal infrastructure and support – everything needed to practise, perform and improve.”

Having started off as a band of six players, BLIND today boasts of some gaming biggies with one to ten lakh YouTube subscribers. Ramees (Kaztro Gaming), Dilin Dineshan (Eagle Gaming), Athul Sherif (Blind Rebel), Prishita Nair (Mintygaal), and Amrutha (Cupcake Gaming) are some of them whose games are widely viewed. 

“Not only BGMI, but BLIND also has gamers from Free Fire, Call Of Duty Mobile, and Clash of Clans,” says Shararth. “In the end, gaming and esports are about entertainment. We are what we are because of the support from the community and fans. We always try to actively engage with them via our social media platforms, and have regular meetups.” 

One of the major revenue streams for BLIND is brand partnerships, he adds. So far, the group has worked with big names such as LaLiga, Comic Con, Monster Energy, Samsung, NBA, Loco, Logitech G, HP, and Intel.

Kerala’s first gaming conclave

GamerCon, touted to be the first major gaming conclave in Kerala, was held at the Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat) grounds last Saturday. Jointly hosted by the Cusat eSports community and UEF Official, a national esports organisation, the event saw all the latest and greatest releases from the gaming world on display.

From cutting-edge gaming consoles to top-of-the-line PC rigs and even state-of-the-art virtual reality setups, there was something in it for everyone. However, it was competitive gaming took centre-stage with intense shooting tournaments and strategic multiplayer battles.

One of the highlights that set GamerCon apart was the unique chance for attendees to meet and interact with gaming content creators, including popular YouTubers, Loco streamers, and game developers. 
“GamerCon isn’t just about games and gadgets; it is about fostering a sense of community and camaraderie among gaming enthusiasts,”said Jackson Davis, one of the organisers from Cusat eSports.

Dipak Kumar Sahoo, head of the School of Engineering, delivered the inaugural speech. “When I was a student, my friends and I had a passion for video games. Now, not only do students play games, but they also create fantastic games for others. We are happy to host such a big event on our campus,” Dipak said.

Big bang  

Battleground Mobile India Series is the national tournament to qualify for the PUBG Mobile Global Championship. The Indian edition is organised by BGMI owner Krafton. Initial rounds started on July 20. From over 1,000 teams, about 250 will compete for a place in the final clash.

What is esports?

Short for electronic sports, esports refers to competitive video gaming, where professional players or teams compete against each other. Esports organisations like BLIND manage players and teams.

MP model

The Madhya Pradesh sports department recently announced the establishment of India’s first online gaming academy, the MP State Esports Academy, scheduled to open this month. Currently, 80% of the seats from the final selection are reserved for gamers from Madhya Pradesh. The government plans to provide free coaching and quality esports education to the selected athletes for 12 months. 

Esports in India

The future of esports in India appears promising, with the industry expected to expand significantly in the next few years. According to a KPMG analysis, the esports industry in India is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 36% between 2021 and 2025, reaching a market value of Rs 1,800 crore ($240 million) by 2025. 

Esport  academies

With the rising popularity of competitive gaming, e-sports academies have emerged across the globe. South Korea, China, the US, Japan, and several European countries, have recognised the value of esports and invested in specialist academies.

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