One of the biggest gaming stories coming out of the South Asian region this year was the Indian Government’s decision to ban PUBG Mobile in the country in September.
The news sent shockwaves through the region’s esports ecosystem, with its industry largely built on the back of the game’s popularity.
Not only did the title help attract foreign investment, but it paved the way for local stakeholders and put India on the esports world map. With over 33 million daily active players and nearly 200 million downloads from the country, there is little doubt that the ban was a big loss for Tencent.
In the days that followed, Tencent lost close to $34bn (~£26bn) in market valuation, much of it based on the potential of future earnings from the region. At the time the ban came into effect, the title was also India’s most popular game in terms of esports viewership.
Whilst there has been some progress made with regards to a potential unban, there is little clarity as to when, and if at all, a solution can be reached. The ban has heavily impacted the industry and a lack of concrete information has caused fears to heighten.
The impact on teams and players
PUBG Mobile was the pinnacle of the Indian esports ecosystem and managed to attract both endemic and non-endemic sponsors and investments. International organisations such as Team SoloMid (in collaboration with Entity Gaming), Fnatic, Nova Esports (in collaboration with Godlike) and Galaxy Racer had begun to operate in India.
The entry of these teams into the ecosystem allowed players to reach new heights of popularity. Indian players quickly established themselves as some of the biggest stars for these organisations in terms of followers.
Due to the ban, the PUBG Mobile Pro League had to be conducted without Indian teams after a decision was made to leave India out of the global circuit for the current season.
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Almost all of the top Indian teams made efforts to sign players for the upcoming season, including hiring personnel and setting up boot camps. With no tournaments to look forward to, organisations had to make some difficult calls on how to move forward.
Fnatic and TSM-Entity are yet to make any formal statements regarding the situation, however, the organisations will need to make some hard decisions on how they want to operate in India. Some Indian teams such as Megastars have already let go of their rosters in a bid to cut losses.
Others, while still active, may be forced to consider similar approaches should a decision not be reached in the near future.
Its impact on tournament organisers
Tournament organisers also relied heavily on PUBG Mobile as one of their main sources of revenue. NODWIN Gaming, a well-established organiser in India, was supposed to be working with Tencent to produce the PUBG Mobile Pro League Season 2, as well as regional broadcasts for international tournaments.
Other local organisers like Villager Esports, Skyesports and Esports Network also had PUBG Mobile IPs and worked with brands, sponsors and platforms to host tournaments regularly. With the ban in place, these organisers had to make some drastic changes. Some are adapting to PC titles, such as VALORANT, however, the viewership from PUBG Mobile events was significantly higher. Others have hosted community panels and are making social media campaigns to appeal to the authorities.
While the ban is certainly concerning, there is a belief that the game will be unbanned in the country.
PUBG Corp has taken over the publishing rights from Tencent in a bid to distance the game from China. In recent times, there have also been rumours regarding the involvement of Reliance Jio (an Indian telecommunications company) as the Indian partners for PUBG Mobile. Similar rumours have also appeared regarding Airtel, however, these remain unconfirmed.
On October 20th, Krafton listed a job opening for a ‘Corporate Division Manager – India’ via Linkedin, suggesting that the firm is still working to set up the right channels and processes to get the game up and running again in the region.
It is also well known that PUBG Corp has been in contact with Indian stakeholders, and while the discussions were private, quite a few Indian professional players have gone on record to say that the game is likely to be unbanned by the end of the year.
To conclude, timing is of the essence as other stakeholders are forced to consider their options and make drastic decisions with each passing day. Many influencers and content creators have already moved on to other titles, whilst the opportunities and interest surrounding the game will continue to decline as more time passes.
Other titles such as Free Fire, Call of Duty: Mobile and VALORANT are also beginning to chip away at both its viewership and player base, the effects of which will only be seen in the long term.
This story is written in collaboration with AFK Gaming. It is an India-based esports media and content company that aims to provide quality and consistent coverage about teams, players, tournaments and competitive video games with a primary focus on the Asian region.