As India’s interest in gaming and esports continues to expand at a tremendous rate, viewership for esports events alone is expected to rise to 85m by 2025, according to a report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) and EY India. Furthermore, streaming and advertising revenue is estimated to reach a total of INR 6.5bn(~£63.8m) in 2025.
These numbers mean that India would account for 10 percent of global esports viewership, a four-fold increase over 2021. It therefore comes as no surprise that there are already over 15 top-grade platforms that are fighting for streaming rights in the region.
While YouTube still remains the audience’s preference for all gaming content, Loco has been a game-changer for the country when it comes to catering to the hunger for regional content. Pulling out from Pocket Aces, a thriving media distribution company during India’s digital revolution, Loco has become a separate entity dedicated to India’s esports and gaming scene.
With over 10m downloads on the Google Play Store, Loco aims to equip India with the best streaming technology the country has to offer, specifically tailored to a regional audience. Moreover, with $9m(~£6.6m) in recent funding from Krafton and Lumikai, it seems that global publishers and domestic venture capitalists are very much aligned with Loco’s vision for India’s streaming space.
AFK Gaming, on behalf of Esports Insider, asked Loco Co-Founders Ashwin Suresh and Anirudh Pandita about the rise of the platform and its place in Indian esports.
When discussing India’s esports and gaming market, Pandita shared that even in these early stages of India’s growth, the country is passing 100,000 daily engagements. Standing at the forefront of such growth, Loco is already looking ahead to the next 10-12 years. Revealing Loco’s growth from last year, Suresh said: “Our active users are up almost 10 times as well as the number of streamers on the platform. We also recorded [a] viewership increase of 50 times in 2021”.
According to its founders, Loco has supported a multitude of esports programmes in the country so far while witnessing a steady flow of new talent joining the platform. It supports its creators through products, technology, creative opportunities, business and financial support, alongside the opportunity to engage with a large portion of the community. Apart from the domestic scene, Suresh revealed that Loco has also been receiving a lot of invites to expand its operations abroad.
Along with a popular talent programme that supports both small and celebrity streamers, Loco has been heavily focused on influencer marketing. Talking about the importance of hiring the most popular faces, Suresh shared that having the high quality streamers onboard for your platform naturally causes a spike in viewership as the audience is already accustomed to them.
Despite its short life, Loco has become a hub for Indian streamers. Suresh commented: “As we speak, we’re onboarding even more streamers, and there’s a steady increase of watch-time duration from the consumers. So, advertisers are finding multiple ways to partake in that attention and selling their products.
Having worked with and managed many celebrities, Pandita claimed Loco makes sure streamers can speak their mind about any shortcomings they face. He said: “It’s really important to provide the right mix of product and community push as well as support for traditional content to make streamers celebrities and to continue to keep it that way.” Suresh added: “Apart from handling celebrities, how to create one through the platform is equally important.”
India is still a relatively new market for business; many organisations find it difficult to overcome the challenges it takes to set up a rewarding business model, let alone make it future-proof. Loco, on the other hand, has not only upped its game to tackle this, but there are also a number of macro factors that it has managed to make favourable for its business.
“Frankly, the challenge always remains to create and release technology that customers want at a rapid pace,” Pandita said. “We are lucky that maybe two years back even capital would have been a problem for the industry. Now, the only constraint is us and our imagination and our output. So we have to make sure that we keep pushing that output.”
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He continued: “The demand for gaming content is so high, talented streamers are going to work really long hours to put out good content. I would love to build and iterate on the product faster by giving them more features. I would like to get more engineers on board, more people to solve these problems.”
When asked about the experience with Loco.gg, the desktop website introduced to feature gaming on PC screens, Suresh said: “We are ensuring that Loco provides the easiest access to platforms for our viewers across various devices, whether it’s a mobile app on Android or iOS or on web. For example, we have the Loco studio app that allows mobile streamers to stream directly from their phone. As a gaming platform, you want to just be available wherever each user prefers to spend their time.”
The ban of PUBG Mobile in India was a huge setback for a lot of streaming platforms. Lamenting the ban, Suresh shared that the title’s impact in India can only be compared to cricket which is often described as a religion in the subcontinent.
Loco supported various new titles during this period and the creators on the platform are constantly trying to make new games work, similar to how Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) and Free Fire have boomed. Although no other game has conquered the same ground that these two have, Suresh is looking forward to seeing India’s adoption of new titles in the future.
However, the Loco founders also acknowledged that BGMI and Free Fire are important as publishers Krafton and Garena are a big part of the Indian market today. Loco has already partnered with Activision, Super Cell, NBA,and Garena for a number of successful activations. Suresh added: “The world is looking at India for growth and innovation, and these publishers have taken the same approach to work with us in a deep and meaningful manner.”
The duo also added that partnered advertisers like Logitech have really set the bar for where advertising will be two years from now. Loco’s experience of working with prominent tournament organisers has also been very similar. Although Loco has hosted a few tournaments of its own, Suresh believes that tournament organising is a completely different task.
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According to him, Loco only hosted tournaments to set an example for the community to showcase what it wants tournaments to look like. “From Sky Sports, Villager Esports to Esportswala, we have worked with 15-20 tournament organisers, all of which have received meaningful support and aid from us” said Suresh.
Loco appears committed to the growth of its small creators. Apart from marketing them through its strong social outreach, the company also invested capital and resources to see its younger streamers get big in the Indian gaming space. Pandita highlighted the ‘Discover’ button in the app which brings the spotlight to newcomers on its creators tab. “Twitch or YouTube, none of them are committed in the same way as we are to really throw out some of these streamers, ” he said.
Loco stands out from the rest when it comes to listening to the setbacks faced both by the big and small creators. “Twitch doesn’t have a Rewind button. Its communities have been asking for it for a long time but they never got it. We provided it immediately,” Pandita added as an example.
Loco also engages with the community’s interest in seeing more female creators take up the space. Pandita shared that the great thing about gaming is who you are and where you are from is never a constraint. “We are backing the vision of a lot of these young entrepreneurs who are coming from tier two, tier three cities and want to build something interesting in the space. And there is no reason why we should not have a very good roster of both entertaining and skillful streamers who are women.”
Although Loco’s team has a strong background of entertaining audiences in various verticals, it is currently focused on sticking to dedicated esports and gaming content. “We’ll be thinking about various other verticals where the natural need or the natural problem is. But our commitment to the gaming and esports community is extremely focused,” promised Suresh.
While publishers like Riot are focused on building esports structures in titles like VALORANT that have much more stake in the market, the responsibility falls to third-party platforms like Loco to ideate and develop a fully sustainable platform that has the potential to support domestic ecosystems. With competitors like Rooter coming up to tap into India’s billion-dollar streaming industry, the challenging dynamics are likely to result in even faster development for India’s gaming-entertainment industry.
This story is written in collaboration with AFK Gaming. AFK Gaming 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.