Lokesh Suji : How his passion for esports gave him more than just a gamer tag

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In our interview series, we will be speaking with sports business experts from India and discuss their stories and the future of the sports industry in India and abroad.

Our first sports business maverick to be featured is Lokesh Suji. Lokesh is a thought leader in the rapidly booming esports sector in India. Lokesh is the Chief Gamer & Founder @Indian League Gaming (eGamers Arena Pvt Ltd); eSports Evangelist & Director @eSports Federation of India (ESFI)

Here is what he had to say about his journey into esports and the future of esports in India:

Can you tell us about your journey into esports? 

I started my career as an entrepreneur in my hometown (a small place near Kurukshetra), eventually did my Management Degree and started my corporate career in Mumbai. Have spent 18+ years in working with mostly telecom companies like Airtel, Reliance, Tata Communications, and last stint was with Huawei (Enterprise Business) as Head – Media & ISP Vertical moved on to pursue my passion for esports in 2014.

How did Lokesh become dAwesomeNinja? What made you take up esports?

That’s an interesting story!

Since my childhood was very active playing games like Contra/Mario and have spent a lot of time and money in the Arcades. Use to get a lot of scolding for that :). Like any other teenager in India, Parents always wanted me to score good marks, get admission in some reputed University/College and get a decent Job with a good salary. That’s what I did.

One fine day, we got a gaming console at our home for my son, then what, it was me who was spending more time on it than my son and the gamer tag “dAwesomeNinja” was actually his choice. But, as I said, it was me who was spending more time playing online and that’s how Lokesh became “dAwesomeNinja”.

After having played hours and hours online, I realized that esports will be the next big thing and did a lot of research around that and decided to leave my job and take this up full time to build a sustainable eco-system around esports in India. Ever since there is no looking back.

How big is the esports market in the world and how much does India contribute to the global sports market?

Esports market is growing like a wildfire both around the world and in India. Organizations like Newzoo have been publishing various reports which state that this market will touch $ 1 Bn by 2018, the way we see it, this may happen much earlier.

India as of now does not contribute much to the esports economy, having said so we have the largest population of youths and scene here is growing much faster than anywhere else in the world. Some report that the active esports community is around 1.5 Mn and esports audience estimate for India is 6.2million (3.2m occasional viewers and 3.0 Enthusiasts).

Tell us about Indian League Gaming? What are the services you offer and what is your long-term plan?

We are an esports company and our vision is to be a dominant esports player in India & neighboring countries; by Creating an Exceptional & Sustainable eco-System; by raising levels of Professionalism; by Building stepping stones to Greater Achievements for Players, Teams, Organizers, Brands, Publishers, and Media.

As of now, we run various esports tournaments and leagues across multiple esports games.

How many professional esports teams are there in India? Which are the most popular games in India?

There are not many pro teams in India but for some time now, we are seeing a keen interest from various casual teams to structure themselves into one. Pro teams which we can name are Brutality, Entity, Dare2Dream, Aggressive5, JMD Gaming, Standing5 etc. It’s not that India does not have capabilities, it’s just that someone has to structure the whole eco-system for these players and create “Sachin Tendulkar (God of Cricket)” for esports from India. That’s what we are trying to do in our limited capacities.

Most popular games in India are DOTA2, CSGO, FIFA and Clash Royale followed by LOL, Overwatch, COD etc.

Who are the serious players in esports in India? What are they doing to promote esports in India?

Since the beginning of this year, India saw a surge of companies who have shown some serious interest in esports and Ronnie Screwala’s Ucypher esports league announcement has kind of lead other companies to also join the bandwagon like Route Mobile, Nazara etc. Big investment commitments have been announced by them. How this pans out is yet to be seen. Good thing is that this year onwards esports is building up like an industry in India and it will grow at a faster pace as more and more players will come in. We already have ESL since 2014.

Then we have the Esports Federation of India (ESFI) which is working day and night to make this ecosystem better and conducive for the growth of Indian esports.

What are the main challenges esports agencies/teams are facing at the moment? Is it easy to get sponsors? Is infrastructure for gaming stable in India? Is there enthusiasm among players to become pro gamers?

Esports is not mainstream yet in India but will not take much time to reach there in comparison to any other sport. The biggest challenge today is the Skill level of the Indian Teams, Parental Support, somewhere we see that commitments levels (both in terms of Time and money) are not there yet. When we look at the established teams across the world, these guys have given their blood, time, money for this and have reached where now they are among the best teams and making money (whether that’s sponsorship or prize winnings).

Sponsorship, yes that’s also one big missing link, but again what does a sponsor get in return. It’s like a chicken and egg story. There are so many brands who want to get into esports, but they want to use esports as an activation tool, that approach we are skeptical about. As a brand, you have to build a long-term strategy around esports.

Having said that we were able to convince Mt. Dew to engage with esports and given consultancy for Dew Arena which they executed last year and plan to do it this year too. A nonendemic brand like Mt. Dew coming forward is a big boost for the overall industry.

India as a country is on the move, infrastructure is getting better every day including the Internet, thanks to Jio. Now we have servers for DOTA2 and CSGO in India and Riot has also announced that they will be setting up India servers, overall everything is falling in shape for the next big boom in Indian esports. The online viewership numbers are a clear sign of enthusiasm amongst the players to become Pro-esports Athletes (Athletes, yes that’s what we call them)

What is your opinion about the industry in India? Are we ready to challenge global teams? If Yes, why aren’t we Indians in any lists of global esports team earnings? If No, what is stopping us from competing? How far are we from developing top quality players/teams?

This year will be the Year Zero for Indian esports. It will grow and at a much faster pace. This will help in getting the Indian teams to play at the global fields; just give this sapling some time to grow.

If you look at the history of esports, there were not enough sustained esports tournaments in India,  even if they were the prize pools were not worthy to be listed amongst the global earnings. Reasons can be many, couple of them, companies who organized these tournaments were there for the quick money, you have to be committed towards esports, you may have an interest in esports but till the time you have “Passion” for esports you will end up damaging the ecosystem rather than doing any good. From the teams perspective, there was no one to help them structure in a way so that they become self-sustained and improve/enhance their skill levels. Teams are and were unable to raise enough sponsorships for sustenance.

I personally feel the need of the hour today from Teams perspective is Coaching and sustained opportunity to play against the best of teams worldwide. Sponsorships, of course, is still a major problem due to which both the players & parents don’t see esports as a viable career. For the Brands, I would suggest them to build long terms plans and not look at short-term ROIs. Sports Associations always take time.

Momentum is there, we have a couple of teams who already have set up the gaming houses where athletes stay together and practice, others serious team are also on the same track. It should not take more than 3-4 years where we see India’s name on esports map.

Which games are popular in India (in terms of participation ) Strategy, Shooting, war or sports?

Largely popular games in India are MOBA, FPS, Sports, RTS in sequence.

In terms of popular esports leagues in India, which International League is popular in India? Is it EL (IMG and Turner-owned) or ESL? Are they doing enough to enter the Indian markets? What do you think? 

It’s a very difficult question to answer as there are no statistics around the same; the popular one is, of course, TI may be followed by CSGO events of ESL worldwide, LCS etc.

I think we are still far from what India deserves, we are inching towards that goal; Any organization which plans to come in India would look at partnering with someone who is already active here and understands the nuances of India and of course esports.

Can esports management be a serious career in India? What is the scope of work in the industry for esports management enthusiasts? (Types of jobs available from an agency perspective, brand perspectives, events perspective) Bonus Is there anything you need the readers to know about you, your agency or esports industry in India?

Yes, esports management is a viable career here in India, over past couple of years we have seen some very good casters/analysts who have emerged and are doing reasonably well for themselves. The eco-system is expanding and spanning all across including designers/video editors/esports merchandise & goods/event management. You will be surprised that there are some esports enthusiasts who are running esports pages which are very successful.

I remember the days where Twitch was a Greek term for gamers in India, but now you find so many serious streamers who stream regularly, and a number of casual gamers who stream their game plays are also increased many folds.

Endemic brands are looking at hiring esports community managers to engage with the gamers; some of them are already doing a great job like Nvidia.

We as an organization, are working towards making esports accessible for all, basically for all skill levels through our online esports tournament platform, this is just the start; we also have partnered with WCA which will give Indian players an opportunity to play against the best teams in the world. A lot of things are on the plate and we will announce as and when the time comes.

As a Federation, we are already in discussions with the relevant government agencies to get esports recognized as a Sport. The inclusion of esports in Asian Games has definitely been a shot in the arm for our efforts.

To sum up Lokesh’s interview we have designed an infographic that explains the growth of esports globally and the potential for esports India.