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Battle  between Airtel, Jio for OTT market spills into eSports arena

Growing interest in competitive online gaming has intensified the rivalry between Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel beyond their core telecom business. Both companies have been involved with major eSports tournaments in India in some capacity in recent times.

Jio is holding a free-to-enter 70-day eSports tournament with battle royale mobile game Garena Free Fire as the primary title, in collaboration with MediaTek. The tournament, which starts on 13 January, has a pool prize of ₹12.5 lakh. The winner will take home ₹3 lakh. The event will be streamed live on JioTV HD Esports Channel.

Bharti Airtel on its part tied up with NODWIN Gaming, an eSports company, to create India’s first national ranking and awarding system for eSports players based on performance across four major tournaments, Call of Duty Mobile India Challenge, North East eSports Summit, KO Fight Night, and ESL India Premiership.

Both Airtel and Jio have built a significant presence in the over-the-top (OTT) media space, besides having video and music streaming apps with more than 100 million downloads each. Competitive online gaming is the next frontier and the boom in 2020 has prompted the companies to throw their hat into the ring.

“We are experiencing a tectonic shift in the way entertainment and media is being consumed, especially after the way 2020 has been. Traditional sports and media do not excite the younger audiences as much as eSports does because of its interactive and engaging ways,” said Rushindra Sinha, chief executive and founder of Global Esports.

According to industry estimates, India’s online gaming market will breach the $1 billion mark by the end of 2021, with a user base of more than 628 million.

The other big focus area in eSports for telcos is going to be the media rights. With most tourneys taking place online, there is a lot more emphasis on streaming of live matches. Telecom companies with their own eSports tournaments will have greater control over streaming rights and can leverage it to increase traffic on their video streaming platforms.

“Airtel India eSports tour is one of a kind where every gamer has a national leaderboard to top at the end of the tour. Same goes for Jio with its own set of tournaments targeting mobile gamers. This has led to the creation of internal communities for the telecom companies themselves and makes way for more tailored content from them,” said Akshat Rathee, co-founder and managing director, NODWIN Gaming.

Sinha said this will be vital for building a culture of online gaming.

Tournaments with the goal of nurturing the grassroots level of eSports will help sustain the entire community, said Sinha.

Telecom companies with their network infrastructure are also better equipped than any gaming company when it comes to optimizing the gaming and streaming experience for millions of customers.

“Gaming is another opportunity that is data-heavy and people are ready to spend on it. It also needs investment in CDN (content delivery network). That is where the operators can play a role as they are already investing in them,” said Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC, a technology research and consulting firm.

High latency is a gamer’s biggest foe and that makes telecom companies an integral part of the eSports infrastructure, said Rathee. More gamers mean more eSports, more content, and more viewers for all eSports and content generated, which makes a telecom provider the driving force for the seamless flow of this triangular relationship. Livemint

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