Ronnie Screwvala & Supratik Sen decode the growth of E-Sports in India

(L-R Ronnie Screwvala and Supratik Sen)
(L-R Ronnie Screwvala and Supratik Sen)

U Cypher, a sports business company backed by Ronnie Screwvala and Supratik Sen, has joined hands with MTV for a month-long championship, ‘U Cypher with MTV’. The show, which premiered on January 19, 2018, airs on MTV every day from 10 to 11 pm. 

The league is a first of its kind, multi-platform, multi-player game E-Sports championship which comprises of 35 episodes. In its first season, ‘U Cypher with MTV’ will have 6 teams with 14 members in each team. Each episode will have two teams facing off across titles like DOTA 2 and CS: GO on PC, Real Cricket 2017 on mobile and Tekken 7 on PS4 with a prize pool of Rs 51 lakh. The final four will play knockouts to determine the winners.  

Ronnie Screwvala, Founder, U Sports, remarked, “There has been an enthusiasm for E-Sports sparkling under the surface in the country for far longer than what is known. ‘U Cypher with MTV’ provides a platform for talented gamers to achieve their maximum potential and build their career in E-sports. The players have been meticulously picked from the top E-Sport tournaments and teams from pan India. The digital and broadband revolution has changed the game for this sport. CS and DOTA have had 20 million downloads in the past 10 years in India. And that’s a huge number for something that’s only starting to fully surface.” 

Commenting on the association with U Sports, Raj Nayak, COO, Viacom18, said, “E-Sports is growing fast worldwide. Not only that but the annual consumption of E-Sports content stands at almost over 3.7 billion hours across various platforms which are largely digital. Closer home, in India the gaming market is estimated to be over $600 million. Given the potential one can see, we at MTV are excited to be the first and only media network in the country to showcase an E-Sports League on television. We are delighted to partner with U Sports to craft a new tomorrow today through the launch of our exciting and one of a kind new property – U Cypher – only on MTV!” 

Supratik Sen, Co-Founder & CEO, U Sports, commented, “We are all set to showcase the biggest E-Sports championship on television with ‘U Cypher with MTV’. This will be the rise of a new batch of athletes and U Sports will look to give the best E-Sports athletes a chance to showcase their abilities. E-Sports is growing at a rapid pace and has been announced as a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games. E-Sports is moving from being a hobby to an actual career option and it’s high time we saw the potential in it.” 

Ferzad Palia, Head - Youth, Music and English Entertainment, Viacom18, added here, “E-Sports has found immense number of takers in India thanks to it being home to the world’s largest youth population and the world’s second largest internet user base. Keeping this in mind, it was thus a natural step for us at MTV, the brand with the ultimate word on the youth in India, to invest in a one-of-a-kind show ‘U Cypher’ that takes E-Sports out of bedrooms of gamers and gaming arcades and into living rooms through television. A truly unique concept, it will see gamers – who have hitherto been known only in select circles – taking on other gamers across multi-platform, multi-player games in a specially designed arena. At MTV, we have always taken pride in being trendsetters for the youth and thus are thoroughly excited to bring a brand-new concept, which will allow viewers to witness the creation of completely new kind of superstars!” 

E-Sports and the gaming market is estimated to be over $500-600 million with more than 2,000 teams consistently participating in tournaments across India and abroad. U Cypher delves into the culture of E-Sports and finds a world of intense competition and massive opportunities. 

The episodes and gameplay will also be available digitally on, MTV, Voot, YouTube, YouTube Gaming and Twitch. MTV has also planned an extensive digital plan to promote the show in addition to promotions across the Viacom18 network channels. 

In an interaction with Adgully, Ronnie Screwvala and Supratik Sen shed some more light on the scope for E-Sports in India, the challenges ahead, marketing strategy, key focus areas and much more. Excerpts: 

What kind of scope do you see for E-Sports leagues in India?
Supratik Sen: If you look at the E-Sports space, the biggest one globally actually right now is PC, then console and mobile. Now mobile in India is very large, so everyone is playing a mobile sport. It is not just a few of them. As far as Indian PC perspective is concerned, look at Counter Strike or DOTA, there are easily close to 20 million downloads of that game in the past 10 years. If you look at Steam, which is their online platform, around 1.5 million Indians are subscribing there and playing E-Sports championships on a regular basis and more than 100,000 gamers play on it on a week on week basis from India. Global perspective is Steam has 160 million people subscribing there, which will give you the kind of length and breadth of it. Now if you look at one of the disciplines which we have, which is real cricket, more than 50 million downloads of that game has happened in India. Therefore, the perspective is that it will only continue to grow, what with connectivity changing, more and more millennials playing it at leisure and 24-60 million people watching the finals of global championships with attractive prize money like the DOTA World Championships. So, these numbers are here to stay. Globally, it has gone ballistic. In China, it has established a whole new level, in Japan it’s been played and also in Korea. In America and Europe, too, it is big. 

Why chose MTV over a sports channel to broadcast the U Cypher championships?
Ronnie Screwvala: If we look at it overall, E-Sports is a game that needs to be understood, otherwise it’s a game which you skip down a bit. Normally, when you go on a sports channels, the expectation is to watch a moving, running game and for it to be live. But for us, the objective was to widen the audience/ viewer/ participant base by giving them something that they could see and get excited about in a capsule. Therefore, we decided that maybe for the first two seasons it wouldn’t make sense to go with a sports channel. We could later choose a channel on the basis of the demographics that it provided. So, for us YouTube, YouTube games,, Twitch, Voot, and MTV are the six platforms on which we are going to go simultaneously. 

How would you go about marketing the platform?
Ronnie Screwvala: It’s very digital-oriented because our entire core player base is online as the sport itself is digital. The marketing approach is extremely parallel and participative. Our positioning is – ‘Change The Game’, so basically what we are saying is that it is a game changer and our key punchline is the same with ‘Naya Sport, Naye Superstars’. Like in any game, a sport is not really something that everyone starts identifying with unless we start identifying with the players. So, you build as much loyalty to a player as you build for a team and the sport. 

What about sponsorship?
Ronnie Screwvala: For the first season, we are specifically holding back from it because the minute we start sub-selling a sport where everyone is still wondering how big it will be or where it will land, whatever we do is setting a wrong benchmark. So, instead of doing that for the sponsors this season, we want to hold back, and in any case USports and UCypher owns all the teams and the tournaments. So, for the first year we are only really going with the broadcasting income and platform income. Therefore, when all our platforms such as YouTube, etc., bring up their advertising, we will do a revenue share with them. So, we have got revenue sharing with the digital platforms and with MTV. 

What was the criteria for player selection?
Supratik Sen: We went out and tracked around 200 tournaments pan India and the best players were already playing. If you go to the tech fest of any tech institute like IIT, every tech college has a tournament or a festival where they play out these sports. Plus there are other championships which are played out for smaller prize money – between Rs 3 lakh and Rs 5 lakh at the most. These were the championships which we tracked as well as the best players. Within our team we have a couple of E-Sports guys who constantly played the games and also at European championships earlier. That is how we tracked these boys. We basically elected the captains and then we drafted the teams. 

There are six teams and within each team there is a Counter Strike team, a DOTA team, a Tekken team and the Real Cricket team plus two extras. So, in total there are about 84 players, who are the best available pan India, and it will only get better as we move ahead. In Season 2, the qualifier will be completely online. You can be in any part of India – from Agartala to Mizoram to Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari – you can get into any cyber café or log on to the championship from your home and you will be tracked. Moving to Season 3, you will be able to play at least 30-50 rounds to come into the drafts and the best of 50 will be selected. 

How would you define the TG for this?
Supratik Sen: Gamers are starting from the age of 10-12 all the way up to 24 and even 40. Our core target will be the 14-24 age group and then directed to 24-34. But even 10-12 year old are also decently playing these games nowadays. 

Is it more of a metro phenomenon?
Ronnie Screwvala: Today, the demographics are absolutely pan India. This is no longer a metro-only sport. India is getting better and better, where connectivity is playing a crucial role. From a player playing out of here with a player playing in Philippines, South East Asia or Dubai, it is as competitive as can be. 

Going forward, what are the challenges?
Ronnie Screwvala: It is like launching any sport, this one specifically because it has a very quiet base, there are a lot of people playing it amongst themselves. Also, it is not something that stands out for you. We are all discovering it. Playing it, watching it and rallying and cheering for it are all very different things. When you are game creator, you create a game and then everyone plays it. Whether it is a hit or a flop depends on how many people play it. When you are a sportsperson, you are as good as your own team member. But in a tournament, it is how we convert people who are not hardcore gamers but are casual players to get interested in gaming – that is a challenge. 

What would be your key focus areas?
Ronnie Screwvala: I think the focus in 2018 will be really to build this sport and bring in a lot of attention and awareness in the first place, and then create a subscription model.

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