The relatively new phenomenon of eSports and its rising popularity here has opened the doors for a lifestyle change for many professional gamers in Nepal.
--BY MUNA SUNUWAR
Video gaming in Nepal, much like in other parts of the world, has undergone an evolution. About a decade ago, activities related to video gaming in the country were largely confined to the rooms of hardcore gamers and ‘cyber-cafes’ where enthusiasts would spend hours playing popular single and multiplayer games. Today, the proliferation of gaming PCs, consoles along with increasing internet bandwidths coupled with the exponential growth of smartphones over the past decade, has widened the scope of video gaming.
The emergence and growing popularity of eSports in Nepal in recent years is a sign that video gaming, which for years remained much maligned despite the immense popularity among the youths, is gradually evolving from a mere pastime to a business/professional activity where gamers and people in the business are earning money though this form of virtual entertainment. Kunal Timilsina, a professional gamer and CEO at Kunyo.co, a gaming e-commerce firm, observes a rapidly developing eSports scene in Nepal. “Only cyber cafes and small organisations used to organise eSports tournaments but in the past two years, we have been invited to take part in Indian gaming tournaments,” he says.
The global video gaming business is growing enormously as the size of the market has been increasing substantially every year. The size of the market was USD 93.1 billion in 2015, which grew to USD 106.5 billion in 2016 and USD 121.7 billion in 2017. The projection for 2018 is USD 137.9 billion which is expected to reach a whopping USD 180.1 billion in 2021. Each successful game attributes to the growth of this ever increasing market. For instance, Grand Theft Auto V, the fifth iteration of the immensely popular GTA series, was the fastest selling entertainment product in history, grossing a whopping USD 1 billion in sales in a mere three days after its launch in September 17, 2013. The game’s current haul is a staggering USD 6 billion making it the highest grossing entertainment product of all time.
The eSports business has been a fast emerging contributor to the overall video gaming market over the last few years. In 2018, eSports had an audience base of 380 million people worldwide and generated USD 960 million. It is expected to hit USD 1.65 billion by 2020.
While the culture and income stability through gaming are yet to reach critical mass in Nepal, the signs are promising.
Shifts in Gaming Trends
Gamers are interested in various segments ranging from personal computers (PC), consoles to phone-based games. PC games like Dota2, Counter-Strike, League of Legends, console-based games like FIFA, PES, Tekken and mobile-based games like, Players Underground Battlegrounds (PUBG), Fortnite and Clash Royale are popular among Nepali gamers. “Mobile games are gaining ground as new gadgets are not needed to support these games,” explains Suraj Dangol, president of Nepal Esports Association (NESA).
Mushrooming gaming zones in Kathmandu valley are a testament to eSports’ ascendance in popular culture. However, Rabin Prajapati, the proprietor at Shree Yantra Console, a Micro-Star International (MSI) authorised distributor in Nepal points out that gaming was always popular in Nepal but now there is an added visibility due to the growth of online gaming. The Next Level, a Kathmandu based gaming zone sells food and beverages in their gaming zone. “We are trying to provide an all-in-one experience by improving on the gaming zones we visited in the past,” shares Samman Shrestha, co-founder of The Next Level.
Many believe PCs are a onetime investment while consoles are a comparatively expensive purchase considering console games are expensive, therefore a section of the gaming community is still attracted to PC gaming. Shrestha says the preference is a personal choice and the number of gamers is growing in every segment.
Expanding eSports Community
Despite the subtle development of eSports in Nepal, NESA has five members and over 200 players associated with it. The Next Level sees an average of 30 to 40 visitors on a daily basis.
The number of participants is increasing in each eSports tournament. The provision of free entry tournaments has pulled in more participants. The recent tournament Kunyo.co organised had 100 participant teams (five in each team) meaning 500 players in total. He says that the free entry provision in tournaments will increase the number of participants. Internationally, this virtual sports has gradually started overshadowing other physical sports competitions in terms of number of audience. “Currently, the viewership of eSports is higher than NBA basketball tournament. By 2030, the viewership and players will rival that of football,” Timilsina informs adding, some foreign streamers have 2,000 to 3,000 active streamers and the stadiums are full during tournaments.
NESA states it is trying to establish eSports in the sports segment rather than integrate it with other entertainment sub-segments like movies and music. “There is definitely an entertainment side to it and because of social media and internet technologies, eSports has a large following worldwide,” Dangol opines.
Whilst the community is getting bigger, there is still a lack of female gamers. Next Entertainment, a publishing and event management company that organises Comic Cosplay Conventions in Nepal admits they have had only male participants in the gaming tournaments at their events. According to Timilsina, 95 percent of the customers to Kunyo.co are male but the number of female gamers is rising compared to when he first started the business. Though the imbalanced ratio is discernible, NESA is planning a female-only tournament soon. Dangol says there are many female professional players in the world who are making their living from eSports.
Progress concerning eSports tournaments in Nepal is relatively slower than in India, China and other countries in Asia. Kunal says only one tournament is organised a month. Timilsina, who is also the founder and CEO of 4Merical Esports, a leading Nepali eSports organisation, has received invitations to take part in international qualifiers and other major tournaments. NESA organised a large-scale tournament in Nepal on August 2018 with a cash prize of Rs 150,000 for the winners of each segment, Dota 2 and CS:GO.
Internationally, eSports tournaments have become a global phenomenon with a prize pool larger than any other game event. The tournaments for the multiplayer exclusive Fortnite, for example, has prize money totalling USD 100 million.
Next Entertainment organised the FIFA 2017 gaming tournament in Comic and Cosplay Convention, 2017 and saw 36 participants. Next Entertainment’s public relations and event coordinator Lobsang Dhakhwa informs, “We awarded the winner a brand new Sony PlayStation 4 sponsored by Nepa Hima Trade Link, the authorised distributor of Sony.” The company is organising FIFA 19 and Tekken 7 gaming tournaments during the 2018 Comic and Cosplay Convention.
Gaming as a profession in Nepal is not financially viable as yet as only a few tournaments are organised and the cash prizes fall on the lower end of the spectrum. Joseph says there are many gamers who are highly talented but are not able to commit completely because society has a stereotypically negative image of gaming.
Dangol says NESA is determined to take eSports further. He adds, “We want sponsors to look at eSports as a good medium to build their brand image.”
The indifferent attitude of sponsors towards eSports tournaments has prevented the expansion of the eSports community. “Brands and companies that deal with gaming should sponsor gamers and tournaments in order to sustain the eSports culture in Nepal,” Timilsina opines.
Regardless of the issues with eSports infrastructure and internet bandwidth, Dangol sees great potential in the sector. “Gamers have to depend on prize money and meagre sponsorships which is not enough,” he shares.
Next Entertainment organises gaming tournaments with the goal of including the gaming community in their events. Dhakhwa says, “It also provides makers of gaming PCs, consoles, graphics cards and smartphone and various types peripherals with an opportunity to showcase their products.”
Mouse, keyboards, headphones, mouse pads and graphics cards are the most popular products of Kunyo.co. Timilsina says, "The business of gaming equipment is thriving and is optimistic about the future because teenagers nowadays are quite familiar with gaming culture." He plans to become the number one seller of gaming gears and custom PCs in Nepal.