Earlier this month, the Indian government banned a number of high-profile apps with ties to China in the country, stating that doing so was an issue of national security. Amongst those apps was one of the biggest and most popular mobile esports games on the continent, PUBG Mobile.
One of the most striking comments about the deal came from Lokesh Suji, the Asian Esports Federation vice president, who when speaking about the ban on such a popular game commented:
“From a holistic viewpoint, there will be no impact on the Indian Esports industry; for the simple reason that there are a lot of games (and even better ones) available to which the existing user base of PUBG will shift.”
“Let’s not forget that PUBG PC is still out there (for the people who have PCs).”
Despite this somewhat rosy (and some would argue, naïve) outlook, there are a growing number of critics offering an alternative and rather gloomier view.
One of the key issues that drove PUBG to be so popular on mobile in India was that the game was accessible on almost any phone. This meant that large numbers of the population that used slightly older technology, could still access and play the game.
Estimated suggest three out of 10 Indians downloaded the game and part of that popularity was that PUBG would run on any phone smoothly. One alternative vouched for by Mr Suji, Fortnite, will likely not run on any phone under 10,000 Rupees in value.
Players Won’t Shift to New Games
Similarly, Mr Suji asserts that a large number of PUBG Mobile players in India will shift to playing other games, but a number of Streamers in India are stating otherwise. One mobile PUBG Streamer commented that:
“There [is] a mass audience for PUBG only. If I play a different game on a stream, they keep saying “why are you playing this game? shut it down, play another game, I want to see PUBG, I want to play PUBG.’
Another streamer, known as Rav3n has claimed that the ban could have massive implications for the Indian Esports industry in general stating:
“We used to think that by 2023, India would become such a popular place for esports gamers that parents would finally open up about letting their kids take it up as a profession. But because of the whole ban, I doubt that is something that will happen.”
Underestimated the Appeal of PUBG
There is no doubt that Mr Suji seems to have underestimated the appeal and importance of PUBG within Indian esports. Before PUBG Mobile, the esports industry in the country was relatively small and PUBG has played a huge role in developing the industry both within India and also getting Indian esports players and professionals noted amongst the wider esports community.
In addition, given its mass popularity, the Indian Esports Tournament system also took a huge hit as the majority of esports tournaments held in the country were for the now-banned PUBG Mobile or PUBG Lite versions of the game.
Furthermore, what is a concern for many in the Esports industry in Asia is that if the Indian government continues to ban apps with links to China, other big esports names, such as Riot Games, who recently moved into South Asia, could be next in the crosshairs.