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ESI Gambling Report: The rise and fall of PUBG Mobile in India

Throughout gaming’s ancestry, there have been unique moments in which a title is able to achieve a rare level of societal stardom. The latest edition of this notion happens to be occurring right now with PUBG Mobile’s status in India.

Proving to be the mobile game’s largest market by far, its prevalence has hit India stiffly – for better or for worse. We discuss the proliferation and phenomenon of PUBG Mobile in India through this week’s ESI Gambling Report, powered by Vie.gg.

Understanding games in culture

Over the course of time, there have been a number of games unchained into the open market that were able to seemingly clasp an entire nation in one fell swoop. Of course many games come to mind at first: Pokémon, Quake, Tetris, Counter-Strike  the list goes on and on, each to varying degrees. Though each prominent in their own right, we’ll touch on a few as exploring each in detail would surely be far too exhaustive to catalog.

North America in 2004 had the release of Bungie’s Sci-Fi shooter Halo 2, so widely anticipated that its midnight release was covered by cable television news outlets across the entire country. Microsoft’s then Corporate Vice President, Shane Kim, had even gone as far to describe Halo’s impact as “a pop-culture phenomenon” at that time. It had infiltrated a vast majority of homes across the United States, and as former Head of Talent at ESL UK Richard Simms had put it quite fittingly: “Halo was the Fortnite of its time, everyone was playing it and everyone knew about it”.

Image credit: Seth Wenig / Reuters

Speaking of which, the cultural impact imposed by the release of Epic Games’ Fortnite – even despite gaming’s exalted presence today as opposed to then – is still highly impressive. The universality of Fortnite has brought world-famous recording artists, professional sports leagues, and even Prince Harry into the conversation. In its current state it would be truly remarkable to come across an individual that’s unaware of Fortnite, whereas meeting an adolescent that hasn’t memorised the entirety of the game’s dance emotes is utterly impossible to find. Not many games or franchises could even come close to the prevalence and awareness Fortnite has entrenched today.

Beyond great development, marketing strategies, and so on and so forth, causing a societal uproar with a video game can be tough to recreate. However, it seems as if Chinese technology conglomerate Tencent has been able to do just that with PUBG Mobile’s release into India. 

Roots in India

India’s first taste of PUBG Mobile esports was the PUBG Mobile Campus Championship last year. The event attracted 200,000 entrants across 1,000 Indian colleges and featured a prize pool of Rs 50,00,000 (£58,155). It instantly became clear the weighty demand for PUBG Mobile in India, and it wouldn’t be long before Tencent would return to the region with another event.

Image Credit: Techradar

Over half a million participants would compete in the India Series 2019 over the course of several online qualifiers leading into the live event in Hyderabad, Telangana. Interestingly enough, the tournament only offered a grand prize of Rs 30,00,000 (£34,879), a figure comparatively far lower than other tier-one esports prize pools. At this point, the rationale behind the success of PUBG Mobile was beginning to become a bit more apparent.

Taking place later this month, the PUBG Mobile Cup Open boasts a $2,000,000 (£1,594,040) cash purse – matching the largest prize ever offered for the game’s PC equivalent. Typically, the enhanced controls offered by a PC and thus, a more elevated competitive state, positions PC games ahead of their mobile counterparts in terms of competition. With inflated prize winnings and player bases orbiting around 400 million users for PUBG’s mobile alternative, we became curious as to what actually drives its ubiquity.

Solving a problem

PUBG Mobile solves a market problem for casual gamers who want to experience and play PUBG but are unable to meet the expense of a sufficient gaming computer. Before insisting that technically any mobile game provides this, PUBG Mobile does it one better by allowing users to adequately play on a 3G connection while utilising less data than its battle royale rival, Fortnite.

Fresh off the talent desk at the PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 Indian Finals, esports commentator Alex “Snodz” Byfield helps us understand how this element gives the game a hefty advantage.

Alex “Snodz” Byfield

“Essentially because the internet connection required for PUBG Mobile is less than Fortnite, Arena of Valor or other games it means that rural people in India can still play on a 3G connection without having to have WiFi, without having to have 4G. This massively increases the scalability of the game and the amount of people that can play it.”

Further opening the floodgates is the booming smartphone market in India. As it stands, India is the Q1 2019 market leader in smartphone manufacturing which drastically increases PUBG Mobile’s availability to its users in the region.

“Then you factor in how many manufacturers of mobiles are based in India,” Snodz continued. “What it does is reduces the price of a mobile phone in india, so it makes it even more accessible to the people who can’t afford a computer or an expensive iPhone – they can afford a phone that can run PUBG Mobile for a very cheap cost.”

Tencent has admirably identified how PUBG Mobile fits into the Indian market and fully seized the opportunity to capitalize through towering prize pools and ease of use by tapping into the well-established smartphone trade. Even then, the company continues to power into India with the recent release of PUBG Lite – a dialed-back version of the game that’s able to run off minimal PC requirements without sacrificing graphics or the playing experience.

PUBG Mobile Map
Image credit: Tencent

Deadly backlash

As with other products that experience a global familiarity, problems are bound to arise in one form or another and, for PUBG Mobile, it’s unfortunately no different.

Due to rising concerns of in-game violence and addictive qualities to its youthful player base, a number of states in India have imposed a ban on PUBG Mobile. The western state of Gujarat being among those heavily-enforcing the PUBG crackdown has already seen dozens of arrests made around the legislation. Jordan is the latest state to follow suit and join this list by instituting a prohibition of its own. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) of Jordan has claimed to have received “many comments and complaints from a large number of citizens and some concerned authorities about the negative impact of the game.”

In the absolute worse instances, there have even been several deaths linked to PUBG Mobile in India. Most recently in the northern state of Jind, Haryana, a 17-year old committed suicide after being reprimanded for playing the game. Although these occurrences are speculation, the supposed connection to PUBG Mobile has been severely damaging to its reputation.

Tencent has responded to these incidents by offering both public statements as well as introducing a ‘Health Reminder’ system into the game to promote healthy gaming practices.

Key awareness

All in all, PUBG Mobile’s position in India has demonstrated amazing growth for the franchise as well as helped better comprehend the strategy and function of mobile esports for the future. As mentioned previously, it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly when or how a game is able to reach heights such as the one at hand. With that being said, the deft awareness and action from Tencent to tackle the market as it had was able to light the fuse of the explosive.


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