Counter-Strike, India Style

NEW DELHI — Add another category to India’s intensifying regional competition with China: online gaming.

Five years after China pulled away from its giant southern neighbor in all things internet, young Indians are logging on for Quake 4 and Counter-Strike marathons in rapidly growing numbers. Deepening PC and broadband penetration, together with invigorated promotion and heightened game awareness, have India on the cusp of an online gaming explosion.

And those leading the charge aren’t shy to admit that the elephant has a dragon in its sites.

“We are going to catch China by 2010,” says Sukamal Pegu, the 24-year-old founding member of the gaming division at Indiatimes Online, South Asia’s largest internet service provider. “It will be a challenge, but we’re making strides on China every day.”

Tangible progress will be marked by the first Indian participation in the Electronic Sports World Cup, which kicks off June 30 in Paris. Earlier this month, 162 regional qualifiers from nine Indian cities came to New Delhi — including 8-year-old Rohan Karir, a TrackMania prodigy — to compete for 10 tickets to Paris and a shot at some of the $400,000 ESWC prize money. All told, more than 20,000 Indians competed, making it one the biggest national gaming tournaments ever. Of those, perhaps only 1,000 could be called “serious” gamers, with a mere five or so enjoying international reputations. But casual interest in online gaming is spreading fast. As India’s middle class expands, home PCs and internet cafes are proliferating. Millions of young Indians have more disposable time and income than ever before.

India’s online growth has kept pace with Mumbai’s bullish stock market. The number of connections increased by more than half between 2004 and 2005, from 25 million to 39 million. Sanjay Trehan, head of broadband at Indiatimes Online, predicts that by next year the numbers will more than double, possibly climbing as high as 100 million. Crucial for the growth of online gaming, 60 percent of these new connections will be broadband (defined in India as 256 Kbps and higher).

Not a few of these new broadband links are found in India’s 100,000 internet cafes, which now derive between 30 percent and 40 percent of their revenues from online gamers. The growing appetite for gaming has led one internet cafe chain, Sify, to launch a broadband-only, gaming-oriented cafe brand called Game Drome, which both hosts and promotes local and national competitions.

“Gaming is a big driver of our business and it’s getting bigger,” said Anshil Opal, of Sify’s gaming division. “The more we educate the public through our website and the cafes, the faster word-of-mouth spreads.”

Which could lead to the creation of a formidable new sector in India’s information economy. According to a report released last month by the San Francisco consulting firm Pearl Research, which focuses on gaming trends in Asia, the Indian online games market will exceed $200 million in 2010.

News source: WIRED NEWS


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