As India’s favourite gamers such as Mortal, Scout, Thug and Goldy begin to clock big wins in the online arena, the crowds start building up outside the palatial building valued at over $1 million and spread across 15,000 square feet. In response the egamers come over to the balcony to wave at fans a la Shahrukh Khan himself, with their mansion no less awe-inspiring than that of the Bollywood superstar—Mannat—which has gained cult status in the sprawling megalopolis.
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Esports organisations such as S8UL, Revenant Esports, GodLike Esports, Orangutan Gaming and Global Esports have leased out swanky bungalows to build gaming houses or boot camps to house the top esports athletes of their teams.
Built to house a capacity of 35-40 players, these mansions are meant to foster community building among esports teams, a popular culture in countries like South Korea.
Flaunting restaurant-grade chefs, personal streaming cabins, a living room stocked with golden trophies, cool rooms with bunk beds and walls adorned with posters of gamers…these “gaming” house emit vibes unique to the world of gaming.
Salaried professional players compete in tournaments, go live on streaming platforms, build team strategy, receive training and create social media content in these gaming houses.
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Animesh Agarwal alias 8bit Thug, a former gamer and the founder of S8UL, who also stays in the Kharghar bungalow along with the players says, “beyond gaming, content creation and collaboration is what we focus on in our house.”“Collaboration is really important for us to derive the best value out of esports, casual streaming, brand endorsements and social media management,” he added.
An average day in a gaming house is just like a college hostel.
“This is really our home away from home…We wake up and chill until 11AM and get started on practice matches,” said Deepak Negi alias SENSEI who is the in-game leader at Revenant’s tournaments. “We also have a visiting data analyst who helps us in decoding rival team strategies. And post lunch, we are mostly competing in tournaments,” he says caressing the cat ‘Swiggy’ at Revenant’s Kharghar house.
Negi estimates that “in total, we game/stream nearly 7-8 hours a day.”
The digital gaming and esports sector is currently a $3 billion industry in India. Close to 568 million people have played these games in some manner but only a few hundreds have reached the pinnacle and carved out a career out of gaming. The top gamers now enjoy celebrity status in India and even globally.
Large companies such as Krafton, Jetsynthesys, Reliance, Riot Games and others are bringing the virtual world offline with ground events which are held in stadiums where thousands of people come to watch these gamers slug it out in front of an audience.
These esports battlegrounds held in sports stadiums entail a prize pool of as much as Rs 2.5 crore and experts say it is only rising.
Mumbai has emerged as the hub of gaming houses mostly because gaming companies find it easier to cut brand deals in the city. There is also a strong technical reason as well. Given that the city hosts servers of popular games such as BGMI and Valorant, it gives the best ping (least latency in time taken for data to travel from a device to a server).
Global Esports, which has meticulously curated 12 players on its roaster, hosts a bootcamp as well as a studio in Bandra, a suburb in the city’s west. It has also organised pop-up bootcamps in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Melbourne, London, Seoul etc. for players to practice in an international culture just before competing in a global tournament.
“We were the among first ones to inaugurate a boot camp in India in 2019 inspired by this concept in Seoul, South Korea which is the birthplace of esports,” said Rushindra Sinha, founder of Global Esports. “Bootcamps are an avenue for players to disconnect from the real world so that they can focus on perfecting the craft. It’s also relevant for organisations to have uninterrupted access to their teams, coach them and manage roasters.”
“We are conscious of both mental and physical well-being of our players and even take care of the dietary requirements of our players. We also have sessions with a sports psychologist who counsels the players to instil the mental acumen of becoming an international champion,” he added.
Global Esports owns the Indian franchise team of PC game Valorant published by US-based Riot Games. “As per Riot’s contractual requirements, all its players must be paid a minimum salary of $50,000 per annum. But most players end up earning anywhere between $80-120k per year including sponsorship, brands, salaries, league revenue share etc,” Sinha said.
Strenuous hours of online gaming and being exposed to millions of viewers can impact both mental and physical wellbeing of players. Bootcamps are cautious of that.
Chetan “Kronten” Chandgude, founder, Godlike Esports said, “We at GodLike have designed our bootcamp house to ensure best care of our athletes by providing a dedicated gaming floor with a training facility, gymnasium and a meditation room with trainers for both mental and physical wellbeing.”
GodLike is the only organization which also hosts a women’s only bootcamp in Kharghar.