PUBG Mobile being banned is a threat to the entire Indian esports scene
India has, somewhat surprisingly, banned PUBG Mobile and PUBG Mobile Lite, along with other other apps. In total, the country has banned 118 Chinese apps that are available in the Google Play and Apple App stores. The move come after a new “cold war” emerged between India and China over the course of the year which now has political games causing businesses to suffer. The ban was not aimed at the game specifically as the list of apps contained Baidu, Taobao, Alipay and other unrelated apps.
This will however cause side effects of the sprawling mobile esports scene, as PUBG Mobile was the one of the main drivers of the competitive mobile games market, and on top of that India was the country with the most active and diverse scene out of all. Next to FreeFire, PUBG Mobile and PUBG Mobile Lite were and are the biggest Battle Royale movers in India. The desktop version of the game and Indian PUBG servers still remain available for Indian players.
The “reasons” behind the ban
According to the IT Ministry of India, the apps are being banned under section 69A of the Information Technology Act. Here is the relevant press release: The apps are… “banned under the section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provisions of the Information Technology Rules 2009 and in view of the emergent nature of threats has decided to block 118 mobile apps since in view of the information available they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the state and public order.”
This is a big hit for esports in India – and major PUBG news. Not all apps that were banned are gaming apps – there are also apps like CamOC and CamCard – a business card reader app. Even some music players and video chatting apps have been banned in India as well.
This is also not the first time PUBG Mobile was under threat in India. On several occasions the govt tried to ban the app to no avail. It seems this time they just found something that sticks.
The Chinese reaction
Naturally, China opposed the ban that they see as unfair and exaggerated as a reaction to the tensions in the shared border region between the two countries. “India has “abused the concept of national security and adopted discriminatory restrictive measures against Chinese companies,” said Gao Feng, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce at a press briefing.
After a deadly border clash earlier this year, Chinese-Indian relations have suffered. As a consequence, now so have Indian PUBG players. Since India banned PUBG Mobile, the esports federation of India has said that they aren’t dependent on one game, and that other gaming communities will benefit from India banning PUBG Mobile.
Meanwhile, Tencent stated they would engage with Indian authorities to ensure the continued availability of its apps in India. Tencent’s share however took a second nosedive following the ban. The company lost $34 billion in value following the ban, the second largest dip this year. The first one followed the WeChat ban in the US, costing them $66 billion in value.
PUBG Mobile is important in India
Earlier in June, India banned some 59 apps including WeChat and TikTok. Other countries have also done the same in regards to PUBG. Iraq, Jordan, and Nepal have already banned them, to the disappointment of their PUBG players.
For India, this makes a huge impact though. By revenue, PUBG Mobile was the most popular app of the year in 2019. Even in 2020, the app was downloaded more than 54 million times in India alone. Players spent millions on playing PUBG in India. PUBG betting was also on the rise as well as all related industries.
There were even several tournaments and organizers that moved the entire esports industry forward utilizing PUBG mobile. The PUBG Mobile Campus Championship 2020 (PMCC) was an important event moving both collegiate and professional esports forward. The PUBG Mobile Club Open was the largest ever mobile esports event to date with over 80.000 teams signing up. Admittedly, both events were plagued by scandals regarding cheating, but they were still immensely popular among India’s best PUBG mobile players.
We are not sure yet, what is the fate and future of these events following the ban.
There are also potential threats to the entire Indian competitive esports mobile scene. With Riot Games entering South Asia recently, everyone was betting on mobile esports being the main driver in India. If the government decides to double down and continue going after Tencent apps, or even further products delivered by Tencent owned companies, Riot might receive the short end of the stick which would spell disaster for the TFT scene as well.
In the end, we hope both countries squash their petty squabbles sooner rather then later. Mobile games are the real driver for esports in India to finally grow out of its cocoon.