Riot Games entering South Asia can cause a mobile esports renaissance
Riot Games is one of the leading video game developers in the world. Its signature title, League of Legends (LoL), remains one of the most popular PC games with over 115 million players per month. Since 2019, the company has expanded its library with several new titles. These titles include the mobile port League of Legends: Wild Rift, the companion game Teamfight Tactics, new card game Legends of Runeterra, and a new FPS Valorant.
After a decade built solely on LoL, this expansion heading into the 2020s shows Riot’s broader ambitions. The Middle East, India and South Asia are the new markets where Riot seeks entry. While the Middle Eastern expansion is put on hold after Riot burned the NEOM deal, the India expansion is slowly coming together. It seems the wishes of Reddit user Valroz came true finally.
Riot’s Interest in the India Market
Asia has historically been a leading presence in PC gaming and global esports. East Asia has the powerhouse markets of China and South Korea. The CIS region regularly churns out teams across games that can compete on the international stage. Additionally, the Middle East is a financially robust area of growth. Yet, the one primary market that remains untapped to its full potential is in South Asia and India in particular.
With over 1.3 billion people, India is the second-most populated country in the world. That alone makes it one of the most attractive markets through the sheer number of consumers. Despite this population, India has yet to take center stage in the global gaming market. In esports, in particular, India is almost invisible.
While cultural analysis and numerous case studies have been developed on why esports cant fully take roots in India, the work of ESL and Nodwin Gaming over the years have slowly brought the industry into Indian life. The esports industry in India is small in scale and scope when taking into consideration the scale and size of the market. The main driver for gaming overall are mobile platforms.
Mobile gaming is a popular pastime and enormous moneymaker across the world, but it is mainly a casual hobby. Unlike PC or console gaming, mobile gaming does not have the same degree of fervent fans who would fill out stadiums or hundreds of thousands on streaming sites. When it comes to India this is hardly the case. Mobile esports is the main growth driver in both India and South Asia over the two years.
Riot now hopes to unlock the potentially massive player base in India and South Asia to the broader world.
Mobile Gaming Renaissance
An essential focus for Riot is League of Legends: Wild Rift. The mobile port of their signature title will form a central part of their expansion into South Asia. Alongside Teamfight Tactics and Legends of Runeterra, the three mobile games will become footholds for the world of Runeterra in the South Asian market.
Sukamal Pegu, head of publishing for India and South Asia at Riot Games, said in an interview with Esports Observer:
“We were always interested in South Asia, and our goal was to execute a strategy that resonates with the region and its needs. Our journey in the region started way back in 2017 when we set up the India entity to understand the market better.”
The groundwork for Riots expansion has been set already however. PUBG Corporation’s PUBG Mobile leads the competitive multiplayer mobile gaming market in India. PUBG Mobile Lite and FreeFire are the top played mobile FPS titles as well.
Now Riot is about to join with all the Runeterran goodies as well.
“Our goal for India/South Asia is to deliver key mobile experiences that match fan expectations and bring the best that Riot has to offer in terms of infrastructure, publishing and esports. Considering the strength of mobile gaming in the region, Wild Rift is the League experience that we want to deliver to our fans here” – Pegu added.
Riot also recognizes the rise of adequate mobile gaming devices as their platform. The push of Chinese phone companies like Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo into the Indian market with solid performance benchmarks has made this possible.
“Core gaming in India is just starting and with the availability of high spec mobile devices and cheap data, players are now able to experience AAA game content at significantly lower investments. This new core gaming audience might have started their gaming journey with action and shooters but they are also now experimenting with newer genres that are more diverse and require different mindsets.”
Esports Future in South Asia
Riot has already taken steps to establish South Asia as a possible esports hotbed. Paytm First Games hosted a Teamfight Tactics mobile tournament in June with a 75 thousand rupee (~1 thousand USD) prize pool. Riot also showed its interest in catering to the Indian first-person shooter fans with its new title Valorant. By the end of 2020, there will be Indian servers to give players the best gameplay experience.
Additionally, NODWIN Gaming announced a Valorant tournament for August 4. The tournament had a 650 thousand rupee (~8.6 thousand USD) prize pool and featured MSI as a sponsor. It is in fact Nodwin and ESL that slowly built up the esports scene in India. Over the past decade, CS:GO has been the main esports driver in India.
Riot now hopes to grow its market in South Asia, both as a games company and as an esports organizer. It will be interesting to see if they establish a permanent presence in the region with infrastructural elements such as its regional league or broadcast. Riot did open a New Delhi office. All they have to do now, is commit to the region and bring the vast untapped talent in India into the mainstream.