DreamHack returns to India for the second time in two years and the renowned gaming festival has brought about some new changes, new ideas, and a new location. Despite having done over 50 events across the world, it is interesting to know that DreamHack Delhi 2019 will be just the second DreamHack in Asia, with the first one being held in Mumbai in 2018. We spoke with Akshat Rathee, managing director of NODWIN Gaming, who is the partner for DreamHack in India, to get his take on how to activate the local markets, what his vision for the event is, and what the key learnings were from last year.
In 2018, DreamHack Mumbai was announced and it was set to be the first tier-one gaming and esports event in India. The event was considered an overall success with a memorable opening ceremony and a wide variety of endemic and non-endemic brands participating as sponsors. However, as is the case with most first-time large scale Indian esports endeavors, it certainly felt like there was room for improvement when it came to internet infrastructure and player experience.
“My personal view on this is that it is a festival and there are bound to be some issues. But having said that, PUBG Mobile did really well because people want an activity to go to,” says Rathee. “Esports did well when there were really tight matches. Hosting an esports event and a festival are very different. Indian gamers don’t like music and comedy as much as I thought they would. Those stages were empty for the most part. Maybe it was too early for that?”
Rathee believes that the bring-your-own-computer (BYOC) culture is not very big in Mumbai and that the choice to use the segment of the event as a qualifier for the esport competitions on the main stage was not ideal. He goes on to admit that the business area could have been improved upon had it been planned better, and that the Indian talent that were hired for the event caused unforeseen difficulties. However, despite these minor hurdles, he believes that the international teams went back happier and so did most event partners.
Activating the Mobile Market
It’s no secret that mobile gaming in India has leapfrogged PC and consoles for a while now. The popularity of titles like PUBG Mobile has seen India emerge as a leader when it comes to mobile esports and this has happened at the cost of PC titles. It only makes sense for organizers to leverage this newfound demographic and activate the mobile gaming market even if means tweaking existing events.
“This year we have put some focus on BYOD, which stands for Bring Your Own Device. This includes both consoles and mobiles. We are looking at the audience as part of two broad categories. The first one includes the hardcore PC gamers while the other one includes everyone else, such as people who just want to come and get a feel of staying overnight and playing games on their phones while listening to music and enjoying the festival.
In 2018, DreamHack Mumbai had two mobile titles in PUBG Mobile and the Mobile Cricket Championship. For console, KO Fight Nights and FIFA were the two titles that were selected. Unsurprisingly, the event or stage which saw the most footfall and engagement was the one focused on PUBG Mobile.
“Traditionally, DreamHack has been PC focused and one of the reasons they came to India and partnered with NODWIN Gaming is that we wanted to discover DreamHack Mobile as a concept. This year, we are scaling up our PUBG Mobile section even more and we are trying to introduce the BYOD, of which we believe 75-80% will be filled by mobile gamers. These are two of the key innovations that we are trying this year” says Rathee, when quizzed about how DreamHack is adapting to cater to the Indian market.
Change of Location
“Last year was a big focus for NODWIN Gaming to try and develop Mumbai as a key market across the sector. We’ll keep developing and we’ll try new things as and when the opportunity comes. We’ve had a DreamHack there, we’ve hosted ESL India Premierships and we’ve even brought in an ESL One event to Mumbai, all of which has given us some great insights. Now we have something which we are calling the Winter of Gaming for Delhi,” says Rathee when asked about why NODWIN Gaming and DreamHack chose a different city for 2019
He is referring to a series of events in the city which lead up to DreamHack Delhi. The Winter of Gaming in Delhi started with Dew Arena 2019 which took place in October, followed by the PMCO South Asia finals, which concluded in the first half of November. These events will be followed by DreamHack in December. There seems to be a general sense of optimism about the event and Rathee is upbeat after the responses that the concluded events received.
“We’ve had some great reactions. For Dew Arena we had about 5,000+ people coming in. PMCO had over 10,000 people coming in, and we were full for the PMCO finals. So yeah, if you do it consistently and with a process, we hope we can get people out of their houses and into events.”
Making Money – Is DreamHack a Profitable Event?
“From a business plan point of view, the lifetime gestation cycle in esports is: In Year 1, you’ll lose money, in Year 2 you’ll kind of break even, and in Year 3 you will go and get media rights, which will bring is some semblance of profitability, while going ahead and activating footfall, merchandising, and all the other things that come naturally. So in that sense, I think we are already on the correct roadmap.”
While the first year was a sort of testing ground for NODWIN Gaming and DreamHack, the goals for this year will hinge on actual parameters.
“In Year 1, our goals might have been more altruistic but from now on, footfalls and revenue would be good indicators of how we did as an event.”
In the long term, Rathee wants DreamHack to grow into a festival and not just another LAN event. His vision is to see DreamHack be the equivalent of a music festival or a ComicCon, event which have a much more mass appeal and cater to a much wider demographic than esports at the moment. He also talks about how it’s crucial to partner with non-endemic brands to grow both in size and in quality in order to make an event sustainable, profitable, and scalable.
What Does it Cost to Pull Off a DreamHack Event in India?
“I obviously can’t disclose a number but I’ll try and answer it as best as I can. It costs five years of doing esports. It costs 20 trips to partners where you have no idea whether it will work out or not. It costs a leap of faith with people like Sudhanshu Vats, who is the CEO of Viacom [Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd. – a joint venture between Viacom Inc. and TV 18 Broadcast Limited] to go believe that this is possible. And then him stringing in his multi-billion dollar organization to make it happen. And it costs a lot of faith in the community. DreamHack wouldn’t have happened without hope and faith, and a lot of hard work; that’s the cost.”
DreamHack Mumbai was the first gaming event of that scale in India and while that may be the case, it would be hard to forget some of the challenges that the event faced. Technical issues, delays, and internet issues were all realities of last year’s DreamHack.
“We are doing it over three cycles, which means we have other events before DreamHack Delhi to fine-tune everything. Yes, we do understand that a lot of gamers are going to come in with mobile devices and it can put some pressure on the internet infrastructure. However, we also understand that at a time there’s about 200 people who will be playing. So the robustness of what we have built with Tencent, and from our past events should be enough to help us be prepared for DreamHack.”
DreamHack Delhi takes place from Dec. 6-8,at the NSIC Exhibition Ground in Delhi. Other than being a massive celebration of all things gaming, DreamHack will also have a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive LAN called the DreamHack Delhi Invitational, the prize pool for which roughly $55K USD. The event will be organized by DreamHack in partnership with NODWIN Gaming and Viacom 18.
Full disclosure: NODWIN Gaming is a minority investor in AFK Gaming. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.