Recently we had the chance to interview Akshat Rathee, the Managing Director & Co-founder of NODWIN Gaming, South Asia’s largest Esports & Gaming Company. While talking about our shared interest in gaming, the ‘serial entrepreneur’ shared his thoughts on India’s mad-love for FPS games, Battleground Mobile India launch, the company’s expansion & making a global impact in Esports.
The interview touches on a number of different topics including new Franchise Leagues, MOBA Games, India’s own Esports title & his plans to introduce new tournaments this year. He also has a message for young Esports aspirants & making a passion-driven career.
- As we know, NODWIN expanded its division in Africa last year. What other plans NODWIN has in-store for 2021?
Akshat Rathee: Most of these will eventually come as announcements when they are ready. We will definitely be exploring all our old IPs again this year which is the India Premiership that we do, potentially Dreamhack (COVID willing), The North East summit & more. Moreover, we’ll definitely launch three to five more new IPs. We will specifically be focussing on Valorant so that we can go ahead and do something impressive with the title.
- With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has been challenging for most companies to survive. How did NODWIN manage to maintain growth even under these circumstances?
Akshat Rathee: What happened during the pandemic situation is that the offline events obviously took a hit but NODWIN kept on doing a lot of work on content. Furthermore, we managed to build deeper relationships with the likes of Krafton, PUBG Mobile & Activision Blizzard. NODWIN, as we know, is not just an Indian company anymore. We have tournament presence in other countries as well. So, all the different parts kept on running their courses & the best compliments go to managing the production smartly, to keep the business running.
- How would you address the query that the PUBG Mobile ban has affected NODWIN Gaming’s operations in India?
Akshat Rathee: Yes, gaming in India took a hit with the ban & we took a hit as well. But the good news is that India & its gaming scenario kept running as we also had room to explore other possibilities.
- NODWIN Gaming has raised Rs.164 crore in equity investment from Krafton. So, what is the course of action with that mammoth amount?
Akshat Rathee: NODWIN will continue to grow & expand to multiple regions. We’ll invest and acquire more companies in different parts of the world where we believe it can derive results. Also, the company will focus on increasing manpower & technical capabilities so that we can go ahead and do more.
- Pre-registrations for Battlegrounds Mobile India start this week. How do you feel about Krafton’s new approach of rebranding PUBG Mobile in India?
Akshat Rathee: It’s one of those questions again & a lot of people keep asking me what do I have to do with the game’s relaunch and my answer is always the same. Nothing, I’m an esports fan, not a publisher. We don’t host the game servers, Microsoft does (through Azure). I don’t own the game, I don’t run the game, I don’t do any of that.
What I do is I help the game to become big as an Esports title. However, I think Aneesh & the entire Krafton team are doing a phenomenal job of relaunching the game. Considering it is India’s most beloved game, the better they do at launching the game, the better it is for the community & for us at NODWIN.
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- Do you believe that Battlegrounds Mobile India’s availability is crucial for the growth of Esports in India? If we analyze Indian Esports excluding the South Korean Battle Royale title, does it look promising?
Akshat Rathee: Well, it’s a very tough question but let me answer it this way. I think that any market that has only one game the entire country is dependent on seems unfair. I also think that is not the case for India. India truly loves FPS games. If games like Call of Duty: Mobile are put as an example, there are titles where the majority of players choose Multiplayer mode over the Battle Royale. Although, we must address that India likes FPS games more than any other genre, and this is definitely something to look forward to. But if asked that India’s love for games is limited only to the Battle Royale Genre, my answer would be no, I don’t think so.
It’s not Counter-Strike forever, right? Now people have started playing Valorant also. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that Counter Strike is “dead” even if some reports suggest so.
- After the boom in Esports & Gaming that we saw over the last few years, many Indian Game developers have come up with their own products. Are you confident that the Indian Games can put a fight in the big leagues?
Akshat Rathee: I think it’s a two-level question. Will Indian games continue to do well in the future? Of course. I’m absolutely certain of that. Recently, we supported the Indian Harvest Festival on steam very actively. Some of the best games from India were highlighted in the event. I believe Indian developers can churn out really good content & that is a very essential part of growth.
Now, the question is, will they become Esports? I think the community always decides if a game makes it to Esports or not. Like the next COD Mobile game has to be very balanced if it wishes to do well. FAUG might also prove to be promising in the long run, I don’t know. But the fact is, community choice plays the biggest role. I believe there will be multiple opportunities across all genres and eventually, India will have its own Esports title. Right now, it’s an experimental & growth phase for Esports but India is advancing towards becoming a really good Gaming Market.
- Barring FPS & Battle Royale titles, what potential the other game genres like MOBA & Strategy Based Games have in the Indian Gaming Scenario? Is NODWIN planning anything around it?
Akshat Rathee: What I only tried are experiments. We like the Rainbow Six community, we tried to do something there. We have done Premiership & FIFA in the past. We have done Clash of Clans very actively because that is just another thing we loved doing. There are multiple genres that are doing well inside India. Now, are they as big as FPS? Of course not. I think FPS is like cricket in Indian Esports. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have good sports such as Kabaddi, Football & other games around. They are not as big but they are sizeable. So, India likes multiple sports. Similarly, coming to Esports, it’s not that we don’t like MOBA. We had a MOBA game (DOTA2) in ESL 1 Mumbai in 2019, so we have tried experimenting with other games & they did decently well.
- We know the Indian Esports Eco-system is evolving at a tremendous rate. Being a part of that growth, where do you see NODWIN as a company in the next 5 years?
Akshat Rathee: I think NODWIN & other companies in India will continue to innovate & get more IPs outside of India. I believe NODWIN can be one of the big companies for esports in the world, not just India. When a company like Krafton or Nazara has invested into us, when companies like Jetsynthesis can back us at the seed stage and you have a partnership with ESL, Dreamhack & all of those international companies, I think they aren’t partnering with us just because NODWIN has ambitions only in India. I believe they like what we do & where we can take the dream. That in turn gives us the aspiration to achieve greater heights. Coming to where is NODWIN heading to? NODWIN will try to be one of the top Esports companies in the world.
- What makes a great Esports Organization?
Akshat Rathee: Hard work, simple answer. A lot of people usually say how difficult Esports can be? They’ll go on saying ‘put some people together, take some room, a screen & just put someone to cast it, so easy, I can do it in college’. People must understand that’s not scalable. That’s you just trying to organize a tournament. Understanding the business of Esports, how league works, how production works, how content works, rules of business, sponsorship, media rights, finance & profitability, taking all these into account & making it work is not easy. Then try and scale it up from 1 to 20 different IPs. Understanding the “business” of Esports is the difficult part.
- With the introduction of Franchise Leagues, we have seen that the growth of Esports in Foreign countries is skyrocketing. What are the chances that we see the same in India? Also, can you elaborate on the positive and negative aspects of it?
Akshat Rathee: To me, Franchise Leagues is one of the many formats out there. There are a lot of people out there in the world who say franchise leagues are the bomb, they are the best thing & all. I don’t completely agree with that. India & the rest of the world has tried a lot of Franchise Leagues, and in India, the IPL which is a franchise league has been a phenomenal success. In my opinion, rather than having a pure franchise league that is pseudo-created, I think having an understanding of how gaming works is much more important. Look at the English Premier League, they don’t need franchises for a successful sport.
I believe that the club-based approach still works better for Esports because we just want people to play together a lot. I think Franchise League will work where the franchises are constant all the time. In India, you’ll need to find partners who’ll stay indefinitely. A franchise can only do good if it has proper knowledge & experience of sports or Esports Team Management. If you don’t understand how to manage sports, its teams & the marketing of it, you will not survive even with the help of strong finance.
- Along with professional gaming, we are witnessing a demand for people who can contribute to the field with their expertise in content development, marketing, organising & by many other means. What would be your message for those who are currently looking for opportunities to break into the industry? More importantly, what would it take to be part of an organisation such as yours?
Akshat Rathee: Firstly, build the skill for something you want to be a part of. Something you can go ahead & present for yourself. Suppose, if you are applying for a Social Media person, show us your Social Media capabilities by having done something cool. If you like editing, show us an editing montage of yours. Similarly, if you want to go & apply for jobs in Esports, show us you can do the management work or if you have done something impressive or inspiring related to what you are aspiring for. Take your time, you got to organize little tournaments, volunteering works as well. NODWIN has a great Internship Program that you can keep applying to. You can come work with us as part of our volunteer team and if you do well, we will approach you to become a part of the NODWIN family. As we are growing, we need more motivated people to come forward & join us.
What I suggest is don’t come with just theoretical knowledge & say that I’ll do anything but I have done nothing so far. Have a portfolio of stuff you have done. It doesn’t have to be a super-smart portfolio but show that you can make yourself useful. We need people who believe this is a career & not a part-time option.