Indians are finally opening up to digital gaming and championships. Pic for representational purpose only.

Game on for this virtual footballer

A bout of pancreatitis was a blessing in disguise for national champion Santanu Basu

Eyebrows creased with intense focus, muscles taught in a race against time, pulse erratic under sheer pressure, he is bloodied and exhausted but still fighting to win. It is an arena where the battle is as real as it gets, albeit on a computer screen. Meet the Messis and gun-wielding commandos in the virtual world of FIFA and espionage. For 28-year-old Santanu Basu a national champion as a virtual footballer, who recently landed a lucrative sponsorship deal, it has been a fairytale run.

When he was six years old, suffering from acute pancreatitis, this Kolkata boy was confined at home for a long period of time and took to video games. In a tale which can inspire Bollywood scripts, this love affair has weathered some rough times but is still going strong. “I went to Mumbai to participate in the WCG tournament in 2007. I travelled in an unreserved compartment without a ticket and slept on the pavements for three days. Two fellow gamers from Mumbai bought me food. However, I ranked 3rd in the Mumbai qualifiers, after which a company named games2win offered me a job and a flight ticket to Kolkata,” says the engineering graduate from Techno India. In April 2014, Santanu turned into a overnight sensation after he secured the fourth place at the international e-sports tournament in China.

Competitive video gaming, also known as electronic sports or e-sports, has witnessed a sharp rise in the past few years though it still has a niche audience compared to established professional sports leagues. In the later half of the nineties, kids would throng cyber cafes with LAN to compete against each other, crowning one as a local champion. Later, the venue shifted to drawing rooms when multi-player video games burst onto the scene. Now, these avid gamers are taking the next step to reach a global platform.

Although it took a while, Indians are finally opening up to digital gaming. “The gaming scene is better now than what it was a few years back. Now, all tech fests in colleges have gaming as an event and certainly there are a few sponsors ready to back gamers as well,” says Santanu, who last participated in the DB Kul championship in Malayasia in December.

The practise of streaming internet video has been a boost for the e-sports industry providing worldwide viewership whereas physical sports is still to a large extent monopolised by television coverage. But if your parents thought this was just a pastime, not to be taken seriously, they thought wrong. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), video gaming is a $10.5 billion a year industry. A number of leagues and three major governing bodies for video game competitions now exist across the world, with the biggest players and largest fan bases in South Korea.

Moreover, for those geeks glued to their computer screens with a toggle permanently attached to their palms, here is good news. Money has finally found its way into gamers’ kitties. Homeboy Santanu recently bagged a sponsorship deal with AMD, a global computer processor manufacturing company, for one year. His other sponsors are BenQ and Tt eSPORTS, a Taiwan-based company which has also put Santanu on its payroll for promotions.

At the global stage, top gamer Korean StarCraft pro Jae Dong Lee has made more than $500,000 in tournaments over a seven year career. As a 17-year-old in 2007, Lee stocked up winnings of $63,591 by playing in three tournaments. Last year was his most lucrative when he took away $125,276 by playing in 15 tournaments.

The article was published here by DNA on Jan 11, 2015