Riot Games on Activating the South Asian Market

Riot Games is a name that many South Asian games are not familiar with despite the company’s standing as one of the most recognizable developers in esports. In a region where mobile gamers have been smitten by PUBG MOBILE and PC gamers grew up on titles like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the Riot brand has gone largely unnoticed.

That is, up until now. In 2020,  the company has lived up to the “Games” in its name by releasing new titles such as Legends of Runeterra and VALORANT. Even as recently as last year,  efforts to popularize League of Legends in South Asia were virtually non-existent and the already small community remained fragmented, eventually moving their interests elsewhere. However, with India showing strong numbers in mobile titles, the region now looks much more lucrative than it did a few years back. We spoke about this and more with Sukamal Pegu, head of publishing, India and South Asia at Riot Games.

“We were always interested in South Asia and our goal was to execute a strategy that resonates with the region and its needs,” Pegu told The Esports Observer. ”Our journey in the region started way back in 2017 when we set up the India entity to understand the market better.” He said the launch of VALORANT, Legends of Runeterra (LoR), Team Fight Tactics (TFT) mobile, and League of Legends: Wild Rift were the keys to Riot’s launch in the region. 

He also said that the three key takeaways from their initial research were: 

  • Mobile gaming is going to be unrivaled.
  • FPS and action genres work better. 
  • Players need the best infrastructure and local publishing has to be possible in order to have an impact.

The Mobile Market

It’s no secret that mobile is the dominant platform in South Asia and a lot of Riot’s plans seem to revolve around it. Both TFT and LoR are available on the mobile platform and there has been a concentrated effort by Riot to push these titles in the region. In particular, the publisher has worked with Indian gaming platform Paytm First Games to host tournaments in both titles. 

“Both TFT and LoR are set in our core League universe which has a high level of interest and resonance with our fanbase here and they are also available on mobile, which make them easy to access,” Pegu said. 

Riot also added South Asia as an eligible region in the Galaxies Championship, the marquee event for TFT. This makes it the first major global event hosted by Riot in which South Asian players can participate. Pegu is confident that with more such opportunities, players in the region will be motivated to train harder and make it to bigger stages. 

“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,” he said. “Considering the strength of mobile gaming in the region, Wild Rift is the League experience that we want to deliver to our fans here”

Wild Rift is one of the most anticipated titles on mobile and one that is tipped to be the next big thing for the platform. However, unlike other mobile-friendly markets like China, Southeast Asia, or even South America, the League of Legends brand was never as popular in South Asia. To add to this, FPS titles have traditionally worked better as a genre no matter what the platform has been. 

However, Pegu believes that Riot’s Wild Rift can be successful if done correctly. “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.” 

Pegu isn’t worried about the MOBA aspect either. “We are confident about Wild Rift from a product perspective and our regional publishing will deliver the AAA experience that will introduce MOBA to a whole new set of gamers”.

The VALORANT Effect

The other big release for Riot this year has been its first-ever FPS title, VALORANT. The game has been received positively across the world and incorporates familiar gameplay with new features to make it a fresh experience. In India, as well, the game has been popular. Streamers in India, who have built their fanbase on the back of PUBG MOBILE’s popularity have invested the time and effort in introducing their audiences to this new title. This, in turn, has allowed traditional PC game streamers to see an increase in numbers. In fact, a recently concluded VALORANT invitational tournament featuring influencers from the region saw some of the highest viewerships for a core PC title. Riot has already divulged plans to launch servers for India before the end of 2020.

Another key factor that seems to have worked in India is localization. This is especially hard in South Asia with its vast diversity of cultures and languages, making it difficult to appeal to all demographics. But other titles such as Rainbow Six: Siege have managed to cater to the audience with the release of a playable character from the region. And while VALORANT’s character design follows similar narratives, Pegu is not keen on revealing any plans for whether a character of Indian origin will be a part of the game. On Aug. 4, another VALORANT tournament was announced – the VALORANT Agni Series. Hosted by NODWIN Gaming (NODWIN Gaming is a client of and a minority investor in AFK Gaming), the tournament has already announced a prize pool of INR 650,000 ($8.6K USD) and MSI as a sponsor. 

Riot’s journey in South Asia has just begun and the developer could play a crucial role in defining the region’s esports culture. Now equipped with a diverse portfolio of titles across both PC and mobile, Riot could have a big say in what direction esports grows in South Asia. “I would like to say a huge thanks to our fanbase in South Asia for being patient with us,” Pegu said. “We might be late to the party, but when we start, the party never ends. So suit up for the ride ahead.” 

Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.

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