Online poker tournaments get big in India as interest in digital gaming grows

It was a big day for Prashant Sekar who won Rs 33 lakh playing one of India’s biggest poker tournaments held by PokerBaazi.

Sekar, a business management graduate from IIM (Tiruchirappalli) had a good job with Amazon India, but quit to pursue his passion for the game. He is currently working as a product manager in an online gaming firm and plays poker to earn a substantial income.

The Game Changer tournament that took place between February 20 and 24 saw as many as 3,777 entries. Talking to Moneycontrol, Navkiran Singh, founder and CEO of PokerBaazi said that they expected around 2,000 entries. However, they received an overwhelming response and expects “to see bigger numbers going forward since this was the first ever Rs 2 crore GTD (guaranteed amount) tournament”.

The poker website also organises a Rs 1 crore guaranteed amount tournament called Moneymaker which is held once every three months.

Such tournaments only validate the fact that the online poker industry is growing in India, which according to reports stands at an estimated Rs 700 crore. 

Along with PokerBaazi, platforms like Spartan Poker and Adda52 are major firms looking to join the space. Last year, founder of Viaan Industries Raj Kundra ventured into the poker world with PokerRaj.

According to experts, new players in the online poker industry will see growth, as the digital gaming market is booming in India. Giants like Alibaba-backed Paytm, Tencent and Nazara are betting big on the industry.

While Tencent has plans to invest in the Indian gaming industry, Chinese gaming and entertainment company AGTech Holdings, a subsidiary of Alibaba in a joint venture with Paytm launched Gamepind in January last year.

Shanghai-based YooZoo Games (previously Youzu Interactive) launched Poker Champions, a social casino product targeting the Indian gaming market in January 2018.

According to reports, Nazara Technologies, a mobile game publishing company has plans to invest $20 million to develop e-sports over the next five years in India.

“There are multiple things driving the growth of online gaming industry. The sport of poker has gained a lot of popularity in the past with the likes of Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand and boxer Vijender Singh promoting the sport,” said Navkiran.

Vijender Singh was the brand ambassador for PokerBaazi since January 2018. While, Anand was signed by Poker Sports League (PSL) as a brand ambassador.

“Poker is also now being taught at IIT – Kharagpur to help students develop their entrepreneurial skills,” Navkiran added. “As the masses are getting aware of Poker being a skill game, more and more people have started getting into the game by reading about it and practicing the game on a daily basis. It is the awareness among the Indian audience that is a major factor behind online gaming growth.”

Speaking about online gaming, Sekar explained, “[online gaming] offers the flexibility and financial freedom of making a steady and sustainable income from the comfort of your home provided you are disciplined, continue working hard and honing your skills.”

He drew parallels between the game of poker and investing in the stock market. “Of course taking a smart and calculated risk matters a lot. Online gaming is a lot of fun and intellectually stimulating. When I started out recreationally, it attracted me. The actual game changer for me was when I started working on my skills,” he pointed out.

When asked if the number of poker tournaments being organised in India were enough, Sekar said, “Internationally, there are many such big events and series that happen like the World Series of Poker (once annually), European Poker Tour, Asia Pacific Poker tour (two-three times a year).”

“The prestige associated with winning one of these events is huge. These events are good for the entire gaming ecosystem and bring in a competitive spirit. It’s good for the gaming ecosystem as it builds awareness for the mind sport and achieves the objective of sportifying the game along with life changing moments for few,” he added.

Sekar expects more such events. “The game is a sport as well as a means of income for many. In this regard, more such branded events is definitely the way forward and will help in reaching this sport reach a critical mass,” he stated.

On the other hand, Navkiran is confident that the online gaming industry will boom in India in the coming years.

“As more and more people get introduced to the game and realise the skills involved in it, we strongly believe that day is not far when poker will be considered a sport in India as the west recognises it,” he concluded.