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Loco, an independent esports and live streaming platform, has become the largest game streaming platform in India.
The Mumbai, India-based company did so by focusing on mobile games, which are more popular than console or PC games in India. And now it’s getting a surge in game viewership because two of the biggest games — Battlegrounds Mobile India and Free Fire — have returned to the market after a hiatus.
Loco has become similar to the Twitch of India, with a focus on streaming game videos and airing esports content, said Anirudh Pandita, cofounder of Loco, in an interview with GamesBeat. The company was founded in 2017 by Pandita and Ashwin Suresh, and it now has more than 150 people.
And India isn’t a bad place to be for this kind of thing. India became the world’s most populous nation in 2023 and it also held its position as the fastest-growing games market in Asia, according to a report by market researcher Niko Partners.
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Total gamers in India are forecasted to surge 343% in the 10 years between 2017 and 2027, climbing to 641.2 million in 2027. Video games revenue is forecast to increase 21% YoY in 2023 to $868 million, according to the 2023 Niko Partners India Games Market report. Niko said the number of gamers in India across all platforms is set to reach 444 million in 2023. About 31% of those gamers will spend money on video games this year, with revenue rising 21% to $868 million in 2023.
Loco is growing with the local market. Back in March 2022, the company had around 5.3 million monthly active users with about 450,000 logging in every day.
Loco’s numbers are now pretty impressive. It has 60 million registered users who watch 20 million monthly hours on the game-streaming platform. It has a 65% share of the daily active users, better than market leader Twitch. It has 600,000 creators, and the average time spent watching live content on the app is 60 minutes a day.
Early on, the company raised $9 million. Then last year it raised $42 million, with Makers Fund leading the way. That round was encouraging, and Pandita said he has seen more investor activity in the Indian game market now.
Two big market events
Recently, some good news has dropped. The Supreme Court of India ruled in July that video games qualify as games of skill, rather than games of chance, and so they aren’t subject gambling laws. This means that a progressive ministry, the same one that regulates tech, will oversee the games industry. This meant that the game industry wouldn’t incur the same kind of taxes as gambling.
On top of that, Krafton had to pull out of the country when the government banned PUBG Mobile in India because of its Chinese connections. Games got caught in a political battle between China and India.
Krafton refashioned and renamed the game as Battlegrounds Mobile India, returning a version of the game to fans that is also acceptable to the government. Sea’s Free Fire also came back to the Indian market, after concerns about Chinese ownership.
“They’ve all complied and are back and gamers are happy now,” Pandita said.
When those two games were gone last year, the company lost about 40% of its traffic. Pandita said the two games that returned are roughly 80% of the Indian market.
“So for the average Indian, you can play games again,” Pandita said.
Battlegrounds Mobile India is also reviving its strong esports infrastructure.
For sure, much of the market is poor. Suresh was traveling a couple of years ago in a remote location, and he found that kids would share cell phones just to get a chance to play games. While those people were poor, they were adopting the gamer lifestyle, Pandita said.
“Now it’s very clear everything’s back and it creates a very clear ecosystem for gaming,” Pandita said.
Still, there is a long way to go. Pandita said that esports is nascent in India.
“When we started (in 2017), there was very little esports,” Pandita said. His company had to invest in the esports ecosystem, staging a bunch of the esports events. And now the calendar is filled with esports events.
Loco has been able to start monetization since the two big games came back. That includes both advertising and payment systems, as India’s payment infrastructure is now in place, he said. Pandita sees the growth mirroring that of earlier esports growth in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
As Loco becomes bigger, it could expand into areas such as Saudi Arabia, where we met in Riyadh.
“We’ve been testing and have been very surprised that a lot of people have started streaming on the platform,” Pandita said.
Pandita hopes the Indian esports and game streaming market will diversify, with more games becoming popular beyond BGMI and Free Fire. And he hopes his company can keep expanding in mobile-first markets like the Middle East and North Africa. And from what he has found so far, the MENA market wants to invite companies like Loco into the market.
“These countries really focus on sport and gaming, and I think we we can play a big part in that because we understand the cultural nuances of this region. And we’re committed to building on the ground,” he said. “Eventually it will become a true global effort.”
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