Video games are no child’s play. Don’t get me wrong, anybody can play video games, much like, how anybody can play Basketball but not everybody can be Michael Jordan, or even make it to the NBA. And that’s exactly how it is with gaming, anybody can play but not everybody can play at the highest level. Video games are inherently competitive in nature but ‘competitive gaming’ began in the 1980s, in the early arcade era, with tournaments being held for games like Space Invaders, and Pacman.
Growing up, all of us have spent our dimes and dollars on not-so-successful attempts at beating the elusive high-scores which were held by champions like ‘XXX XXX’, ‘AAA AAA’, or ‘Raju’. On a more serious note, though the prize pools were initially not a very green affair, today, they’ve managed to beat some traditional sports in value too.
And at the top of this esports prize pool chart is Valve's Dota 2 (Defence of the Ancient 2), a game which has handed out an overall figure of more than $219 million in tournament money. Not just that, the top 5 highest paid esports athletes, are all DOTA 2 players.
And these massive figures, the millions of fans, the hype, it all led me to think about what India’s share is in this pie. Are we even on the map? Yes, and no. Yes, because some breakthrough players that have been recognized internationally. No, because we could be doing a lot better. And so, for this edition of ‘21’, my subject is Raunak “Crowley” Sen.
The Face of Indian DOTA 2
Crowley is one of India’s top DOTA 2 players. Named after Ozzy Osbourne’s song ‘Mr. Crowley’ (often people think he’s named after the character from the series ‘Supernatural’), this young man is the face of MOBA (Multi-Player Battle Arena) games in the Indian eSports ecosystem. Crowley started off his professional career with a team called Svaha in 2012. He then moved to ‘Invisible Wings’ in 2016. However, a little while after his team Invisible Wings merged with their opponents ‘Beyond Infinity’ to form ‘Entity Esports’, Crowley left the team. Then he played for ‘Team Signify’ which also had Moin “No_Chanc3” Ejaz (India’s First Player to Reach 7000 MMR; MMR is a ranking system in DOTA 2).
With team Signify, Crowley managed to win numerous national and international tournaments and also made it to the top 8 in ESL One which was hosted in Mumbai, which had some of the best teams in the world compete. After Team Signify was disbanded (they were undefeated in the nation), Crowley moved on to ‘Global eSports’ where he is presently playing.
Pubs to Professionals
“I started playing games casually in early, in the third or fourth grade. My brother used to be a gamer too so he used to go to a cyber cafe, I eventually started going with him and picked up games like Counter Strike and Warcraft,” said Raunak, talking about how his tryst with gaming began.
Raunak always played the games for the love of games and had never even dreamt of this meteoric rise into the professional gaming scene. “It started with Counter Strike, I played local tournaments, college events,” said the gamer about his first taste of competitive gaming. In the café, people were playing Warcraft (Dota1) quite a lot. So it became a habit. And then that eventually led to me playing DOTA 2. A big puller for me was the prize pool of the first The International (TI).” I've played COD also professionally at the top level and most of the tournaments I participated in while playing DOTA side by side. so it's kind of a go with the flow type scenario.”
He has also been categorized as being extremely outspoken. Addressing that Sen once said in an interview with Red Bull, “I don't think there's anything wrong in being outspoken. I mean, there are a lot of gamers that are outspoken. But in our country, it can be the opposite at times, which is okay. Someone needs to tell people what the hell is going on and I think I'm that guy."
India is not a very conducive culture when it comes to off-beat career decisions, and to expect parents to be party to decisions like gaming professionally without tribulations, is like expecting Mumbai to not have potholes, that’s the best-case scenario but realistically, not what is going to happen.
Luckily, Raunak didn’t personally have to drive on potholed roads but that wasn’t the case with his teammates. He explained, “I always had support for whatever I was doing from my family but I've had teammates who used to bunk classes and even exams to come play tournaments. Gaming wasn't as accepted in their household.” Continuing, the athlete said, “There are people who are still judgmental about it, parents are usually okay when they see a paycheck but when the player is going through the grind, he has to go through a lot of trouble.”
There is no easy way of saying this but India is not off to a great start in its esports journey. We have great market potential and talent in the nation, especially with FPS (first-person shooting) and Battle Royale mobile games like Call of Duty (COD) and PUBG. But when it comes to the games that are internationally acclaimed, have greater prize pools, and might be the first ones to make it to the Olympics like League of Legends, and DOTA 2, we’re not that savvy. But we’ve managed to do fairly well in the South Asia region, as Crowley himself explained, “Within the South Asia region it had been always easy for us, no problems there.”
But the real competition for games like DOTA 2 in India are the up and coming games like PUBG and also FPS games like Counter Strike. He elaborated, “DOTA isn't much of a spectator- friendly game to begin with, so people usually enjoy watching CS type games more. I do not think PC gaming will die, but mobile games will have an edge by a high margin soon.”
Crowley aims to play a major one day. Another goal that he does have is to lift the Aegis (the trophy for The International, which is the biggest DOTA 2 tournament). And I have a feeling that he will do both. There’s a bright future ahead for Raunak Sen, DOTA 2 in India, and the esports ecosystem in India. The young gamer is working harder than ever to grow and blossom into one of the world’s top DOTA 2 players. He’s putting his heart and soul into gaining XP (gaming term for experience) and he’s all set to level up.
Advice for Aspiring esports Athletes
Keep the grind on and try not to be toxic, once you're good enough you will be approached by people or organisations who would want you for your skillset.
About the 21 series:
On the 24th of March 2020, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced a nation-wide lock-down for 21 days to fight the pandemic that is the Coronavirus. Citizens mustn’t leave their homes unless absolutely essential. This series aims to bring to the readers 21 positive stories through this lock-down. Something to inspire them to keep at it and come back out of this horrific tragedy stronger.
If you have an inspiring story or know someone whose story the world must know, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org