Riot Games Esports Leader of South Asia claims VALORANT is the most well-received IP in the region
In December of 2023, Riot Games held Convergence, a VALORANT OFF//SEASON event in Bangalore, India, featuring some of the top VALORANT teams from the VCT International Leagues and not only. The event saw the Turkish FUT Esports lift the trophy following a win over Team Vitality in the grand finale.
The event was the first of its kind in South Asia. Held in Bangalore, the Convergence tourney was the first international VALORANT event backed by Riot to be held in that region.
Before the start of the event, our very own Arnab Baidya, managed to speak with Sukamal Pegu, the Riot Games Esports Leader of South Asia. Being very outspoken, Sukamal had a ton to say about VALORANT's reception and growth in the region, but was also keen to speak out on other topics, such as other Riot IPs and much much more. Below is the interview with Sukamal Pegu.
Sukamal Pegu on VALORANT in South Asia, infrastructure, Convergence, and other Riot IPs
THESPIKE: In terms of infrastructure in South Asia, what is top priority? Which subregions need to be improved? And what is your next area of expansion to ensure growth?
Sukamal: So, what our entire strategy is built around are the fans, which basically means that what are the things that are essential or important to the fans? First of all, the game has to be accessible. Second, the player's experience of playing the game has to be amazing. The third thing is the community should feel safe and included. And last thing is what are the experiences that are enhancing my ability to play and interact with the brand?
So, if you look at the first part, having the servers here is a statement saying you have the ability to experience the game in a way it was designed to be experienced. And it's not going to be subpar with anybody else in the world. A lot of our bigger regions got our servers at the same time as India. It basically means that we have never done publishing in India, and we do not know how big, or we know how big the PC market is, but we do not know that how much of it will translate into actual players. But we are confident enough to say we will give you an experience that is on par with everybody else in the world. That's the server.
The second thing is being able to play the game. I might have a five-year-old PC. I might have a six-year-old PC. But to be able to say, "ok, doesn't matter what hardware I have," you should be able to experience the game without having to spend too much.
The third thing is basically to be able to feel safe within the game. If you play the game, of course, it's an online game. It is a very intense game. You express your emotions when you are either winning or losing. Sometimes you might feel like you are being targeted by your own team. And sometimes you are being ridiculed or made fun of or even celebrated for the matter. But we want to be there with our community to make sure that they feel safe. They don't have any way to feel like I want to play the game because I'm afraid. So that's something which we deeply care about. And I think all the systems that we are building around it are to basically not just make it inclusive, but also to protect our players from any kind of discrimination or any kind of, let's say, disruption to their experience.
The last thing is experience. This is where esports and opportunities come from. Right. So we are as an India, we are a country with very limited opportunities. We all fight for the same seat. So here, this is where we want to expand on saying there's multiple ways to experience and engage with VALORANT. Not just by playing the game. You can also be part of a community. You can be part of an event. And in the end, we are one. We all come together. And with Convergence, this is exactly what we hope to achieve. Bring everybody together and enjoy VALORANT the way it's supposed to be.
THESPIKE: Great. From Riot's perspective, what are the company's goals for expanding esports competitions in the region, which is the most popular game right now apart from VALORANT, and what warrants expansion in the region and how will this be funneled into more international competitions in the world stage?
Sukamal: I think that is a very valid question and we are a portfolio company now, right? And there are a lot of questions around saying, hey, what about this game, that game, which is already in our portfolio, probably has been already released, but it's not been seeing enough attention in India. And for us, it's a big market, but at the same time, we are also a smaller team as compared to some of our bigger regions where we have a much bigger team which is servicing a lot more IPs than us. And while we are starting with VALORANT, it doesn't mean that we are not going to be focusing on other IPs that are within our portfolio. VALORANT definitely takes the cake because it is the most well-received game in the region. There is so much more that we have and can do in this IP itself. And our ambitions are very huge, right? So, in that sense, I think we are just getting started. And now you have seen the India team has grown substantially from the last time we spoke. And that is the goal, right? To bring more hyperlocal experiences to our Indian fans across IPs.
And VALORANT is the first game. Of course, you should wait for some announcements happening early next year about some of our other games that are already part of our portfolio, but we are going to be focusing on them. I'm not saying games that are not in our IP portfolio as of now, but games that already exist in our portfolio. You'll see a lot more attention given to our existing games like League of Legends, for example, and even TFT. So all those things I think will be part of the sustained strategy saying let's expand on the existing IPs.
While new IPs are exciting, of course, we would definitely love to work with them as well. But I think there's so much more we can do with League of Legends and even TFT for the matter, right? And you will see some exciting announcements coming from that part as well. And plus, I think we also focus on experiences. And that also means Arcane is definitely a big part of our, let's say, strategy for 2024. It is going to drop and when it drops, I think we will be prepared to make sure that we are going to be able to catch the fan and give them the experience that they can celebrate Arcane in India with Indian fans and watch it together, right? So that's something which we will definitely have a lot more announcements coming up in the next year as well.
THESPIKE: How was the reception since Riot launched League and TFT servers in the region last December after the transition from Garena?
Sukamal: Yeah, I think the TFT game, which started out as a mod within League of Legends, now has its own identity, has its own path and has its own, let's say, journey. That itself is a testimony to the fact that it has not just been well received, but there are communities of people who play just TFT. They don't play League of Legends. Yes, it is using the same client on PC. On mobile, of course, it's a self-standing-alone client, but at the moment or the fact that we see people who play TFT from PC but they don't play League itself says that this game has a special connection with people who love this genre and are able to experience the League of Legends IP through TFT.
Have a look at the way that we are revamping and reworking the experience designed for mobile and also for people who are mobile first itself. So those are great steps at us validating the fact that this is a game that not just deserves its own identity, but I think it has a long way for us to go in our mobile journey, which, of course, we do not have huge success on mobile, but I think TFT is a great testimony to the fact that we can do mobile as well. I think we are geared for hopefully good success on mobile, and that should also translate to our much-expected IPs as well when they drop on mobile.
THESPIKE: About Wild Rift. LoL has been obviously the biggest IP for Riot, and although MOBA hasn't that seen great success comparatively to other regions, when Wild Rift was initially announced, a lot of Indian fans were hoping for it to come to India. Riot has always been communicative about their plans, but we haven't seen any official announcements. So, if you could go over it, if there are any issues that you can mention for the Indian, and in fact the South Asian, fans aware of.
Sukamal: So, it's very difficult for us to benchmark ourselves to say, "what is the potential for us to expand our IP list when one game is already doing so well." But that does not mean that we don't value people who play our other games, like League of Legends for that matter. And I think in 2024, we have a very strong plan of how we're going to reignite League of Legends on PC. I think this is one big complaint from our fans that are saying, "hey, we might be a small community, but we are not that small of a community." Very vocal, very well established, and have been playing the game, engaging with the community for such a long time. And I can say that, thanks guys for not cutting the slack on us. We have heard you and we are coming back to you with some experiences that are very unique to India and South Asia. And not just with the game, but I think also with esports, you should be hearing some really exciting news, hopefully in the next five to six months. And hopefully we should be able to deliver some of the things that we have not been able to do for you guys. Together, we should be able to create one more success story for a game that people love playing here.
THESPIKE: Congratulations on hosting the first-ever official Riot-backed VALORANT tournament in India. How was this idea brought up, and how was it finally executed? Who was the one who pitched the idea and how did the building of this tournament start?
Sukamal: Fantastic question. So, it's like a Bollywood story. It's almost as if once we see the events, the thought process behind saying, "hey, this is a great event, they must have been planning for a long time because this does not happen overnight," right? And in India, of course, we love stories. And I think Convergence is a great story. It's very long, but I'm going to shorten it for you because our audience doesn't really believe in long-form content anymore.
So, the intent was very simple. This year we were looking at saying, "hey, one of our biggest fan bases and player base is from India." So, the question that we had to ask ourselves is what are we doing here for our Indian VALORANT fan this year? Of course, we had Global Esports playing in Pacific, then we had one of the best-produced domestic CL’s in the form of the Nodwin VALORANT Challengers League, which was one of the best-produced products in that tier and also well appreciated by the fans. But our question was what more are we doing? We wanted to do something that has never been done before, not even at the APAC level. We have never owned off-seasons. We always look at off-seasons as something that we give out to our partners to manage and we just give them guidelines on what it should be. So, this is the first time that Riot actually owned the off-season product, saying this is one event that we're going to do. And where is the place that has the most value for a product like this? The answer is very simple, right?
We looked at all the big markets for VALORANT in APAC, and we outright noticed the Indian VALORANT fans, although being one of the biggest in the region, are not being serviced enough. So, Convergence should happen in India, and it should be designed to keep the Indian fan at the center and build on that experience. So, if you look at the choice of teams that we have brought in, very careful, right? It has nothing to do with randomness. We carefully thought about the tier of teams that has to be invited here, which have not been seen before, as in playing together. There's excitement. Of course, if you go for some of the bigger teams that are already existing, people have seen them performing at Masters or Champions. So, there is kind of, let's say, under expectancy, saying this is the outcome of these matchups. But now we have a set of teams that most people have not seen play each other. So, there's curiosity, not just from the fan's perspective, but also from the team's perspective, right? And that was the reason why we chose very carefully the teams that we wanted to bring to this place.
Also, we wanted to make sure that we cater to our Indian ecosystem, esports organizations. So, we feel that that they have enough opportunities to actually go ahead and test themselves at this stage. And so, we made sure that the teams that really are performing well in this entire circuit this year, they get a shot at being able to compete with the best and also feel that they belong. And, of course, everything was designed with the Indian fan in mind.
So, we had a very careful selection, saying, "hey, how do we build this together with a partner?" We found a very good partner in the form of The Esports Club. And we couldn't be happier. This is happening in their backyard. They know this place inside out and they were very confident saying that we will be able to pull it off. And, of course, it was not easy because we have never worked at that caliber with them. Our team, when it comes to owning operations or stage design or anything to do with, like, player comps, we have a huge checklist. It's not easy. And luckily we have the confidence seeing the handshake between the teams saying we are happy and comfortable with what you guys are able to bring to the table. And we will get this done. And like I said, we would not have said no to anything because this is designed for the fans and we will not compromise. And this is the outcome of all this effort of the last three to four months. We moved really fast. We did all our checklist and TEC was kind enough to bear with us all with all our requirements and checklists. And here we are.
THESPIKE: We saw an end-of-year community letter from Leo Faria explaining how Riot plans to have a sustainable ecosystem for organizations and players. However, there is still curiosity about how it will affect the lower part of the pyramid, starting from the Premier and Challengers; how beneficial is it for a region like ours (South Asia)?
Sukamal: Yeah, I think that's a great question. And I think the way to look at this is products like Premier is designed essentially to solve the entire path to pro from large markets like ourselves. So if you look at, let's say, what we're trying to solve here. First of all, we want to make the path to pro a real opportunity for fans. But we also know that the restrictions and limitations are very high. The restrictions of actually us trying to service a large market like ours will also need to deploy a lot more infrastructure and investments. Yes, the ecosystem is growing, but it would be unfair for us to expect that the grassroots, especially the path to pro events can be permeating to a point where it goes beyond our big cities and reaches even our players who are playing from smaller B and C towns. And in that sense, I think, depending on primarily events done by our partners to be able to solve that is going to be a little unfair because not every market or every region is going to be as profitable as doing it in Mumbai or in big cities.
So I think the Premier layer sits as a direct path to our products. And it may help us identify talent but it also gives those players a platform to say where exactly is this path leading to. And for clarity, this is one thing that we want to really be clear with our fans is that Premier is there to give you clarity about where this path can lead to in the scenario that you are good at the game and you believe that this is the path that you want to pursue. It provides you a with a way to test yourself.
And the third thing is that this is a way by which we can identify talent. The ecosystem gets help because now suddenly even for our partners or TOs who do grassroots events or amateur events they know exactly where these players are. So if my Premier teams are performing from specific parts of the country then suddenly it opens up. There is an interest in esports from not just the big cities. Even the smaller tier cities are part of our ecosystems that are not just throwing up athletes, but also good athletes. Then suddenly it opens up business possibilities for everybody. So that's the reason why we want to see Premier being picked up by our fans who play the game competitively enough to figure out if they are good enough to become athletes so that they can take a conscious decision of whether they want to invest while not having to move to a bigger city for pursuing their dreams. But at the same time, it also helps us go back to our partners and unlock those possibilities for them with enough information and data saying, "hey, guys, this is where we are seeing a lot of interest from players playing the Premier mode." And maybe that is what we should be focusing on as well. To bring those experiences back to that.
So this is where I think the connection between where the CL layer sits, as well as our partner-driven programs like amateur events or cafe events sit. And Premier is the one that connecting all of them together, saying this is the path. These are the ways by which we can pick and choose of which segment and which areas and which cities can be serviced with events and community parts that are not going to be done. Maybe not from us directly, but at least from our partner's perspective, they can choose to go there where they have not been seen giving enough service to the fans.
Note: The article has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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