Extended play: Inside India’s plush new gaming houses

Neon lights, fur carpets, catering, housekeeping and studios with personal branding: India’s esports companies are investing crores in gaming houses, as they set about wooing the best players.

Most gaming houses are currently concentrated in the esports hubs of Mumbai, Bengaluru and Gurugram. Typically, these are standalone buildings equipped to house 20 to 40 players. Aside from the obvious amenities such as ultra-high-speed broadband and uninterrupted power supply, they offer swimming pools, party areas, rooftop cafés.

The earliest e-gaming houses in India were very different. By about 2016, avid gamers, backed by brands and sponsors, started to live together in three- or four-bedroom flats. Here, their job was to practice and play, sometimes for up to 15 hours a day, so they could improve their chances of winning as a team at tournaments. Expenditure was low, in line with most prize purses.

By 2018, the prize money had begun to balloon. Today, there are crores at stake each year; the Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI) Master Series tournament held in Delhi in July 2022 had an overall prize pool of 1.5 crore. As a result, esports companies such as S8UL, GodLike, Revenant and XO have entered the fray, offering plush facilities and talent management services at their gaming houses, in exchange for a share of earnings.

These gaming houses come with customised live-streaming stations, mental-health and gaming coaches, personalised diet plans and fitness instructors. In an indication of just how physically gruelling esports can be, every gaming house has a gym.

“People don’t usually associate fitness with esports, but it is absolutely essential for gamers to maintain their fitness, especially if they are going be playing back-to-back tournaments for, sometimes, 12 hours at a stretch”, says Naman Gaur, co-founder of XO, which runs a 10,000-sq-ft gaming house called XO Space in Bengaluru.

Coaches are usually retired esports players. They work with players to draft new in-game strategies, and identify and enhance their strengths.

Saddam Hussain aka GODL Crow in his streaming booth at the Navi Mumbai gaming house. (Bachchan Kumar / HT Photo)

XO Space, launched in 2021, has a swimming pool, bedrooms with walk-in closets, and four underground streaming rooms, for a total of nine esports athletes. “I’ve seen players gain weight and tire out easily because they’ve just been hammering away at their keyboards all day without moving an inch,” says Gaur, “so everyone at XO Space is offered a monthly health check.” A dietician helps with meal plans.

At the S8UL gaming house in Navi Mumbai, meal times are used to boost team spirit and get people away from their screens. “Irrespective of our hectic schedules, between 9 pm to 10 pm we all assemble at the dining table to eat together,” says S8UL co-founder and veteran esports content creator Naman Mathur aka Mortal. “Because otherwise we would all just be holed up in our cabins, eating and dozing off at our work stations, which is really unhealthy.”

The S8UL space, launched in 2019, is 15,000 sq ft spread across three storeys, home to 20 players and a friendly husky named Trishul. Players’ studio spaces are customised to match their online and offline identities. Sneakerhead Salman Ahmad aka 8Bit Mamba, 29, has his collection of kicks on display behind him as he live-streams; Mrinmoy Lahkar aka 8Bit Beg4Mercy, 29, has an aquarium with fish and turtles.

The S8UL residents at their gaming house in Navi Mumbai (it’s not far from GodLike’s). Launched in 2019, the 15,000 sq ft facility is spread across three storeys, and is home to 20 players and a husky named Trishul. (Bachchan Kumar / HT Photo)
The S8UL residents at their gaming house in Navi Mumbai (it’s not far from GodLike’s). Launched in 2019, the 15,000 sq ft facility is spread across three storeys, and is home to 20 players and a husky named Trishul. (Bachchan Kumar / HT Photo)

The GodLike gaming house, not far from S8UL, was launched in July and is a four-storey bungalow spread across 25,000 sq ft, with 10 bedrooms, streaming rooms and a rooftop cafeteria. It houses 40 gamers and a golden retriever named Max. A soundproof basement area is equipped for endorsement shoots and meet-and-greet sessions with fans. “The idea is to give players the right ambience and build team synergy so they can work together on ideas and strategies,” says Amar Chandgude, co-founder of GodLike Esports.

GodLike also organises group counselling sessions to help players deal with the uncertainties of winning and losing, and the anxiety that comes with new-found celebrity status. Dealing with fans can be tricky for the management too, says Kammaljeet Singh, general manager at GodLike Esports. “We have fans gathering at the gates of the gaming house, asking for ‘just one photograph’ with Jonathan.” (That’s popular BGMI player Jonathan Jude Amaral). Sometimes the player they’re asking for will go into their balcony and wave, and that’s usually enough.

The easiest way out is to indulge them a little, Singh says. “After all it’s the fan following that has made this industry what it is.”

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