AFK Gaming prides itself in being India’s go-to destination for esports content, consultancy and casting services. However, before they became the big esports hub that they are, the erstwhile small firm was only but a bud on a plant, growing slowly but steadily.
“We started off as a basic PHPBB forum with a one man one bedroom setup that ran streams, wrote articles, managed social media and edited videos on an i3 processor, a toaster of a GPU and a 2 Mbps connection,” recalls Nishant Patel, AFK’s B2C lead, and first co-founder. “A few friends – Varun Vohra, Karan Mhatre, and Siddharth Chhatani were kind enough to help us with a basic website when they saw and liked what we were up to.”
Cut to today and AFK has around 15 folks on board, a small studio in Mumbai and two mini offices in Mumbai and Delhi – all in a bid to fulfill their vision of becoming the world’s go-to destination for Asian esports content.
AFK Gaming was created in 2012 by former pro Dota players Nishant ‘ClouDx’ Patel, Surojit ‘Cranberry’ Roy and Shawn ‘Porco’ Dexter to create and shine a limelight on the next generation of aspiring esports professionals. Shortly after its creation, Cranberry and Porco left the company while Rakesh ‘Chief’ Ramachandran and Siddharth ‘S1NA’ Nayyar hopped on board.
Rakesh ‘Chief’ Ramchandran – an old friend of ClouDx joined the company as a co-founder. He came with a thorough understanding of business consultancy, tech experience, a small bag of cash and a ‘permanently borrowed’ Steelseries microphone from a gaming café. Rakesh now handles everything tech at AFK Gaming and is currently leading the product team to upgrade their website.
About a year after Rakesh entered the company, Siddharth ‘S1NA’ Nayyar joined as the manager for the since disbanded Team Elunes (an initiative by AFK Gaming themselves) and has since leveraged his experience of working with prominent brands to transition over to handling everything B2B at the company as the third and final co-founder.
Creating content around esports in India never has been an easy task, nor has it ever been monetarily viable, let alone a career option. “Fun fact: all three co-founders started drawing a salary at AFK Gaming only a little under a year ago!” says Siddharth Nayyar. AFK’s story is enticing and filled with obstacles that they have leaped across to reach where they are today. “While things are significantly more comfortable today it’s important for us to remember our early days where we traveled 20+ hours by trains/buses to go cast LAN tournaments like Free2Play in Bangalore just to build a rep.”
“Most of our current staff – Shubhojit, Shounak, Umesh, Udbhav, Vignesh, Vivek, Heeraka, Ankit, and Abhishek have all previously worked as volunteers at AFK Gaming because they believed in the company’s vision and its capability to turn their efforts into paying jobs in the esports industry. Needless to say, the moment those jobs became available they were hired without question!”. What makes content creation around esports in India unique is that monetization via traditional means doesn’t work that well. You’ve got to get creative when figuring out a business model as an esports content creation company!
Everyone has a strategy, whether it be in a game of Dota 2 or running a company. What philosophy runs AFK Gaming? “Just put your head down and farm for the late game.” Rakesh “Chief” Ramachandran says, “That’s what I told ClouDx when AFK Gaming started questioning its efforts back when we were nobodies. That’s a philosophy that we will never let go off. We’ve got a fantastic group of people in the company that’s pushing each other to be better every single day. Our writers put designers through the grinder; our video editors harass our writers’ souls for quality scripts, and our social media guy won’t let anything that’s subpar go live.”
“On top of all this, we’ve got ClouDx and S1NA breathing down our necks while Chief and his team of devs get poked with ideas for new features and bugfixes on a daily basis! Calculated chaos with lofty ambitions for competent people is how we would best describe our recipe for growth,” says Shounak "Gambit" Sengupta, writer, and caster at AFK Gaming.
Tobiwan, a reputed international caster, talked about his struggles on a podcast with AFK Gaming in significant detail. Tier 1 casters like him are perennially globe-trotting. Freelancers have to worry about making it to as many premium events as they can to ensure that the job is sustainable for them. All of this has to be done while maintaining their passion for the game and carving out time to play it! Add to this the fact that there is an army of upcoming casters waiting for an opportunity to present itself making competition fierce.
Finding Your Market
AFK Gaming specializes in their content and casting aimed at the SEA region. Vivek “Veewake” Venkatraman, caster at AFK Gaming, considers the region to be second only to Europe as far as languages and choice of platforms go. “For example, Filipinos prefer to watch their esports via a Tagalog broadcast. Their Dota audience is primarily polarized and is either die-hard fans of MineskiTV or WomboXCombo. Their platform of choice is Twitch. Meanwhile in Indonesia YouTube is their platform of choice while in Singapore and Malaysia Twitch seems like the way to go for live content.” he says. “There are many variables at play in the region, and I’d be lying if we said we had it all covered, but we’re learning every day and when it’s time to launch AFK Gaming version 2.0 we should be prepared!”
Most people in the gaming circuit of India associated AFK Gaming with Dota 2 mainly because of ClouDx being the only face of the company. “I think the bias that we’re a Dota 2 focused company stems from the fact that ClouDx has been the only face of the company for a long time – in business meetings and on streams,” says Umesh Kripalani, CS:GO writer and livestreamer.
“However a lesser known fact is that our revenue from CS:GO are equal to (if not higher than) those from Dota 2. Most major tournaments in India choose to work with us for their written and video CS:GO content because of our proven capability. With the recently concluded ZOWIE eXTREMESLAND naming AFK Gaming as one of the official media partners for their event, we’re starting to make inroads into the Asian esports ecosystem as well.”,” says Rakesh.
However, these pleasantries are accompanied by years of hard work and struggle. “The pressure of working in an Indian esports content company is immense, and each one of us has a personal struggle that we have had to overcome to get to the point of doing something we love for pay,” says Vignesh “Gfreak” Raghuram, Dota 2 writer. “ClouDx had to delay his wedding; Chief quit an absurdly high paying corporate job despite having a debt to deal with; S1NA had to quit a burgeoning career and do a fair amount of convincing and number crunching to justify this move. Veewake chose esports and AFK Gaming over a lucrative career in mainstream cinematography, and Gambit opted for a career in esports instead of something conventional like most engineering graduates his age.”
“I moved from Dubai to Mumbai to be with the team and Paper made the move from Noida to Mumbai and commutes an hour and a half to work every day. Esports is indeed a viable career option right now but only those that grind like there’s no tomorrow will make it a prosperous one in the next few years,” Gfreak concludes.
ClouDx recalls: “As a player, I’ve had moments where I studied while at a tournament. I vividly remember setting up two chairs and opening an Economics book behind a massive tournament banner for an Animax Gaming Championship at the Atria Mall, Mumbai! I gave up competing in my final year of graduation to focus exclusively on studying. I figured that if I aced that exam, I’d have convinced my family that I knew what I was doing with my life and they’d get off my back with their career suggestions. Worked like a charm!”
Professionalism and Passion
Another remarkable story is that of Udbhav “BazZinga” Katyal, one of AFK’s earliest Dota 2 video editors who is still studying while juggling work. “My daily routine includes an hour-long commute to college where I spend about 6 hours of my day, then another hour back before finishing up college work and editing for AFK.” Nishant continues, ”Udbhav has gotten very efficient at pumping out videos now all while continuing to remain motivated despite the daily grind. Almost every single one of our current staff has freelanced/volunteered like this for us while they were studying and I’m extremely grateful to have them working alongside me”
In parting words, Nishant speaks about the current esports scene in India and how we are improving as a country. “With massive prize pools, international teams have already begun competing in India’s tournaments and Indian teams like Signify have started showing signs of life at SEA events.Reputed international entities such as DreamHack, ESL and more have already announced plans for the Indian region. The sheer size of the potential audience here in India coupled with a comparatively lower cost of reaching that audience is what we believe to be the primary reason behind the sudden influx of premium global esports companies .” .”
This in itself is motivation for the existing endemic teams to step it up a notch thus drastically improving the overall competitiveness of teams in the region. Add to this the rising revenues for premium tournament organizers and intermediaries with the advent of media rights as a revenue source, and Nishant believes that India is primed to become a destination for global teams playing with and against local ones, in international tier tournaments on Indian soil.
He sums up his vision and mission for AFK Gaming in one line. “To become the world’s go-to destination for Asian esports content and content services.”