This startup is filling the gaps in the Indian eSports industry, including lack of technology, discovery of gamers, and big tournaments.
Indians are taking to mobile gaming and livestreaming in a socially distanced landscape. India has nearly 200 million active gamers on smartphones. Ubiquitous Internet infrastructure and affordable smartphones are leading to increasing popularity of multi-player online gaming in India.
Games like PUBG, Free Fire, and Call of Duty are keeping smartphones buzzing for hours. While gamers from around India are showing off their skills, spectators are flocking to see livestreamed videos on various platforms.
Still, how does a skilled gamer from a humble small town of India reach out to the millions of viewers?
Rheo is following their vision of discovering gaming talents from all corners of the country, providing tools for easy livestreaming, and conducting tournaments within India, where gamers have a chance to match and hone their skills before they are able to step into international waters.
The Tech Panda spoke to Saksham Keshri, CEO of Rheo, who explains that a typical young gamer from small towns of India might just be the next Sachin Tendulkar. However, such gamers are not being discovered in today’s scenario and hence lose out on opportunities to turn their gaming skills into a career. Also, streaming isn’t possible for everyone because of a lack of tech infrastructure.
If we compare our ecosystem with China and the US, this particular young guy cannot become a Sachin Tendulkar right now. But if he had been in the US and China, he’d have become famous. What is stopping him is the technology plus the discovery of these guys
“If we compare our ecosystem with China and the US, this particular young guy cannot become a Sachin Tendulkar right now. But if he had been in the US and China, he’d have become famous. What is stopping him is the technology plus the discovery of these guys,” he says.
Rheo was set up in August 2019 by Keshri and Prakash Kumar. Recently, the startup raised US$2 million in seed funding led by Sequoia Capital, Surge, Lightspeed, and Marquee Angels. Its aim is to bring gaming into the same league as that of cricket and Bollywood in India with an added layer of monetization.
Gamers Streamers and Tournaments
The Bangalore-based startup has over 100 games on the platform that are streamed online. These include PUBG, Free Fire, and Call of Duty. The platform also has over 100,000 streamers who generate more than 300,000 hours of live content in five regional languages. Users can choose regional languages like Hindi, Malayalam, Telugu, and Tamil, to watch streams in their own native languages.
An android app, the platform allows users to earn Rheo coins through various activities that they use to play with their favourite gamers and redeem it for items across different games. They also host their own tournaments, which are invite-only and geared towards engaging with and rewarding passionate, top gamers on the platform.
Rheo has built their infrastructure in a way that it works even with 3G. The platform provides live streaming gaming videos, engagement with streamers and also requests to play with them. It also lets one get access to exclusive tournaments and eSports events hosted and participated by top gamers in India and stream one’s favourite games from PC, Xbox One, or any Android smartphone.
The platform aims to build an entertaining ecosystem for mobile gamers, where fans can engage over gaming content, build communities, and chat with each other.
Streamers are the Entertainers
Discovery of Indian gamers who also stream is another shortcoming in the ecosystem that Rheo is solving. Visibility for streaming on YouTube is less, especially when done in a regional language. For example, streaming in Tamil on YouTube never gets the necessary viewership, because YouTube only allows video on demand content, which is pre-recorded.
“Our focus is to get young folks who are great streamers and then make them famous and a success. So that eventually they can see gaming as a career option,” says Keshri.
Our focus is to get young folks who are great streamers and then make them famous and a success. So that eventually they can see gaming as a career option
Gamers and streamers are important components of a gaming ecosystem. While a gamer plays the game and shows his prowess, a streamer broadcasts a game and displays it to viewers through platforms like YouTube or Twitch, which are apt for desktop gamers and English speakers.
Currently, the US market’s Twitch has around three million registered streamers. China has Huya and Douyu, with six million registered streamers, which have a market cap of almost US$5 billion, each generating a revenue of US$1 billion. This is a gap in India.
“Comparing with the Indian market, we have 100 million mid-core to hard-core gamers. But streamers for these games are only in thousands right now. Why aren’t they able to stream?” asks Keshri.
He says that Indian streamers lack the technology. While India is all about mobile gaming, mobile phones aren’t equipped enough to stream long hours of gaming.
“When you want to live stream using mobile seamlessly on any of these platforms, you need a developed tool,” he says.
The other option is using a desktop, which requires a special set up and can cost up to INR 70,000. Rheo Studio has made it possible for streamers to stream games through mobiles, bringing this cost down to INR 500.
“You just need a webcam, which you can attach and then start streaming,” he explains.
Autogenerated Highlights for the Aha Moments
Another problem Rheo is helping out with is distribution and liquidity of content. Keshri explains that live streaming constitutes as long form of content, which can be difficult to sell compared to shorter forms.
“Even when shared, the viewer doesn’t know which part to see, where is the ‘aha’ moment,” he explains.
Comparing with the Indian market, we have 100 million mid-core to hard-core gamers. But streamers for these games are only in thousands right now. Why aren’t they able to stream?
Rheo has developed an algorithm that creates highlights for the streamers while live streaming. These highlights are short forms of content that can be uploaded anywhere and help the steamer to gradually grow on the platform.
Short forms of content are always more popular than longer, as is evident from viral messages and videos on platforms like TikTok and WhatsApp. Rheo’s algorithm is saving the gamer 3-4 hours.
“These gamers stream on the platform for two-three hours and then create montages and upload on different social media. That takes another two hours, because long videos take time to upload on mobile. Also, editing the video takes another three-four hours. We solved the problem by using machine learning algorithm that takes the highlights from a long livestream,” he says.
Keshri says that when they started, they saw multiple voids in the market. One of them is the lack of big tournaments to draw in talent. In the West, esports organizers like ESL produce video game competitions worldwide. India doesn’t see that kind of action. Only PUBG hosts its own tournament.
Rheo is now organizing tournaments to attract attention of talented gamers.
We are hosting these tournaments so that we can get the best gamers from india. We can make them the star. We can set a benchmark. And then we can also build careers for these gamers. There are multiple things which are completely missing. We are looking to create the ecosystem
“We are hosting these tournaments so that we can get the best gamers from india. We can make them the star. We can set a benchmark. And then we can also build careers for these gamers. There are multiple things which are completely missing. We are looking to create the ecosystem,” he says.
Their Battle Arena Season 2 started last week, and the number of participants for this season has crossed 4,000. The grand finale is to be hosted in four-five months down the line.
“Rheo is always working on these sub problems to help build the ecosystem,” he says.