MUMBAI: e-Sports is joining the plethora of national sporting leagues that have sprung up in India seeking to emulate the success of the India Premier League.

UCypher, which launches in January 2018, is the brainchild of Ronnie Screwvala, who told Afaqs! that there are “immense sponsorship opportunities in a sport where brands can be integrated seamlessly”.

“The sport is sticky, unlike other game formats,” he explained. “In cricket, there is one over; in football, you don't even have a gap for a commercial; with kabaddi it's even worse where you need to get an official time-out.

“Here, the ability for us to integrate brands and have commercial breaks while the game is on is very high.” The likes of Amazon, Puma and mobile companies are in his sights.

The new league will be very different from existing ones in several important respects. “For the first two seasons, we are going to own all the teams and all the players,” he said, because there are currently no benchmarks against which these assets can be valued.

And while games will be shown on television, they will not be on the usual sporting channels. “We want to get more people into gaming,” Screwvala explained. “Therefore, for us, television was an important platform and it was important to pick a right partner – but not a sports channel at this stage – which is why we approached MTV.”

Unilazer Venture, the business behind the league, has bought slots on MTV and will produce a series of one-hour programs for the channel.

Ultimately, Screwvala aims to make e-gaming a mass sport – “beer, not malt whisky” – a journey he expects will take several years. Despite having made the decision to pour Rs 30-35 crore into season one, he is not rushing to monetise the project.

“After two seasons we will have a very good idea where the sport lands, what the viability is for it along with the sponsor interest, viewership and player interest,” he said.

And he has no specific plans to invest in publicising the new venture. “Instead of going and doing a marketing campaign to promote the league, we are treating the first season itself as a marketing campaign.”

Sourced from Afaqs!; additional content by WARC staff