Santanu Basu, a 27-year-old computer gamer from Kolkata, was in the Chinese trading town of Yiwu as a guest of the local government
When Santanu Basu stepped on stage, he was welcomed by a reception he didn’t expect.
As loud music blared from speakers announcing his entrance, a Chinese television host in a three-piece suit welcomed him, flanked by models strutting the stage. A mass of a thousand Chinese fans greeted him with a roar as they banged together glowing cheer-sticks.
Not a reception that a 27-year-old computer gamer from Kolkata, is usually used to.
Mr. Basu — a national champion in football computer games — was in this southern Chinese trading town this week as the guest of the local government, which was hosting, as part of a creative and design industries fair, a tournament for the world’s champions of the game FIFA Online, whose third edition was being launched in China.
Eight champions of the game from around the world — four from Asia and China’s top four players — were brought together to compete with each other over three days, as they sat in glass cages on a sprawling stage furiously working their consoles.
“They know how to put on a show in China,” grinned Mr. Basu, pointing to a stage that looked set up more for a rock concert than a gaming competition.
The FIFA Online event itself underlined how far China has come in boosting its creative and animation industries, Mr. Basu noted, investing millions and increasingly rivalling traditional gaming and animation powers such as Japan and South Korea.
For Mr. Basu, his second trip to China was remarkably his 21st time representing India in a competition that few know exists. FIFA Online has grown to become an intense competition — Mr. Basu is ranked 41 among 25 lakh players globally — and prize money that many sports in India might struggle to command.
With the sums of money and global participation involved, gaming is being seen by some countries as a sport: in 2009, Mr. Basu represented India in the official Indian Olympic Association (IOA) delegation at the Asian indoor games in South Korea, where gaming was included on a par with billiards and other indoor games.
Mr. Basu started out without the advantages of many of his competitors. He began playing games in Howrah cafes where he would spend Rs. 27 an hour. At his first FIFA Online tournament in Mumbai, seven years ago, he slept on the streets for three nights because he had no money for a hotel.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for an Indian online gamer is the Internet speed. “I have a 2 Mbps speed in Kolkata, while 50 Mbps is the lowest in Singapore and Malaysia,” he said, ruing the games he has lost from getting disconnected, even when he was five goals up.
This week, Mr. Basu won his first game, beating out his longtime playing partner Kim Leong of Singapore. He however lost the semi-final to the eventual champion, Chen Yi from China, who goes by his playing name Satan, in an unlucky penalty defeat.
There were still lessons for him. “Like China, we should host events like this,” Mr. Basu said.
Why should we take gaming seriously? “Then you will have more animation companies, more creative industries, more investment. Out of three Internet users in India, one is a gamer. That’s why we have companies like Electronic Arts and Taiwan’s Thermaltake, who I work for, setting up offices and hiring programmers and testers,” he said.
“There’s more to this than just playing games”.