New Delhi: Something strange is happening in Mizoram and the online gaming industry can’t quite figure out why.
The northeastern state is beating other, more metropolitan regions to top Google search trends for many of India’s massively popular video games: PUBG, DOTA and DOTA 2, Counter-Strike, Fortnite, Call of Duty, Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V.
Click on any of the action game search terms above and Google will show you a map of India coloured in varying shades of blue – the darker the blue, the higher the probability of the game being searched in a region. And Mizoram is always the darkest blue in colour.
Google also shows how popular a search term is region-wise, on a scale of 0 to 100 — with 100 assigned to the place where the search term is most popular. Mizoram consistently scores a 100 for each of the action games while the more metropolitan regions that are home to most professional gamers — like in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, West Bengal and Telangana — often score between 30 and 60.
How could Mizoram be driving a Google trend for PUBG when its die hard gamers from Gujarat had pushed state officials to ban PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)?
It’s hard for anyone to believe, especially for Mizoram’s esports enthusiasts.
Esports, for context, is the generic term used to refer to multiplayer video game competitions. “Much like athletic sporting events, esports are often played before live audiences and may be broadcast over the Internet as well,” techterms.com tells us.
“Are you sure?” Lalmalsawmtluanga (online nickname ‘Digimalt’) asked in disbelief when ThePrint inquired about the trend. Digimalt, 33, is a Mizo based in the capital city Aizawl. He works in the Mizoram government’s finance department and has co-founded the state’s leading sports website, inkhel.com.
“Sometimes Google is not very accurate,” Digimalt added.
As proof, he referred to a 2015-report from his website countering another piece which says that Mizoram tops rankings for visitor numbers to Pornhub, pornographic site. Such data is derived from search engines like Google.
Inkhel contradict’s Pornhub’s assertion that “viewers from Mizoram mainly go for the Indian Sex category,” asserting that it is “unbelievable” since Mizo people prefer foreign porn to the “local kind”. “This is evident from the CD Video libraries which were in vogue just a few years ago. These libraries never stacked Indian sex videos,” the Inkhel report states.
In addition, the report also counters Google analytics indicating inkhel.com has few visitors from Mizoram, “Considering that Inkhel.com is mostly in Mizo language, this is an unbelievable tale told by Google analytics,” it says.
When you can’t just ‘get a life’
Digimalt, however, said that this trend about video games could be true.
“This is the generation of gaming, our internet access is growing and there are no amusement parks or public places in Mizoram for us to socialise, so gaming is how we connect to each other,” he explains.
Since Google calculates interest in a search term by comparing it with attention shown to other terms for a particular region, it could be that gaming is the topmost source of entertainment and rocks the world of Mizoram residents.
Gaming is a bigger deal in Mizoram than imagined. Digimalt himself comes home from work and plays PUBG. His father, born in the 1960s, plays Grand Theft Auto.
Trix Zachhing, 33, a father of three children who owns three businesses – including being a co-founder of inkhel.com and chairman of the Mizoram E-Sports Association – finds time to play PUBG or DOTA. Romoia, 25, a national DOTA champion, splits six to 10 hours of his day, every day, between DOTA, PUBG and Mobile Legends.
Abraham (gaming nickname ‘Lust’), 22, can only play his preferred Mobile Legends game for five hours now as opposed to 10 hours back in school because he is studying for a BA in economics in Chennai, but “Ah”, sighs Lust, “I am trying, still trying to become a professional gamer. I wish developers of Mobile Legends will sponsor more events”.
Clearly, there is a reason game developers pick this state – only the seventh most populous among the eight northeastern states – to sponsor gaming championships.
Just in 2019, there were two major gaming events here. In March, there was the second edition of Mobile Legends Diamond Challenge Series with $3,000 in real cash and 66,000 ‘Diamonds’ in virtual in-game currency. Again, in May, there was the PUBG Mobile Mizoram State Championship, with a prize pool of Rs 1,20,000.
In fact, Google trends show that Mizoram has a disproportionately high amount of interest in Mobile Legends compared to other parts of India. Mizoram scores 99 on how popular the search term is while most of India scores a mere one. Mobile Legends is fast becoming popular and Mizoram appears to be setting a precedent for India by becoming one of the first to embrace the game. The game is currently fifth on the Google Play Store’s top grossing list and has even been butting heads with PUBG parent company Tencent over copying game characters.
What Mobile Legends: Bang Bang has to offer is fairly self-explanatory – you shoot stuff. Functioning largely within the established colourscape and narratives of fantasy games – large swords, collectible jewels and creatures of various shapes and sizes – the multiplayer online battle arena game has garnered significant popularity in South Asia.
Follow the money
Despite gaming event organisers’ interest in Mizoram, sources – neither close to leading esports event creator Nodwin Gaming nor one at the leading Indian mobile game publisher Nazara Technologies (currently eyeing an IPO, but with high interest from investors) – know why the state is topping Google search trends for these action games.
A PR representative for PUBG said the company does not comment on user behaviour or provide user-base information by geography.
But many say that the state’s avid interest in action-based gaming could also be the result of a convenient marketing strategy by internet service providers – to encourage gaming in the region. For a small state comprising roughly 11.5 lakh people, where, Digimalt says, most of the internet access is concentrated in Aizawl (population: 3 lakh), there are several broadband service providers offering high-speed internet, a prerequisite for a data-guzzling activity like gaming.
NetSurf is the dominant broadband internet provider here, say Digimalt, Trix, Romoia, and Abraham. There are other internet service providers like Next Comm, ZiPro, T-way Networks and even BSNL, but “NetSurf is what most people here use,” Digimalt explains.
NetSurf offers internet speeds of 100 Mbps, wherein India’s average fixed broadband speeds are less than half of that at 30 Mbps, according to leading internet speed tester Ookla.
Kima, a director at NetSurf, says, “Business has been booming, everyone wants internet because they use apps a lot for everything.” The company, launched in 2013, has sponsored esports events to attract users. Kima says in 2014, the company sponsored a FIFA football online game tournament with a Rs 1 lakh prize pool, in 2015, a tournament featuring DOTA 2 and FIFA with prize money of Rs 1,50,000. In 2016, the company sponsored a tournament for the game Mini Militia.
In addition, NetSurf Gaming has Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep Mizoram’s esports fan-base active and growing.
Pushing online gaming as a lifestyle makes strategic sense for internet service providers – existing gamers with high-speed internet needs are loyal and lucrative customers, and creating a culture that will ensure future gamers only adds longevity to their brand. Even the 2019 PUBG tournament was sponsored by a cable TV company called Zonet.
So what does Digimalt do every night? He uses his 100Mbps, 350 GB, Rs 1,800 a month NetSurf internet package to slay his opponents on PUBG – in fact that’s what most Mizos do most nights.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.