Animesh ‘Thug’ Agarwal on Playing PUBG MOBILE Competitively, Sustaining in Indian Esports

The Indian esports industry is largely centered on the popularity and accessibility of the mobile platform and games such as PUBG MOBILE. The title’s growth in the region has been due to a lot of key stakeholders, and one such name in that list is Animesh Agarwal. The 24-year old player turned team owner has been instrumental in building up the PUBG MOBILE community in India and has been one of the few people who has been there right from the beginning. 

Agarwal was part of the first Indian roster that went to participate in the PUBG Mobile Star Challenge (PMSC) in 2018. Since then, he has been closely associated with the esports side of things, but from a different angle. Having set up his own organization, 8bit, Agarwal has gone on to manage influencers, help newer players break into the scene, and establish himself as a  community figurehead. He now holds an important position in the community, having earned the respect of other players, talent, and fans thanks to his efforts. 

However, it’s not an easy decision to make to leave aside a traditional career to try and be somebody in esports. In India especially, the ecosystem is much newer and more volatile, making an entrepreneurial endeavor quite risky. 

“One simple reason why I chose gaming over my academic career is that when I saw mobile gaming on the rise in India, that was the exact moment I was waiting for,” Agarwal told The Esports Observer. “Also when I represented India in PMSC 2018, I got a chance to experience the glamour first hand which helped me to decide the prospects of this entire industry.” 

Having been an integral part of the formation of two of India’s most recognizable teams, 8bit and SouL, Agarwal believes that he has gained the confidence needed to pursue this as a full-time career in the years to come. 

While 8bit may be his own brand, he takes an active role in one of India’s prime PUBG MOBILE organizations, SouL. Together, they call themselves S8UL. He describes himself as a key consultant for SouL and nearly everyone knows about the brotherhood and camaraderie that members from both organizations share with each other. S8UL is currently in the process of setting up a gaming house for SouL to practice from and for the 8bit content creators to work from. S8UL aside, Agarwal and his partner Goldy (real name unknown) are also the go-to guys for streamers and influencers in India. With big names such as Naman “MortaL” Mathur and Fnatic’s Tanmay “Sc0utOP” Singh under its management, Agarwal is looking to grow his opportunities in multiple directions. 

“My two years of observing the industry failed to teach me the influencer part of [the] business. When I made 8bit or SouL, I had zero ideas about these things called digital marketing and influencer management. I was just a gamer that wanted gaming to grow in India. With the passage of time, as both 8bit and Soul grew we started getting approached by brands. A few swings and misses; and now a year later, our influencer management division- 8bit Creatives houses the biggest gaming influencers in India which include MortaL, Viper, Regaltos, 8bit Mamba and more. Influencers from various organizations in India work closely with us as we help them with the best opportunities when it comes to brand endorsements and deals. More or less, influencer management was entirely a result of expanding the learning curve.” 

But the competition is only getting tougher. World-renowned organizations such as Fnatic have entered the Indian PUBG MOBILE space and there are whispers that more brands may soon follow. It’s not easy for an 8bit or even a SouL to provide the resources that Fnatic can or even match up to them in terms of brand value. But Agarwal remains optimistic. 

“Let me bring it this way, four out of five of Fnatic’s players are my ex-players. I am proud of them and shall always serve as the incubator for talent so that they can get to bigger orgs,” explains Agarwal. “I have no problems with that. The day I feel 8bit or Soul is big enough to compete with them globally, I will know how to keep my players with me. But right now I don’t want to deter anyone from getting a bigger and better opportunity!” 

The approach seems to be working; while the big organizations can recruit a few players and talent, in India there seems to be a near limitless pool of players with potential, who are just waiting for an opportunity to prove themselves. Team Revenge Esports is a good example of this. In 2019, the team was relatively unknown but went on to win the PUBG MOBILE India Tour (PMIT), taking home a $71K USD bounty. Almost all the players mentioned the support they had received from 8bit for backing them in a tournament where they were far from favorites.

A fertile ecosystem and 8bit’s success has opened the doors for private investors in India, many of whom have picked up teams and rosters in a bid to get a slice of the pie. With money coming into the space, there is also the risk of other problems that the scene is bound to run into. Many teams and investors do not understand the space according to Agarwal. “It’s just a matter of time, when talents and investors looking for short term goals with no long term sustainability plans shall crumble under the pressure of sustainability. As a team owner, the recent trend that I have seen is money mindedness and a lack of loyalty among players, that’s likely to hurt them sooner or later,” explains Agarwal when asked about the local competition.

Being an entrepreneur at the age of 24 and having to fight for his place among so many others is definitely a hard ask. But Agarwal has made it abundantly clear that he is up for the challenge. From uniting players and encouraging them to not walkout at a LAN to being the big brother that everyone looks up to, Agarwal and 8bit have big plans for the future. 

“Currently I own 8bit, always remain the advisor to SouL, manage my talents, cast tournaments and stream. Amongst all this I work in a bare minimum personal time, but at the same time I strongly believe this is way better than a nine to five desk job. There is fun, excitement, travel and socializing – all of which I love. Also since I am just 24, I think it’s my time to hustle.”  

Shounak Sengupta is a staff writer for AFK Gaming.

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