One day, swears Mithilesh Patankar, he’s going to laze on a beach and play video games all day.
This sounds like a fine retirement plan, but the 24-year-old Mumbai-based gaming content creator, who goes by the handle Mythpat, still has a way to go. On YouTube for three years now, the winner of the YouTube Streamy Award 2021 for International Creator of the Year may be making a better living than most engineers, but he’s too young to retire. Not to mention too full of ideas that need expression.
Delhi-NCR-based 20-year-old Ujjwal Chaurasia, aka Techno Gamerz, has no dreams of retirement either. He’s too excited about the gaming content he creates. He makes about the same kind of money as Mithilesh, and his future plans now include app development.
When I mentioned our cover stars, my millennilal bestie whipped out his phone and pulled up videos of Mithilesh and Ujjwal that he loves, perhaps a testament to how well-known the two are. In fact, gaming is now recognised as a legitimate sport, and the next edition of the Commonwealth Games, and the 2022 Asian Games, will include eSports (professional gaming) as a category. In India alone, revenues from the game streaming industry could touch around $300-400 million by 2023, according to industry experts.
Mithilesh was in the second grade when he first discovered games like Mario and Roadcrash. Ujjwal started even earlier at age five when he came across the game Snake on his older brother’s phone. Games were a major part of both their lives and when social media gave them the opportunity to play all day and earn from it, naturally they jumped right in.
Today, Mithilesh has 11.3m subscribers on YouTube and Ujjwal 24.5m. Both have 1.9m followers on Instagram. On average, a gaming content creator in India earns over half a crore a year: leading players can charge anywhere between `4 lakh and `12 lakh for a brand insertion. These can be 15-30 second promotions like drinking an energy drink while gaming, or using a particular face wash before or after a game. Neither Mithilesh nor Ujjwal will share the actual figures of their annual incomes, but they’re willing to throw out a clue.
“Double what an engineer earns,” says Mithilesh. He looks at Ujjwal. “Triple?” he asks, unsure. Ujjwal shrugs.
Share the thrill
Professional gamers on the internet earn money by winning tournaments, playing in teams of four or five people. Prize amounts vary between `25 lakh and a crore.
Non-pros are content creators who live-stream videos of themselves playing games, giving audiences a taste of what it’s like and how it feels. What sets Mithilesh and Ujjwal apart from other creators? Well, their focus and their signature commentaries.
“We make content for the ‘khel nahi paa rahe, dekh toh lun’ people, who don’t have access to gaming equipment but can at least watch it to be a part of it,” says Mithilesh. He began making gaming videos after he lost way too many semi-finals in gaming competitions. “The point is to make the audience enjoy the game with you,” he believes.
Both young men had to convince their parents that yes, they could indeed make a living from creating gaming content.
Mithilesh’s family wanted him to pursue engineering, while Ujjwal’s wanted him to excel at something, anything, but saw no scope in gaming. As a compromise, Mithilesh completed his engineering degree and then asked his parents to give him two years to build his YouTube channel. If he didn’t have 100k subscribers by then, he told them, he’d get a nine-to-five job.
“They didn’t believe it earlier but as the subscriber count began rising and money started coming in, their hesitation went away. Today, they have no complaints,” he says.
Ujjwal, meanwhile, completed his schooling and made sure there were no complaints about his grades. Since he had no computer or phone of his own, the possibility of addiction was kept at bay. Not that he spends less than eight hours a day gaming anyway!
“My parents’ support came later when they realised I could earn by gaming and how much,” says Ujjwal.
One of the reasons their parents agreed to their choice of careers is that the possibility of earning a good income via gaming and social media is no longer a pipe dream.
“Both YouTube and gaming have become big in the last three to five years and it’s all thanks to the easy access to the internet and mobile phones,” says Mithilesh.”There’s a lot of money in it too, with the prize money for a game like Fortnite hitting `1 crore. And it’s 16-year-olds who emerge as winners.”
“That wasn’t the case even two years ago,” adds Ujjwal.
This is what has increased awareness about content creation as a career path. “Earlier, parents wouldn’t support it as they didn’t know,” explains Mithilesh. “It was almost a crime to even play games online! But once PUBG started doing tournaments, parents also realised that careers could be made of it because the stakes were quite high. There’s no initiative perhaps, but there’s no lack of support either.”
They point out that it was only after PUBG was banned that people started competing in other games, such as Minecraft and BGMi.
Game of thorns
While their parents may have accepted that what Mithilesh and Ujjwal do is a legitimate career, others still question it. These people, the two young men say, are usually baby boomers who ask them what their ‘actual’ job is.
“When we were kids, we wanted to become astronauts. Kids today want to become influencers,” Ujjwal points out.
But it’s not as easy as all that. Only once you hit 500k subscribers can you begin to make a living out of gaming content, reveal the two young men. Mythpat started earning when he hit 10k subscribers, starting with `5 a day. For Ujjwal, money began coming in when he was at 35k subscribers.
“Everyone thinks they can be a gaming creator. I get messages from 12-13-year-olds about how they want to dive into gaming right away. But that’s not how it works. Study first and start in your 20s,” says Mithilesh. “You can’t join YouTube with the aim of making money. You can only do it if you desire to create content.”
Neither Mithilesh nor Ujjwal is interested in competitive games. This, they say, is where the slightest hint of a loss leads to soaring tempers.
“There are racist slurs and abuses thrown around because there is freedom to say anything when you are connected to three random people. You can do whatever you want and there is nothing anyone can do about it except perhaps report you,” says Mithilesh.
However, both agree that competitive games can also lead to immediate, genuine bonding.
“Most games have voice chats and if there is something competitive going on, you can be good friends with your teammates in 30 minutes,” says Ujjwal. “Even closer to them than your best friend! It usually happens when you have the same gameplay style and your synergy matches, like if, in a fight, he covers you and vice versa.”
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From HT Brunch, March 6, 2022
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