Streaming global, speaking local
Finding their space online has been a long journey for these six Tamil streamers, who share their views on the regional gaming market
You may remember a time when Mario and Duck Hunt were all the rage (or Grand Theft Auto and Halo, if you’re younger). That was an era where personal laptops and PCs were still a distant dream, people had to experience the thrill of video games secondhand, while their elder siblings and friends took charge of the controllers. The world of live streaming today could simply be considered an extension of this phenomenon, where gamers and entertainers broadcast their gameplay in real time for people’s entertainment.
Gamers report that in the past few years gaming has taken the international streaming world by a storm, becoming one of the most actively watched genres of content with over a billion viewers. The year 2020 was an unbeatable one as people sought obsessive ways to entertain themselves in quarantine. YouTube reports a watchtime of 100 billion hours across their 40 million active channels, including Indian gamers (MortaL, Dynamo Gaming, Sc0ut, Total Gaming, and Gyan Gaming).
“Today, gaming content has evolved dramatically to become an essential part of the backbone of YouTube. According to a survey from earlier this year, playing video games is Gen Z’s favourite form of entertainment. And far from a niche interest, it’s become the mainstream,” notes Neal Mohan, Youtube Chief Product Officer. With an audience and impact this huge, it’s no surprise that Tamil gaming streamers, too, are enjoying a large slice of the pie.
According to Piyush Kumar, the founder and CEO of streaming and esports platform Rooter, Tamil-language streams are set to be a large contributor to the gaming market, “The gaming market in Tamil is the strongest amongst the south Indian states. Tamil Nadu is going to emerge as a very important market because of high adoption and engagement with their audience, compared to other languages. We are excited about this.”
But what do the ones on the field have to say about the growth and scope of regional game streaming? Six game streamers share their inputs on their audience, the evolution of gaming, and their experiences of streaming in Tamil.
A job as a 3D artist, a stable income and a happy marriage — three years ago, Prabhakaran P’s life seemed content to the outside gaze but was, in fact, devoid of his passion — gaming. With the support of his wife, he indulged in this interest and began his streaming career, alongside his job. Initially, he played mobile games like PUBG — which are popular in regional markets — but he slowly transitioned to an entertainer, giving Tamil commentary to PC games like Dead by Daylight and GTA. “It is important to try multiple games. If your audience is with you only for one game, you risk losing them if it gets banned.” He quotes the example of the ban of PUBG, through which he remained unfazed as opposed to his counterparts.
According to Prabhakaran, the regional market is yet to open up to the gaming genre widely. “It (esports) is still growing in India. Currently, I would say that to consider it a career, one should still have a degree and a back-up plan. The scope of streaming will only increase once the industry starts expanding. Currently, there are very few organisations in India that are accepting regional gamers on their teams for esports events, in competitive spaces.
Even when it comes to sponsorships, streamers under an agency are more likely to get a deal. Most Tamil streamers will find it difficult because of the language barrier and because we are only covering a particular area. Generally, brands will stick to entertainment channels (that have a wider demographic) and only apps or gaming-based products will reach streamers, of which there are little to none based in Tamil Nadu specifically,” adds the 30-year-old, who has amassed a follower base of 2.3 lakh viewers.
Vinoo gaming (Vin_o_o)
For Vinoth Kumar, the need for streaming was born out of his introverted nature. The Hosur-based streamer and entrepreneur streams generally RPGs (role-playing games) but has a special place for PUBG that got him back into gaming after five years. His introduction to streaming through Twitch was rocky considering a very low regional audience on the platform. (According to Prabhakaran, this is because of the demanding high Internet connection on the platform; regional audiences generally view streams on other sites as they can access it in low quality).
Despite the slowly growing popularity of streaming, he says, everyone here (in India) has Facebook and that, coupled with the fact that there are more mobile users than people in the state, has given him a steady audience of 1.1K followers.
On the scope of streaming, he says, “Yes, I think streaming is a viable option. It is a concept that has been around for 50-60 years; the same way people would watch sportspeople play on television. However, one has to be quite patient with it.”
For Meena, alias Foxy Leo on YouTube, the love for gaming has come recently, thanks to her children. The mother of five was introduced to PUBG by her eldest daughter and soon, set up her channel in the pandemic. “My family is supportive; the children also sit and interact on stream,” shares the 34-year-old streamer, who juggles her home life, work and streaming.
A streamer has to have a USP, Meena says, hers being multilingualism. Despite largely streaming in Tamil and English currently, she speaks four other languages — Malayalam, Kannada, Nepali, Hindi — to connect to the viewers. Regional languages work well in the streaming industry, she says, “(As long as) you know a regional language and the basics of English... If one is Tamil or Malayalam-speaking, they would prefer watching in their language. Gaming, in general, is better known by the younger generation. The only thing is middle-aged people...I didn’t even have any clue when I started but my kid knew more about this than me.” Streaming as a career would take a lot of considerations, she notes , “There is an audience but those who want to do this for more than just passion have to be very serious about it. You have to spend a lot of time making videos, putting out the right content, appealing to people, and include something unique.”
Passion of Gaming
With a merit-based college admission, an engineering degree and a corporate job, Mohamed Althaf was set to live the life expected of him. However, fighting a rut in 2019, he decided to venture into unexplored territory. “My parents were very concerned, it was quite a struggle (to gain their approval),” says the Tirunelveli resident. With YouTube, Rooter and Facebook streams, Althaf has expanded his audience across platforms. Compared to Hindi, regional content in Tamil has a far smaller audience, he says, and those in the field are trying to survive the numbers.
About streaming as a feasible option, he says, “The initial stages of it can be difficult and require of patience. There is also a fair bit of investment (for the equipment). In Tamil Nadu, esports and more gaming programmes need to be given attention. Another problem that often occurs is the ban of games in India,” says the 27-year-old, sharing that this market has many creators who are not very young (around 35 years of age).
Coimbatore-native Sindhuja Poorni KS’s love for stories drew her to story-based games, the kind that she now streams (It takes two, A way out, for instance) when she began her YouTube channel in 2019. Unlike the majority of the market which streams FPS (First person shooter) games, her streams are conducive to a wider audience, she says. “A battle-royale style game may not interest everyone. But in story games, you play a role and it draws in people who are interested in content other than gaming. I have some mothers who comment in my chat, saying that they are watching it with their children”.
The Tamil audience, too, has expanded in the past two years, she says. The regional market, much like the global one, is a male-dominated industry with few female streamers. As one of them, Sindhuja finds that there exists a bias. “There are people who simp around you or troll. Other than that, genuine support is little; I would say less than five per cent genuine supporters on my channel,” says the 27-year-old.
Despite a whopping 4.2 lakh subscribers, Sindhuja doesn’t think streaming is a viable career at this moment. “Especially in the regional market... If I make content in Hindi, that may get a lot more audience but when it is Tamil, it is down to one state only.”
Hariraman Lakshminarayanan began streaming in the second year of his MBBS. The 25-year-old yearned to talk to people in his mother tongue when in Gujarat and found a way to do so through videos and then, Garena Free Fire streams. Streaming (currently on YouTube and Rooter) lent him not only friends, but much-needed financial support. “At one point, I needed to pay my fees but my family was unable to gather the money. That’s when my YouTube earnings helped me,” says the now doctor, whose channel has grown to 21.4 lakh subscribers.
When it comes to a regional audience, he attests that there is much scope for Tamil viewers and streamers. “Recently, at a national tournament, we had 60k viewers. It was on the trending page. This level of support could not be found elsewhere,” he explains, claiming that he has a 100 per cent Tamil audience. This has also created a strong bond with his viewers, who eagerly wait for his streams. “There are many other creators like me in the Tamil space. But not everyone has received the same sort of support,” he concludes.