The return of PUBG Mobile appears nowhere in sight after the IT ministry clarified in its response to an RTI (right to information) request that the Indian government hasn’t given permission to PUBG Corporation — the video game’s South Korea-based parent entity — to relaunch the popular battle royale esports title’s mobile version in the country.
However, it seems the ban never dented the euphoria for the game among esports enthusiasts, who soon adapted to the situation and exploited loopholes in the government’s directive to return to the battleground. Several PUBG streamers in the country have resorted to downloading the APK file for PUBG Mobile’s Korea (KR) version from TapTap, a mobile game sharing community.
Thus, for a lot of the game’s popular streamers in India, business is back to usual, as they’ve begun monetising PUBG Mobile’s KR version and streaming their plays on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch. Further, digital tabloids such as Sportskeeda and Talkesport are catering to this audience by publishing articles on ‘How To Download PUBG Mobile KR Version’ and ‘How To Download PUBG Mobile KR Version Update’, among several others.
Some of the notable esports streamers who are monetising PUBG Mobile KR version include Dynamo, Maxtern, Toxic Mavi, BandookBaaz and Kronten. Further, esports organisations such as Villager Esports, Modelling Cops and Upthrust Esports have begun organising scrims, which are online practice esports matches between two teams.
The list of banned apps that was released in September this year, included the specific names of certain apps. These were PUBG MOBILE Nordic Map: Livik and PUBG MOBILE LITE. Hence, certain esports streamers have argued on social media that playing PUBG Mobile (KR) Version doesn’t constitute a violation of the government’s directive.
It is worth noting that on October 29, nearly two months after the government had banned PUBG Mobile in India, the game’s official India handle put up a post which read, “To comply with the interim order of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology dated September 2, 2020, Tencent Games will terminate all service and access for users in India to PUBG MOBILE Nordic Map: Livik and PUBG MOBILE Lite (together, “PUBG Mobile”) on October 30, 2020. The rights to publish PUBG MOBILE in India will be returned to the owner of the PUBG intellectual property.”
Legal experts Inc42 spoke to, were of the opinion that playing PUBG Mobile (KR) does, in fact, constitute a violation of the government’s directive.
Siddharth Mahajan, a partner at Athena Legal, pointed out that for the formal relaunch of PUBG Mobile in India, the game’s parent entity would have to demonstrate to the Indian government that the game is no longer jeopardising data security for its users and is not prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India. For this purpose, PUBG Corporation would be expected to clarify on the modifications that it has made to the game, for the Indian government to allow it to return to the market.
“The use of the Korean version of PUBG does indeed amount to a violation of the ban imposed by MeitY in September. The government can block all sources from where the game can be downloaded in contravention of the ban,” Mahajan told Inc42.
Some stakeholders are of the opinion that by exploiting the loopholes and monetising a banned video game, the Indian esports community is earning a bad name for itself, something that could further delegitimise the community’s goals of gaining the government’s support and recognition.
A former esports content manager at InsideSport, Adeeb Sayeed has sent a ‘Letter of Warning’ to PUBG Mobile (KR) streamers and esports organisations who are organising scrims for the banned video game.
In his letter, Sayeed wrote, “When PUBG Corp is trying to make its way back officially, players should not be taking steps that could backfire, making it harder for the game to relaunch. I feel that bringing attention to this issue is of utmost importance for the esports/PUBG community as a lot of money hinges on this. It can make or break our journey towards being accepted as an actual sport in the country.”
Meanwhile, Lokesh Suji, director of the Esports Federation of India (ESFI), asked the esports community to act in a mature and professional manner.
“If a particular game is banned in India, then it should be respected and not flouted by using VPNs or any other means to access the game. There are lots of other video games or esports titles such as Call of Duty (COD) Mobile, Free Fire, FIFA, Clash Royale, Fau-G, Rajji, which we can explore and excel in,” Suji told Inc42.
“We would also request the streaming platforms not to encourage any games that are banned in India,” he added. ESFI is a non-profit organisation meant to promote, organise and control esports in the country.
Nikhil Chadha, cofounder and CTO at Ustreak, a platform where users can participate in and host esports tournaments, also had similar observations.
“It’s a fact that the ban on PUBG Mobile caused a loss of business and revenue across the industry for various stakeholders. At Ustreak, we had to remove the game from the platform and cancel all upcoming events,” he said.
“Instead of finding ways to access the game, we should accept the reality and explore other amazing esports titles like Free Fire and Call of Duty Mobile which have a large player base in India.”
As per Sensor Tower data for July 2020, out of PUBG Mobile’s 734 Mn downloads globally, India was the top-ranked in terms of downloads, with 175 Mn installs or 24% market share, which was more than the combined market share of second-placed China and the US in the third place.
Last month, gaming and esports forums were abuzz with news of the impending comeback of PUBG Mobile India, after PUBG Corporation had announced that it would set up an India entity and launch ‘PUBG Mobile India’ with several localised elements. The video game’s parent entity had further said that it would invest $100 Mn in India and hire over 100 employees for various functions in its India offices. On November 21, some Twitter users pointed out that PUBG India Private Limited was now a registered entity with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA).
However, by denying that it has given any permission to PUBG Corporation for the relaunch of PUBG Mobile in India, the government, earlier this month, put a spanner in the works.
The Ban On PUBG Mobile
PUBG Mobile, for which China-based Tencent Games is the publishing partner, was banned in India in September, as part of the Indian government’s ban on 118 Chinese apps believed to be jeopardising data security of Indian users.
PUBG is developed and published by PUBG Corporation, a subsidiary of South Korean video game company Bluehole. Besides being a publishing partner for PUBG Mobile, Tencent also holds a 10% stake in PUBG Corporation.
So while the game’s intellectual property is owned and been developed by a South Korean company, the fact that its mobile version was published by a Chinese company meant that the game was caught in the crossfire of India’s sweeping crackdown on Chinese apps since June 29, when it first banned 59 Chinese apps, including popular ones such as TikTok, UC Browser and Club Factory, among several others.
Days after the video game was banned, PUBG Corporation withdrew its India association with Tencent Games.