esports casters: Game on: Casters beat players in esports winnings

The cricket World Cup experience was inseparable from its elite panel of TV commentators including Harsha Bhogle, Ravi Shastri and others. A similar trend has been emerging in esports. The rapid spread and burgeoning popularity of the discipline in India is seeing the rise of a cohort of charismatic commentators who are getting paid handsomely for their efforts.

Esports casters like Ocean Sharma, Varun John, Sudhen Wahengbam, Kaavya Karthikeyan and many others are being well rewarded as hosts of tournaments such as BGMI, Valorant, CS:GO and even making a mark internationally.

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Besides broadcasting for Star Sports, Sony Sports Network, Jio Cinema, Krafton, Riot Games and others, they are presenting at upscale ground events sponsored by Nodwin, Redbull and Skyesports that pull in crowds of more than 40,000 over a three-day period.

Experts said some popular esports casters are making more than even the players themselves at Rs 2-3lakh per day.
“In the Indian context, many casters operate on a freelance model, receiving compensation on an event-project basis,” said Parth Chadha, CEO and cofounder of “fan engagement platform” STAN. “During busy months, they can earn up to 3 lakh, surpassing the average income of players and in some months have no income at all. This highlights the financial viability and flexibility of the freelance model for casters.”

With the increasing size of both online and offline tournaments, the demand for skilled casters has surged, said Lokesh Suji, director, Esports Federation of India. (ESFI)

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“The recently concluded BGIS was broadcast on Jio Cinema in not just English and Hindi but also in eight other regional languages including Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Kannada,” he said.

He added that casting has the potential to become a mainstream profession and he expects the introduction of courses that will provide aspiring casters with the necessary skills.

Ocean Sharma, alias GamingPro Ocean, is pegged as the most famous Indian caster. He started out casting for free in 2018 for small PUBG Mobile tournaments.

“With the esports ecosystem maturing in India and companies backing these events with huge investments, casters are becoming the face of the show,” Sharma told ET. “Besides entertainment, the industry is now rewarding casters who are well-researched on team strategies, player personas and much more.”

Sharma has an Instagram following of 400,000 and has hosted at desks in Singapore and worked with global names such as Krafton, Riot Games, Google and YouTube.

There’s a high level of skill involved.

“There are 16 teams, 64 players and captains calling the shots at an average BGMI tournament,” said presenter and caster Varun John alias SuperJonny. “A caster needs to study a lot of theory on player tendencies, pace, style, and calculate stuff like damage on the move… This is the skill we are rewarded for.”

John, who has worked with Tesseract Esports, Rusk Media and others, is currently employed full-time by Nodwin Gaming as an analyst and coach.

In a male-dominated industry, Kaavya ‘Zahk’ Karthikeyan had a different career trajectory altogether. The Chennai-born, US-raised Valorant caster has shifted base to Spain and is currently working on mainly western and Southeast Asian gigs.

“I did my first event in Tamil for Skyesports in 2021, but I moved to Europe towards the end of 2022 for my Masters,” she told ET. “I had two motivations to prioritise working on gigs in the West–fair working conditions and bigger, better-compensated events.

Local events don’t always treat everyone equitably.

“Unfortunately, several Indian tournament organisers aren’t the most kind or fair to their talent, especially female ones who advocate for equal pay and work conditions as our male counterparts,” she said.

Karthikeyan said she’s earning more than three to five times, for a mid-level EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) event, what she was getting for high-profile Indian events.

STAN’s Chadha agreed the sector needs to foster inclusivity and support newcomers, especially regional talent in India.

“There is a noticeable monopoly structure, with only a handful of top talents securing opportunities for premier events,” he said. “There is a need for a more open structure that facilitates opportunities for emerging talents to reach the upper echelons of casting in India.”

To be sure, esports casting can be physically and mentally taxing.

“Maintaining vocal health is extremely crucial for esports casters as casting for long periods of time can impact the vocal cords,” ESFI’s Suji said. “Additionally, building a personal brand and staying updated on industry trends are also essential steps in order to rise to the top in this field.”