The Overlooked Part Of Indian Esports History: Games Bond
You’re on a crowded local train.
Sounds of gunfire fill the compartment, followed by screams of teenagers.
It’s not a terrorist attack, it’s PUBG mobile.
Esports in India has become inescapable in the late 10s and early 20s. This $68+ million industry is shooting up in stature.
Battlegrounds Mobile India tournaments which rack up around 1 crore prize money for winners, gamers who are being sent to win medals in Asian & Commonwealth Games, and an actual government body regulating esports have legitimized video games and transformed the opinions of some parents from, “Why are you wasting time with this game-vame” to “Go play, but win money.”
While there’s no doubt that esports’ rise is possible because of high-speed internet and affordable smartphones and laptops, there needed to be something to stoke the desire for gaming in the first place.
A Star Is Bond
17 years before the 2022 Battlegrounds Mobile India Master Series broke TV records by being shown on Star Sports, there was a little-known TV show that introduced ‘virtual gaming’ to the masses.
The name is Bond. Games Bond.
A 2005 ‘Star One’ show hosted by action star, Rahul Dev. It was a futuristic concept that capitalized on the niche popularity of Counter-Strike 1.6 — a staple of internet cafes in metro cities.
Full episode here:
Games Bond was essentially able to make this…
…into something watchable.
Focusing on teenage millennials, the show embraced the war theme of Counter-Strike and had a grungy battle-torn set complete with Roman pillars, smoke, & blaring rock music.
Each episode had a similar format — Rahul Dev appeared as a knock-off version of Neo from the Matrix and introduced the two ‘clans’ into the ground. Awkward and nerdy boys, walked in front of cameras menacingly, while their voice-over professed their love for Counter-Strike and their hatred of the other clan.
This shifted the emphasis on the players, not the game. Doing the latter would require producers to work harder to explain what was going on at every moment to a semi-clueless audience; like how it would be to explain the concept of money to an alien.
Our warriors donned headsets, face paint, & army uniforms as they took their role of terrorists and counter-terrorists.
They were given a simple objective every round: kill the other clan, plant/defuse bombs, rescue hostages; stuff you would see in a typical Counter-Strike game.
We saw quick cuts between the gameplay and gamers barking orders to their squad — just like a real war.
Instead of having commentators like in modern esports tournaments, GB had a voiceover clearly explaining what each clan should do before the round. This made the show easy to follow, plus the lack of commentary allowed everyone to hear the screams of panicked fighters — again, just like a real war.
After five rounds, a victor emerged, and the losing team had to do a ‘Walk Of Shame’. Instead of chicken dinner, winners were treated with a marvelous booty of gaming devices.
However, the creators revealed that the initial plan was to send winners to the World CPL Gaming Champions in the US, thus potentially marking India’s presence in the esports scene, which sadly didn’t materialize.
Future In Sight
How did a show about video games come into existence, especially at a time when PCs were a rare commodity in India: with only 11 computers per 1000 people?
I would have liked to say that producers Kanwaldeep Kalsi and Ankush Patel saw the future of esports after consulting a Tarot Card reader…however, since they were both experienced businessmen, the truth is quite boring.
They did tons of market research, created a business plan, partnered up with businesses, and pumped out a lot of TV show formats — Games Bond just happened to be one of them.
Their goal was to popularize the ‘idea’ of gaming, which was only popular among the urban youth (mostly middle to upper-middle class) whose parents could afford a PC or offer pocket money for cyber cafes.
In fact, the channel Star One which was branded to be contemporary, aspirational, and definitely not downmarket, reached out to the producers to develop a youth-centric format.
And what can be more aspirational than a show about video games, when the country lacked the means to play them?
Games Bond just ran for a single season and was mostly forgotten. Because of its short run, we don’t know for sure if Games Bond hit its mark of popularizing gaming.
We could say it was too far ahead of its time. We could also say it didn’t take the esports format seriously and played up the theatrics to be a spectacle for the masses.
However, the fact that Counter-Strike 1.6 appeared on at least a million televisions in India could have indicated to kids and parents that video games are not just ‘timepass’ but something bigger and more meaningful.
Those who had seen their favorite game being broadcasted on TV were given hope that one day it would be viable to shoot people in the head for a tremendous amount of money.