We all have played video games before – whether it be on your favourite console, computer and/or more recently, your mobile phone. Most of us would consider it a past-time purely for its entertainment value, however in recent years there has been an increasing trend towards taking what was once a hobby – more seriously. Players around the world are competing on a professional level and brands and investors have taken notice. With new tournaments and leagues popping up on a daily basis, these E-sport “athletes” have made careers out of their love for gaming, with global player revenues topping $1 Billion last year. Where does Pakistan stand in the E-sports world? A country with 220 million people and 40% of its population within the ideal competitive gaming age group (13-35) – an opportunity waiting to happen. One organization has seen the potential in the industry and are trying to create the right environment for its growth. Portal Esports (PES) – founded in 2017 as a retail gaming centre has refocused their vision in the last year on becoming the go-to platform for all things E-sports.After being associated with brands like Zalmi and organizing mega events they made quite a name for themselves in the country. However, recently, Portal closed their gaming zone in Lahore and had us wondering for a while. From hosting their own tournaments and leagues, creating competitive rosters under salaried contracts, to even setting up gaming “bootcamp” houses where players live, train, eat and sleep to hone their skills to become Pakistan’s most talented players – Portal is driven to take professional gaming to new heights.We got a chance to interview Salman Asgher, the co-owner and managing director at Portal Esports, and got to know the story behind the making of this gem, his inspirations, as well as what he has in store for us next. Please enjoy. Tell us a little bit about how Portal Esports came together. How did the team come together, what inspired you to make and how has it evolved over the years to what it is now?Our goal is to provide more opportunity for Pakistan’s dedicated gaming youth. We see limitless potential for the growth of the E-sports industry in this country and believe that our athletes should be recognised not only a national but International level. The fan base has always been there for console and pc games such as Counter-Strike, Dota, Fortnite, Call of Duty: the list goes on, but now thanks to affordable smart-phone, a whole new market of competitive “mobile gaming” has emerged and is accessible to the masses.”The stand-out star of the mobile gaming world is the ever popular Player’s Unknown Battlegrounds (PubG) game that has quickly become one of the most successful and downloaded titles in the history of gaming apps, and it shows. Last month, Mountain Dew hosted its annual Dew Gamers’ Arena event online (Covid-19 issues) and the first game featured this year was none other than PubG Mobile. With over 12,000 four-person teams entering, over 35 lac rupees in total prize money and 10 lacs to the winning squad, we’d say the event was a success and proof that gaming industry is ready to take off in Pakistan. Oh, and which team outlasted all others to become the DGA 2020 Pubg Mobile Champions? You guessed it, Portal Esport.What was the most challenging aspect of founding Portal Esports? We are still in the early stages but have made a strong reputation in the gaming community. Last year, Mountian Dew hosted DGA 2019 in which our own Portal teams won 1st prize in both Counter-Strike: GO as well as Dota 2. Since then we have been building our online presence and have added additional teams to our roster – most notably for Pubg Mobile.We are still a startup and have long ways to go. Currently in Pakistan there are little financial incentives to being an Esports organisation or athlete (other than a few events like DGA etc) however we see value in the potential. Pakistan has unlimited talent in this space and there is a massive untapped market full of opportunity. Our goal is to provide Pakistan’s gaming youth with more opportunity and incentive to continue to play competitively. We plan to use Portal as a platform to launch a national league, in which the best players can represent their city, their teams and their country. Soon we would also like to be competing at the highest level on the international stage!So we will have to wait and see how Pakistan’s E-sports industry fares in the long-run, but with companies like Portal Esports leading the way and brands like Mountain Dew willing to invest in the future, I’d say our gaming youth is in good hands.“It’s been a long and tough journey to be taken seriously as a professional gamer in this country, but its moments like this that make it all worthwhile” describes PES’s PubG Mobile Team Captain Temour Ali Khan after their amazing comeback win in the grand finale. “We just pray for other brands and companies to also take the initiative in supporting this growing industry and help put Pakistan’s players one the global map.” Ali Sher aka pesVEGETA Hambal Abid aka pesWOLVERIE Muhammad Zulqarnain aka pesZULQAR Rehman Abbasi aka pesREHMAAN Taimoor Ali Khan aka pesKHANI’m sure it’s a huge commercial success as well. If you do get more financial freedom from this, do you plan to expand Portal Esports for future projects or keep it small and intimate?Lots of players contact us all the time wanting to be a part of our organisation however they don’t understand the time and dedication required to become successful in this field. For our players, gaming is a full time career and they receive salaries based on their contracts. You could compare it to any other 9-5, as they are required to put in a minimum of 8 hours of work a day to maintain and improve their skill sets. For most people, gaming is a hobby and it should remain that way. The ones who make it to the tier 1 level are fully committed and understand what is required. In some cases, they even need their parents’ consent (if under 18). But for the people who still want to focus on a career in Esports, my advice would be look at it as a job, take it seriously and practice practice practice!With all that to look forward to, we are genuinely hyped to see how Pakistan’s first dedicated Esports Bootcamp facility will turn out to be and what this means for the future of Esports in Pakistan. We wish Portal all the best with this new venture.