Esports in India has been growing at a rapid rate ever since the launch of the popular mobile battle royale title PUBG Mobile. Although esports has witnessed a large amount of growth and success in a short span, the scene has also had its fair share of ups and downs. The growth and potential of esports in the country have attracted a lot of foreign investment. With huge sums of money flowing in, the responsibility for the management of these funds is a humongous task on its own.
Among the many foreign investors that entered the country was the North American organization Noble. Noble, which had been acquired by Florida-based investor Kyle McDougal on July 31, 2020, had hoped to revise its operations by focusing on philanthropy towards the community coupled with new ideas and ideologies. Recently Noble India was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons after the players complained about their unpaid salaries.
Noble’s entry into India
It expanded in India by acquiring teams in Wild Rift, Valorant, and Free Fire in a span of five months. It also appointed Anshuman “Ronin” Dash as its Head of Operations for the South Asian region on Sep 22, 2020.
Post the ban of PUBG Mobile in the country Noble decided to sign an up-and-coming PUBG Mobile player “Spower”, on Oct 13, 2020. The org also parted ways with its Valorant roster on November 21, 2020 with the players citing an impasse in conversation with them.
Later, according to the players and management, the ex-MegaStars PUBG Mobile roster was signed; although no official announcement regarding this was made.
The downfall of Noble India
On Feb 13, the players and the operations head of Noble (Anshuman Dash), in a series of Instagram stories, revealed that they were no longer associated with the organization.
Dash stated that the reason behind this sudden decision was the non-payment of salaries by Noble. We here at GemWire decided to go in-depth into the issue and research it with the concerned parties.
We interviewed the players from the Wild Rift, PUBG Mobile and Free Fire rosters and asked them a series of questions.
Interview with Raunak "MrCrowley" Sen from the League of Legends: Wild Rift roster
While speaking to Raunak "MrCrowley" Sen, a player from the Wild Rift team, we found out that he received the salary for only a single month after a delay of 50-55 days from the date of signing. He claims that he was told that the reason for the delay was transfer related issues with the players’ bank accounts. To rectify this, all of the players’ salaries had to be transferred to a friend's account, that friend being an ex-player for Noble India's Valorant roster. Earlier, in a comment to AFK Gaming, Noble had confirmed that the Wild Rift team was only paid one month's salary and that they dropped the roster because of the delay with the game's release.
The Wild Rift roster communicated directly with Kyle McDougal, the Florida based Investor who previously acquired Noble. According to MrCrowley, McDougal was sometimes not reachable for days. The players also sometimes communicated with Anshuman Dash (Head of South Asia Operations) but they claimed that the result was more or less the same.
When asked about his experience with the management, MrCrowley said that he had been part of Tier-4 to Tier-1 organizations in the past, and the experience in Noble was so bad that he didn't even know which tier to compare this to. He said that he had a feeling that sooner or later something like this was going to happen as only two people were trying to run the organization, one of them (McDougal) being remote and the other one (Dash) who seemed unknown to him.
Interview with Rishabh "Encore" Katoch from the PUBG Mobile roster
Further, we interviewed Rishabh "Encore" Katoch from the PUBG Mobile roster. He revealed that McDougal hadn't been paying any salaries at all. According to Encore, McDougal told them multiple times that he had sent the salaries but the players never received them. Speaking about asking for a hike in salary, Encore said that the team never asked for a hike and was told by Dash that they would be receiving 50% of their salaries from the second month onwards, for which they readily agreed. He also claimed that the team was in touch with Kyle till Jan 4, 2021 which after he stopped replying to their texts.
Encore also stated that the main issue wasn't the unpaid salaries but the total shutdown of communication from McDougal. He expressed that the atmosphere in the boot camp was initially good but turned sour after a month when McDougal stopped responding and after no one was getting paid.
Interview with Mehul Rawat from the Free Fire roster
Speaking with Mehul Rawat from the Free Fire roster, we were told that initially, the atmosphere in the boot camp was good even though the PUBG Mobile lineup had not been paid for a month. He told us that they expected the payment to come through eventually given that Noble was an international organization.
Rawat claimed that two months later, the PUBG Mobile lineup was unpaid and one month's salary to the Free Fire team was due. When Rawat confronted Dash about the unpaid salaries, Dash claimed that McDougal had started ignoring his messages about the topic and at a certain point stopped replying altogether. Rawat also stated that Dash was paying the day-to-day expenses out of his own pocket.
On being asked what Noble could have done to make the situation better, Rawat answered by stating that it should have hired more people in India and that the owner McDougal should have had a more hands-on approach with the day to day activities.
Through these interviews, the players have made allegations regarding delays in salaries, problems in transferring the funds, and issues in communication with McDougal who sometimes did not respond for days. Further investigation into the matter revealed that there was no corporate entity or subsidiary setup for Noble in India.
The aftermath of the Noble's allegations
Our investigation revealed there were more stakeholders involved in the issue than we had initially thought. We spoke to Mr. Rajeev B, the father of PUBG Mobile player Spower, who told us that he played a major role in setting up the Noble boot camp. Right from scouting the appropriate property to getting the daily essentials, Rajeev B asserted that he was hands-on in every aspect. He also claimed that there was a delay with the money coming in from Noble and that no proper channel was ever established for a smooth transfer of the funds.
Recently several allegations were raised against Anshuman Dash by his alleged friend Sunmughan Swamy. The allegations raised upon Dash included:
- That he had faked his resume to get into Noble.
- That he was incapable of running day-to-day operations.
- That he has a shady past selling cheats/hacks on Telegram.
We reached out to Dash for a comment on the above allegations and his take on the whole scenario. He responded by denying all the allegations raised by Swamy and said that he tried his best to provide the best facilities for the players.
He also said that he never faked his resume and wasn't even hired in Noble based on his resume. Dash also stressed that he used to work at night to compensate for the time-zone gap between India and North America, a statement which was corroborated by the player Mehul Rawat from the Free Fire Lineup.
Dash stated that he has paid off all the dues and salaries of players by selling the assets purchased by Noble including the devices and is left with around ₹60,000 in dues.
When asked why there was no corporate entity setup, Dash told us that he was ready to facilitate the setup but failed due to the non-availability of the required documents which were supposed to be provided by McDougal. He also claimed that in February, McDougal had expressed his wish to release all the lineups and halt the operations in India. When asked about the property dues which were required to be paid as a result of a one year lock-in period, McDougal allegedly told Dash that he would clear all the dues.
We also reached out to Noble’s owner Kyle McDougal and its CEO Cory Carruth for their side on this matter but they have not responded to our queries yet. In a statement to Global Esports, Carruth revealed that they were not happy with the way operations were being run in India.
In the absence of a response from Noble directly, our view is that their time in India was riddled with delays and mismanagement right from the owner Kyle McDougal to the South Asia operations head Anshuman Dash. The communication channel between McDougal and the players from various rosters was also not ideal, with the former not responding to the players’ and management’s queries for several days at a stretch.
It can be argued that if the upper management at Noble was not satisfied with the way that operations were run in the country, they could have replaced Dash with someone who was experienced and proficient in this field.
At the end of the day, the parties who were employed by Noble were the most affected. This issue has left a bitter taste in everybody's mouths and can prove to be a major roadblock for further investments in the Indian esports scene. We hope that any organization investing in India in the near future takes this scenario as a cautionary tale and acts accordingly.