Riot Games enlists music collective ARB4, Tienas, and Mangal Suvarnan for Valorant’s Indian agent Harbor  

A few months ago, American video game developer, publisher and esports tournament organiser Riot Games introduced a new character named ‘Harbor’ for their multiplayer shooter videogame ‘Valorant’. He’s Indian origin and proved to be an effective strategy to capitalise on a growing audience in the country. Ashish Gupta, Lead Marketing – India & South Asia, Riot Games, says that they wanted to bring Indian culture to the forefront as well.

Ashish Gupta, Lead Marketing – India & South Asia, Riot Games

Games people play

While it’s no doubt that the gaming industry is much larger than the global music industry in terms of value – global gaming revenue is touted at approximately $220 billion while music revenue has an expanse of $25.9 billion worldwide in 2022. But the two have been steadily witnessing growing crossovers.

For instance, Epic Games bought music platform Bandcamp in 2022, signifying yet more scope for symbiotic growth. In India alone, gaming and interactive media fund Lumikai says Web3 games raised funding of around $400 million between 2019 and 2022.

The Indian online gaming industry is touted as one of the fastest growing segments within media and entertainment. According to KPMG, by 2025, India will have 657 million video game users. Lumikai’s India Gaming Report FY 2022 notes that India’s gaming market stands at $2.6 billion as of 2022 and is estimated to grow to $8.6 billion by 2027.

Music and Gaming

Music collective ARB4, Mangal Suvarnan and Tienas performing live

All of this points to just how ripe the gaming market is for a music-centric collaboration. It’s led to Riot Games commissioning music collective ARB4, composer-producer Mangal Suvarnan and rapper-songwriter and producer Tienas, to create a theme song for Harbor, called ‘RAJA’. Gupta says just as India has got a voice on a global level with film and music, Riot Games wants to mirror that success through ‘Valorant’ and songs like ‘RAJA’.

ARB4, who were previously called on to create a theme for a Turkish agent named Fade in Valorant, say they were told about an Indian agent in the game by Riot Games’ Jonny Altepeter, head of music supervision. The group says in a collective statement, “We immediately reached out to our dear friend and long-time collaborator, Mangal Suvarnan. He recorded his beautiful bansuri and magical background vocals, and was instrumental in producing the live sitar recordings performed by Paulson K J.”

The collective enlisted Tienas after diving into the world of desi hip-hop, who joined the artists on stage for the Harbor launch event in Mumbai late last year. “As the gaming community is slowly overlapping into a streaming community and a lot of them engage with Indian hip-hop. More people have engaged with my music after the release of ‘RAJA’,” says the producer.

Indian representation

ARB4 recall how gamers approached them to share their excitement about not just an Indian agent but an Indian song in Hindi and English, featuring the flute and a smattering of Indian classical vocals.  The collective notes that this is the best time be part of the space that connects music and gaming. They point to how video game music is getting representation at the Grammys and how gaming companies are thinking of themselves are more than just game developers. “There are more and more studios looking at music as the fourth dimension to their games. The number of live recordings has gone through the roof. Full orchestras are being used,” ARB4 adds.

Suvarnan, for his part, says he derives inspiration from what he sees on screen, referring to the interplay between music and gaming. “The best part about producing music for the screen is that it’s the combined effort of a massive team or a group of teams to get the music out,” he says. Whether that’s gameplay music, theme music or just the equivalent of a marketing element, ARB4 notes that there are several elements for musicians to be a part of and Riot Games is facilitating that in ways like never before.

Gupta from Riot Games India and South Asia underscores that the Harbor launch event was just one of many activations they have planned for ‘Valorant’ and their other titles. There will be more “in-market events” for gamers, even as Riot Games goes through the process of setting up an office in India, to facilitate “more hyperlocal experiences to players,” as Gupta terms it.

In 2023, Indian organisation Global Esports will be part of the Riot Games-run ‘Valorant Champions Tour’ – an esports league that has 30 long-term partnered teams competing on an international level. “We are excited to see them compete alongside some of the world’s best teams,” Gupta says.

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