Weekends are usually very busy for Moinuddin Amdani. For the 26-year-old who works at his father's garment store in Mumbai, that has been the case more than ever this past week. "Not only is it a weekend, but this time of the year is important for us because it is the Diwali month, where you hope to have good sales," he says.
Business has been slow this year owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Amdani's father has even had to let go of one of his four workers, which means that he's having to work extra shifts. "I'll do whatever has to be done. Some days I could be a salesperson, or do the accounts, manage the stock or even just help around. This is an important month, so you have to work harder than usual," he says.
A leave would normally be out of the question, but last Saturday, Amdani was told he could take the day off. Instead of heading to the store, he headed to the Oscar Cyber Cafe near Mumbai's CST railway station. There he sat on a Play Station Four console and began to play PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) -- a football simulation video game. He wasn't going to be playing a regular game. Amdani would be competing in the South Asia regional qualifiers of PES for the ESports World Championships.
Competing against rivals from Sri Lanka and Nepal, Amdani won all seven of the ten-minute-long matches to book his spot in the World Championships finals, which will be held in Eilat, Israel, in December this year. This is the second straight year Amdani has qualified for the tournament -- he also took part in last year's edition in Seoul. That tournament, like the one in Eilat, was organised by the International E Sports Federation, the global body, which aims to have electronic sports recognised as an Olympic event.
While he's now looking forward to playing an international tournament, Amdani says he never expected to do so when he first started playing PES as a 16-year-old. "I started playing at a video game parlour and that was only because it was right near my school. At that time, I just thought it was a great way to bunk classes. I never thought I'd get to represent India because of it," he says.
It was fortuitous that Amdani even picked up PES. While the ESports World Championships feature PES, it doesn't have a tournament for its competitor -- EA Sports' FIFA , the world's most popular football simulation game (FIFA 2019 sold nearly 12 million more copies than the PES release for the same year). "I only wanted to play a football video game when I first went to the video game parlour and the only one they had loaded on their Play Station console was PES," he says.
It's not just the game that Amdani has stuck with. He's always played at the same parlour as well. His father, he says, was initially not keen on him "wasting his time" on a video game and although that opinion changed when he took part in his first international tournament in Seoul, a personal Play Station console was an unjustifiable expense. "I'd wanted to get my own console last year but then the coronavirus happened and money has been tight. So it wasn't something I could spend that kind of money on," Amdani says.
Playing games regularly at a video game parlour isn't cheap either, but Amdani has found a loophole. "It would normally be really expensive to play if I was paying each time but usually I play games in which the loser pays for the session. Since I'm the best player in India, I usually don't have to pay," he says.
While that regular competition is what Amdani credits his success to, not having a personal machine has made things harder than it could have been. Earlier this year, when shops were shut owing to the lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, there was no way for Amdani to play.
Even when they did open, he could only go when he wasn't working. "After the lockdown ended, I would stay in the shop longer than usual. When business is low, you want to get every customer you can. I'd work from about 10 am to 9 pm and after that I'd rest for an hour before going to the parlour and playing until about 11.30pm," he says.
When it came to his regional qualifiers, though, being a regular paid off. "Since I've been playing at the same place for the last eight years, the owners try to help me as much as they can. They knew about the event, so they made sure to keep a separate console just for me. There had been a case of internet outage in the area so they specifically spoke to the internet provider and ensured a designated LAN (local area connection) for the PS4 that I was sitting on," he says.
That consideration has paid off and in another few weeks, Amdani will be flying to Israel. The last time he played at the World Championships, he lost in the first round to the eventual finalists -- Iran and Japan. This time, he hopes to travel further in the competition. "I was just really excited to travel to South Korea the last time. This time I hope I can get a few wins," he says. He knows he'll have to train hard for that but at the moment there are other priorities. "For now I have a lot of busy days, I'll just do what I can to help out at the store," he says.