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Ahead Of The Game

Having learnt the hard way that life is not always fun and games, Naman Mathur, aka Mortal, has built an online brand that several companies can bank on

Most people go through a lifetime working at a job just to make a living irrespective of whether they are passionate about it. Not the internet’s beloved “Mortal” though.

His passion was, and remains, playing games online. A passion that has become not only his livelihood but his identity.

Few know Mortal’s real name. “People often chose a moniker with the word ‘Immortal’, so I decided to head in the other direction and claim ‘Mortal’ to show that I can take a hit in a game and still rise and win,” laughs

Naman Mathur, the 25-year-old who mans Mortal’s keyboard. The journey of Mathur to 7.02 million subscribers on YouTube and 5.5 million followers on Instagram reflects the same vigour.

Mathur grew up watching his mother work hard, running her own catering business to make ends meet after his father passed away when he was just a toddler. With his young mind set on becoming financially secure, he worked hard to graduate in commerce and even contemplated taking up the company secretary course, that before he became an internet gaming phenomenon.

As a teen, Mathur’s interest in gaming was piqued when he started playing Mini Militia, a 2D multiplayer mobile game. To showcase his prowess, he started a YouTube channel called Bolshack after an anime dragon character in 2016.

With several people uploading their Mini Militia videos on YouTube around that time, Mathur knew it was not going to be easy. “Getting subscribers was an uphill task. So, whenever I [would] win a match, I uploaded my video, so others could see my moves and learn from them,” he says.

He also picked up Fortnite, another popular multiplayer game from Epic Games. Back then, he was besotted by Richard Tyler Blevins, an American YouTuber and gamer better known as Ninja. Mini Militia and Fortnite were only the beginning.

“I do not feel I missed out on anything because I did not pursue a professional career. While gaming is still nascent in India, it has a lot of potential. So I know there is a lot I can do in this space,” he affirms.

Building a Clan

The youngster’s life completely changed when PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was launched in 2018. “When I started playing it, I realised that there was hardly any visibility for Indian gaming content creators though most players would follow gamers like Ninja,” he recalls.

Inspired by the gaming room set-up of global gamers, Mathur, too, started making livestreams showcasing tips and tricks to win the game for about 800 subscribers back then. What started off as a lark took off in a way that Mathur had not expected.

Soon, his hacks on how to win a PUBG Chicken Dinner saw his YouTube channel get over 300 million views. His livestreams on social media started getting more than a million views, catapulting him to the big league.

Given PUBG’s multiplayer nature, he created his own four-member team called Soul Clan. The quartet went on to win several tournaments in 2019, including the PUBG Mobile India Series (PMIS) and PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMCO) Spring Split: India and the second spot in PMCO Fall Split: South Asia. While many might dismiss these as small-league gaming tourneys, there are high stakes involved. Upon winning PMIS 2019, the Soul Clan took home $41,807 (approximately Rs 33 lakh). Similarly, upon topping PMCO Spring Split: India, the team bagged $60,000 (approximately Rs 47 lakh). Mathur, however, donated his prize money to the Indian Army, which won him several accolades and viewers.

Moreover, winning such global championships boosted Mathur’s social media presence.

Mortal Mathur

Mathur claims that it was great going initially since the Soul Clan was playing for fun and not for business. However, fissures started showing up in the group over the direction to be taken. In 2019, the original Soul Clan was eventually disbanded.

Back then, Mathur’s YouTube subscriber count was around two million. The change in team dynamics meant that he had to work harder.

Things took a turn for the worse when the Indian government banned PUBG in 2020. Overnight, his entire niche was wiped out since his subscriber base was built on the game’s popularity.

Mathur was staring at restarting his journey on social media all over again. Undeterred, he quickly pivoted to two games—Call of Duty and Valorant. “It took time to rebuild my follower base, but I kept at it. When my YouTube channel got over one billion total views last year, I knew that all the hard work had paid off,” he says, with just a smidgen of pride.

In 2018, Mathur met Animesh Agarwal, aka 8bit Thug, a fellow livestreamer, gamer and an entrepreneur in the making. Having been in the gaming domain for longer than Mathur, he proposed a collaboration. “He suggested we start an esports entity together, something that I did not know much about back then,” Mathur recalls. “So, we joined forces and launched S8UL, amalgamating the strengths of the Soul Clan and 8bit, a company that offers services including a bootcamp and gaming studio,” he explains. S8UL focuses on gaming content creation and education.

Today, S8UL has over 30 members, all staying under a single roof at its four-storey building in Maharashtra’s Navi Mumbai. “Since rigid timing does not bind the gaming industry, we have around 20 people staying here at any point in time,” says Mathur. “All of them are livestreamers who also create content at this gaming studio,” he adds.

Mathur is also building a paid, members-only community on YouTube, which currently has 4,000 members. He hopes to take it up to 10,000 in a year.

His single-minded focus has helped him and his team win several accolades. Mathur was the runner-up of the Streamer Of The Year award at the Esports Awards 2021. This year, he has been nominated under the Esports Personality Of The Year category, results of which will be announced in November.

Building a Brand

When Mathur’s popularity started growing, brands started noticing it. His first brand endorsement, he says, was in 2019 for Omlet Arcade, where the app’s logo was integrated in his videos.

Over the past six years, he has made promotional videos for Mamaearth, Gillette men’s grooming products, ASUS computing products and Monster Energy Drink. He has bagged contracts with big smartphone brands like OnePlus and Redmi and global hardware brands like Corsair Gaming and Gigabyte’s Aorus motherboards.

Looking at his devotion towards PUBG, the game’s makers had roped him in to promote its New State Mobile video game, which South Korean game developer Krafton had published.

This year, when Krafton unveiled its digital campaign for Battlegrounds Mobile India, Mathur had his own fanboy moment. He was part of an advertising blitzkrieg along with actor Rajkummar Rao wherein they invited new players to the game.

He has worked with many other celebrities. Actor Arjun Kapoor, brand ambassador of Chelsea FC in India, co-hosted a gaming show with him. Mathur has collaborated with cricketer Chris Gayle for Zone by XTZ, a gaming ecosystem, and has shared the stage with legend Sachin Tendulkar.

The high point of his six-year journey, however, was when one of his fans gifted him a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a gift that he cherishes even today.

A young Mortal is well aware that the life of a gamer peaks at around 35 years. Hence, he has prudently mapped his entire career with S8UL, which also acts as a talent management agency. Mathur is not averse to assuming the role of a coach or even an esports commentator. For now, cyberspace is limitless for him.